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If national universities strive to be in the "Top 100," what do liberal arts colleges strive for? What about regional schools?


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Yup. I'm posting another question. I'm in the midst of immersing myself in all things high school and college related, as you may have deduced. I need to get a lot of info into my brain so it can simmer for a while. Obsess then simmer is how I function. Lol.

As I'm sifting through the colleges within my own state and those within a 5- to 6-hour drive (I'm open to ones further away if DD is but starting with the semi-locals seems like a good place to start), I'm trying to understand what "the rankings" truly mean. I know that national universities want to be in the top 100. But, what placement do liberal arts school strive for? And, I have no idea how to interpret regional colleges and universities? (Can anyone provide examples of regional schools that are well regarded?)

DH and I went to our state flagship. It currently ranks 124 for national universities. So, we understand roughly what that ranking means. (I also understand a little more from the inside of this school because my on-campus student job turned into my first real job upon graduation. My job was right there in the midst of admissions, alumni relations, and marketing. Lol. Unfortunately, I didn't appreciate where I was at the time and left the university a couple of years later.) I transferred from a smaller national university within the same state, so I know what that feels like too. Neither university was truly my choice. Looking back, I'm just lucky I ended up anywhere...first-generation college student from a rural single-parent family and all. Crappy school counselor, etc.

Anyway, I need some way to pare down the options. I'd like to start planning some casual campus visits just so DD can get a feel for what's out there, but I'd like them to be schools that are potential candidates. We aren't looking for uber competitive (can't afford most anyway), so that knocks off the top, but we want to feel like our money will be well spent, so I'm not sure where the bottom mark should be. It doesn't make sense to send her to the university ranked #298-#389 (the one I transferred from, which I actually liked just fine at the time) two hours down the road, if we can afford a better-ranked school not much further away.

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US News has a separate ranking of national liberal arts schools. There are 200+ schools on that list.

There are also US News regional rankings for schools not on the national lists. There are 4.

Best Regional Colleges Rankings

These colleges focus on undergraduate education but grant fewer than half their degrees in liberal arts disciplines. These rankings are split into four regions: North, South, Midwest and West.
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Yes, these are the rankings I've been using, but it's difficult to understand at what point the schools really aren't all that competitive anymore. There are actually two lists for each regional category...universities and colleges (e.g. Regional Colleges Midwest, Regional Universities Midwest). I'm trying to understand what type of student might attend a regional college or university over a national one. Many seem super small. Are they more commuter-oriented rather than residential?

Also, there are more national universities than there are national liberal arts schools in the United States, so I'm not sure the rankings are exactly equal.

1 hour ago, NewnameC said:

US News has a separate ranking of national liberal arts schools. There are 200+ schools on that list.

There are also US News regional rankings for schools not on the national lists. There are 4.

Best Regional Colleges Rankings

These colleges focus on undergraduate education but grant fewer than half their degrees in liberal arts disciplines. These rankings are split into four regions: North, South, Midwest and West.

 

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12 minutes ago, pitterpatter said:

 I'm trying to understand what type of student might attend a regional college or university over a national one. Many seem super small. Are they more commuter-oriented rather than residential?

Also, there are more national universities than there are national liberal arts schools in the United States, so I'm not sure the rankings are exactly equal.

 

I think there are many students for whom "how competitive" the university is isn't their primary concern.   I feel like a lot of "average" high school kids (who have ok grades, ok test scores -- not super high, not too low for college) are looking at things like distance to home (drive home on weekends to do laundry at home or see friends),  how much fun the party scene is, whether or not they have friends going there, maybe they can continue to play a sport at a less-competitive level (DII or DII), etc.  And if they are just looking for your average teaching, business, computer science, etc degree that pretty much any school offers, they are probably still going to be ok finding a job in their field when they are done. 

Edited by kirstenhill
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Here's an example of a place that came up in the searches I've been doing with DD17:

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-university-search/southwest-minnesota-state-university?searchtype=college&q=Southwest%2BMinnesota%2BState%2BUniversity%2B(MN)

It's within a few hour drive of us, and it came up because they have a particular specialization within a major my dd is potentially interested in.  It's small and rural but residential, and I think rated something like #117 on Regional Midwest colleges in US News Rankings.   My DD found it really unappealing because it's both small and in a tiny town, but I'm guessing a lot of kids from small towns in a reasonable radius would find it an appealing choice because it's cheap and doesn't involve a move to a big city.  But I'm guessing very few students from the big cities or from several states away would consider it unless they were recruited for athletics. 

Edited by kirstenhill
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This makes sense. We're not looking for that. We're looking for DD to grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally. We're looking to pay for the education, overall college experience, and relatively safe adulting environment. And, hopefully she'll make a few good lifelong friends along the way.

13 minutes ago, kirstenhill said:

I think there are many students for whom "how competitive" the university is isn't their primary concern.   I feel like a lot of "average" high school kids (who have ok grades, ok test scores -- not super high, not too low for college) are looking at things like distance to home (drive home on weekends to do laundry at home or see friends),  how much fun the party scene is, whether or not they have friends going there, maybe they can continue to play a sport at a less-competitive level (DII or DII), etc.  And if they are just looking for your average teaching, business, computer science, etc degree that pretty much any school offers, they are probably still going to be ok finding a job in their field when they are done. 

 

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This is my general feeling about many of the regional schools in my state. However, we have a couple of high-ranking ones, and I don't know whether I am missing something...just because I lack knowledge about them. One is a women's college, which is potentially appealing, but it's super tiny (like 17 acres). I don't think that would provide the experience my particular DD is looking for.

10 minutes ago, kirstenhill said:

Here's an example of a place that came up in the searches I've been doing with DD17:

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-university-search/southwest-minnesota-state-university?searchtype=college&q=Southwest%2BMinnesota%2BState%2BUniversity%2B(MN)

It's within a few hour drive of us, and it came up because they have a particular specialization within a major my dd is potentially interested in.  It's small and rural but residential, and I think rated something like #117 on Regional Midwest colleges in US News Rankings.   My DD found it really unappealing because it's both small and in a tiny town, but I'm guessing a lot of kids from small towns in a reasonable radius would find it an appealing choice because it's cheap and doesn't involve a move to a big city.  But I'm guessing very few students from the big cities or from several states away would consider it unless they were recruited for athletics. 

 

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One reason liberal arts colleges tend to be separated out is that they often don't have extensive graduate programs and may have limited or no engineering programs. 

Liberal arts colleges may be smaller. The lack of graduate students can mean greater contact with professors, because there aren't grad student TAs.

It's just a very different model than a large university. 

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3 minutes ago, Sebastian (a lady) said:

One reason liberal arts colleges tend to be separated out is that they often don't have extensive graduate programs and may have limited or no engineering programs. 

Liberal arts colleges may be smaller. The lack of graduate students can mean greater contact with professors, because there aren't grad student TAs.

It's just a very different model than a large university. 

On the flip side, the lack of a graduate program may also leave a strong student without challenging classes in their major during the upper years, and with limited opportunities to be involved in research,  since professors will mostly just teach.

 

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No idea. She has a broad range of interests...anything from computer animation to working with dead bodies (she doesn't want to become a doctor, though, or a mortician) to history/archaeology/anthropology to working in a lab (for forensics or working with diseases). She's interested in a lot things, and trying to pare them down is difficult for her, but she's still young. I tell her she has time. She's very much looking forward to college, though. That she is clear on.

45 minutes ago, regentrude said:

What major is she interested in? I would always use that as a starting point when choosing a colllege.

 

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10 hours ago, kirstenhill said:

I think there are many students for whom "how competitive" the university is isn't their primary concern.   I feel like a lot of "average" high school kids (who have ok grades, ok test scores -- not super high, not too low for college) are looking at things like distance to home (drive home on weekends to do laundry at home or see friends),  how much fun the party scene is, whether or not they have friends going there, maybe they can continue to play a sport at a less-competitive level (DII or DII), etc.  And if they are just looking for your average teaching, business, computer science, etc degree that pretty much any school offers, they are probably still going to be ok finding a job in their field when they are done. 

I'm faculty at one of these. In some ways Freshman year is Grade 13. 40% on our on campus population play DIII sports. There are almost no liberal arts degrees. The school falls off and back onto the Midwest regional school list (right now it's off), but looking at the list I know that our school's after-college placement rate is consistently higher than many of those who are on the list right now, and we are financially healthier. 

I think that being on the lists is at least somewhat tied to selectiveness, and one of our strengths is the personal support we offer to conditionally admitted students. We are not selective and don't pretend to be.

On the other hand, it would be a terrible fit for my dd. I really think fit matters so much more than rank.

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11 hours ago, pitterpatter said:

This makes sense. We're not looking for that. We're looking for DD to grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally. We're looking to pay for the education, overall college experience, and relatively safe adulting environment. And, hopefully she'll make a few good lifelong friends along the way.

 

What is her intended major? One of my son’s eliminates practically 90% of schools. That’s one way to go about it versus looking at selectivity which can be crazy making (and also, it’s a pretty knowable thing, they all publish those numbers). 

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What grade is your daughter in? It sounds like she needs to start thinking about what she wants to study and focus on. From there, she can explore whether she prefers a small or large campus, a state school or liberal arts (or polytechnic, though that doesn’t seem her direction), what type of town/city environment she wants, what types of extracurriculars are important to her, what type of vibe she is looking for. Rankings are just one metric, important to some people and in some industries but probably not at all for most.

Gently, though, the college search should be student led, not parent directed. This is her life she’s embarking on and she ought to be the one doing the research and be invested in her decision making. Maybe I’m reading your post wrong, but I get a little twitchy when I hear parents taking control of the process instead of the students. 
 

Side question: what is a national university in the US?

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Posted (edited)

She's only a rising 9th grader. As I'm a strong believer in that children, and people in general, cannot draw upon an empty well, we want to casually start exposing her to different types of campuses that are within a half-day's drive or so. We like to travel anyway, so campus tours (probably self-guided for now) will give us starting points, and we can explore the areas that surround the campuses. As she has grown up in a small rural town of just over 3,300 people, she's eager to escape to a larger city. What's of high importance to her is that she ends up with like-minded people who share her values and beliefs. (Those people are scarce where we live.) She's a visual person. Colleges are pretty abstract when you've never experienced them. We want to fill her well a bit...so she can make more-informed decisions when the time comes. I also hope to enroll her in some kind of on-campus summer camp somewhere next year so she can gain some understanding of what dorm life is about. (She's an only child. She's never had to share a bedroom or bathroom before. Outside of Girl Scout camps, anyway.) By her age, I had already gone to band camp twice, so I understood a lot of things about college life before applying.

I do understand that DD will ultimately be the one choosing the college. (I want her to do that!) However, I'm pretty much the one who will be footing the bill (with the money I make from home self employment). As I will be acting as her guidance counselor, I need to be educated too. And ultimately, it makes zero sense to allow her to apply to a school we simply won't be able to afford. More than anything, I'm trying to figure out what rank on the lists is really too low to consider, particularly on the national liberal arts list. I understand those schools less than big state universities. (DD has expressed interest in small class sizes where she can interact with her professors and peers.) It's also up to me to sniff out the schools that are more likely to grant her merit aid and financial assistance. I won't have a quarter of a million dollars saved up for her education in four years. And, we hope to avoid loans of any sort.

Link to national universities in the US.

10 hours ago, MEmama said:

What grade is your daughter in? It sounds like she needs to start thinking about what she wants to study and focus on. From there, she can explore whether she prefers a small or large campus, a state school or liberal arts (or polytechnic, though that doesn’t seem her direction), what type of town/city environment she wants, what types of extracurriculars are important to her, what type of vibe she is looking for. Rankings are just one metric, important to some people and in some industries but probably not at all for most.

Gently, though, the college search should be student led, not parent directed. This is her life she’s embarking on and she ought to be the one doing the research and be invested in her decision making. Maybe I’m reading your post wrong, but I get a little twitchy when I hear parents taking control of the process instead of the students. 
 

Side question: what is a national university in the US?

 

Edited by pitterpatter
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Posted (edited)

She doesn't know yet, but not engineering or computer science. And, not nursing, pre-med, or pre-law. (There are certain aspects of pre-med and pre-law she thinks she would enjoy, but ultimately, she can't see herself in those professions.)

2 hours ago, madteaparty said:

What is her intended major? One of my son’s eliminates practically 90% of schools. That’s one way to go about it versus looking at selectivity which can be crazy making (and also, it’s a pretty knowable thing, they all publish those numbers). 

 

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Thanks for chiming in. Yes, fit is important for DD. She can be passionate about her interests and craves like-minded dialogue. College will be the first time she gets to experience education with peers. She's looking forward to that.

4 hours ago, MamaSprout said:

I'm faculty at one of these. In some ways Freshman year is Grade 13. 40% on our on campus population play DIII sports. There are almost no liberal arts degrees. The school falls off and back onto the Midwest regional school list (right now it's off), but looking at the list I know that our school's after-college placement rate is consistently higher than many of those who are on the list right now, and we are financially healthier. 

I think that being on the lists is at least somewhat tied to selectiveness, and one of our strengths is the personal support we offer to conditionally admitted students. We are not selective and don't pretend to be.

On the other hand, it would be a terrible fit for my dd. I really think fit matters so much more than rank.

 

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12 minutes ago, pitterpatter said:

She doesn't know yet, but not engineering or computer science. And, not nursing, pre-med, or pre-law. (There are certain aspects of pre-med and pre-law she thinks she would enjoy, but ultimately, she can't see herself in those professions.)

 

For those programs, it really is going to be about fit. Engineering programs that are ABET accredited are going to be academically similar. 

Comp sci programs are increasingly relying on industry credentialing as well. I think there will be more variety in where the focus is for any given program, though.

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33 minutes ago, pitterpatter said:

And ultimately, it makes zero sense to allow her to apply to a school we simply won't be able to afford.

You won't have that full information until she has been accepted and received a financial aid offer.
Private colleges with insane sticker prices often have extremely generous need based aid and end up significantly cheaper than underfunded publics. We had interesting surprises during this process. DD could have gotten a free ride at U Minnesota; OTOH, U of Colorado Boulder ended up more expensive than both U Chicago and Cornell.

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43 minutes ago, pitterpatter said:

. What's of high importance to her is that she ends up with like-minded people who share her values and beliefs. (Those people are scarce where we live.) 

 

 

Unless this is code speak for a christian/religious college, it is unlikely that most students  on any campus will share her views.  However, there will be many enough who do on any campus.  With a new 9th grader, I would be more concerned that she has the classes needed to  qualify for most colleges, and most majors (math through calculus, and the sciences)  It is too early to eliminate a good chunk of career options ("but not engineering or computer science. And, not nursing, pre-med, or pre-law").  Also, don't rule out the highly selective schools just yet. 

As to residential summer programs, if you are interested for next summer, you need to get testing (PSAT, SAT, or ACT) done now for CTD and CTY, so that you can have elgibility determined before year end.   Summer class selection starts early  January, and the popular class fill up in as little as a week.   My new 11th grader has been doing residential programs since the fourth grade, and has been on college campuses in the east, west, and midwest.  We  regularly talk about  dorm life, the campuses, the food, and field trips and excursions to the city.  He has come back from each summer program more mature than when he left.

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1 hour ago, pitterpatter said:

She's only a rising 9th grader. As I'm a strong believer in that children, and people in general, cannot draw upon an empty well, we want to casually start exposing her to different types of campuses that are within a half-day's drive or so. We like to travel anyway, so campus tours (probably self-guided for now) will give us starting points, and we can explore the areas that surround the campuses. As she has grown up in a small rural town of just over 3,300 people, she's eager to escape to a larger city. What's of high importance to her is that she ends up with like-minded people who share her values and beliefs. (Those people are scarce where we live.) She's a visual person. Colleges are pretty abstract when you've never experienced them. We want to fill her well a bit...so she can make more-informed decisions when the time comes. I also hope to enroll her in some kind of on-campus summer camp somewhere next year so she can gain some understanding of what dorm life is about. (She's an only child. She's never had to share a bedroom or bathroom before. Outside of Girl Scout camps, anyway.) By her age, I had already gone to band camp twice, so I understood a lot of things about college life before applying.

I do understand that DD will ultimately be the one choosing the college. (I want her to do that!) However, I'm pretty much the one who will be footing the bill (with the money I make from home self employment). As I will be acting as her guidance counselor, I need to be educated too. And ultimately, it makes zero sense to allow her to apply to a school we simply won't be able to afford. More than anything, I'm trying to figure out what rank on the lists is really too low to consider, particularly on the national liberal arts list. I understand those schools less than big state universities. (DD has expressed interest in small class sizes where she can interact with her professors and peers.) It's also up to me to sniff out the schools that are more likely to grant her merit aid and financial assistance. I won't have a quarter of a million dollars saved up for her education in four years. And, we hope to void loans of any sort.

Link to national universities in the US.

 

She has plenty of time. We started going on campus tours after sophomore year, which seemed early to me but ended up fortunate because COVID hit during DS's junior year leaving those the only we saw. I don’t think it’s necessary to get bogged down looking at too many, but a variety was beneficial—most especially the schools that looked perfect on paper but ended up a terrible fit irl. I wouldn’t have toured randomly though; by that time DS knew what he wanted to study and had some really solid ideas of what he was looking for, though both evolved during the process. As it is, he’s going overseas to a uni sight unseen. 🙂
 

Thanks for the list— I’ve never heard the term national university here, since we don’t have a national system. Lol. I think they meant nationwide. 
 

Good luck with the process. It’s a long one.

Edited by MEmama
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Nope. Just the opposite. She's looking for open mindedness and diversity. Respect for different viewpoints. Ideally, that would be most colleges, but...

The other part of trying to get a jump start on this is due to family circumstance. My mother has stage 4 colon cancer. When the going gets tough, her care falls into my lap. Heck, it's all in my lap now. She's doing okay right at this moment, but her health is unpredictable. In 2-3 years when DD really needs to get down to it, I may be cloistered at my mother's house. I need to build knowledge now for later use. I also suffer from chronic migraine. Right now, I'm good. But, my brain fogs up for weeks and months at a time sometimes. I can function, but only at a basic level. At those times, all mental energy goes into DD's schooling. (I usually have a few good hours at the beginning of each day.) I can't do any extra...not well anyway.

11 minutes ago, gstharr said:

Unless this is code speak for a christian/religious college, it is unlikely that most students  on any campus will share her views.  However, there will be many enough who do on any campus.  With a new 9th grader, I would be more concerned that she has the classes needed to  qualify for most colleges, and most majors (math through calculus, and the sciences)  It is too early to eliminate a good chunk of career options ("but not engineering or computer science. And, not nursing, pre-med, or pre-law").  Also, don't rule out the highly selective schools just yet. 

As to residential summer programs, if you are interested for next summer, you need to get testing (PSAT, SAT, or ACT) done now for CTD and CTY, so that you can have elgibility determined before year end.   Summer class selection starts early  January, and the popular class fill up in as little as a week.   My new 11th grader has been doing residential programs since the fourth grade, and has been on college campuses in the east, west, and midwest.  We  regularly talk about  dorm life, the campuses, the food, and field trips and excursions to the city.  He has come back from each summer program more mature than when he left.

 

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Dd’s first pick school is one she toured  in 8th grade. One of my DSs toured a school a month before he enrolled. Do what works for your family, but don’t worry if she ends up just narrowing her list based on virtual visits.

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2 hours ago, pitterpatter said:

She doesn't know yet, but not engineering or computer science. And, not nursing, pre-med, or pre-law. (There are certain aspects of pre-med and pre-law she thinks she would enjoy, but ultimately, she can't see herself in those professions.)

 

Sorry, there’s no such thing as a pre-law major. Can’t speak to the rest but I’m pretty sure pre-med is not a thing that exists either... for law school, you can major in literally anything. 

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22 minutes ago, madteaparty said:

Sorry, there’s no such thing as a pre-law major. Can’t speak to the rest but I’m pretty sure pre-med is not a thing that exists either... for law school, you can major in literally anything. 

I can speak for med school.  Yes, pre-med is a thing. Yes, you are flexible in what you major in, but there are certain courses you need to take not only for admission to med school, but to help you do well on the entrance exam.   

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2 hours ago, pitterpatter said:

The other part of trying to get a jump start on this is due to family circumstance. My mother has stage 4 colon cancer. When the going gets tough, her care falls into my lap. Heck, it's all in my lap now. She's doing okay right at this moment, but her health is unpredictable. In 2-3 years when DD really needs to get down to it, I may be cloistered at my mother's house. I need to build knowledge now for later use. I also suffer from chronic migraine. 

I am sorry. 

But don't put yourself under so much pressure  - IMO, campus tours are vastly overrated. Other factors may well end up being the deciding ones. In the next few years, her interests should crystallize a bit and narrow down possible majors.

Edited by regentrude
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Perhaps they're more programs than majors. I was just trying to indicate that DD probably won't be headed to medical or law school. Having said that, she does have an interest in working with dead bodies, but she doesn't want to get a medical degree. I told her that that pretty much leaves tech positions. We haven't investigated it overly much yet, though. There might be more options that pertain to working with the dead but aren't as direct as performing autopsies.

2 hours ago, madteaparty said:

Sorry, there’s no such thing as a pre-law major. Can’t speak to the rest but I’m pretty sure pre-med is not a thing that exists either... for law school, you can major in literally anything. 

 

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20 hours ago, regentrude said:

On the flip side, the lack of a graduate program may also leave a strong student without challenging classes in their major during the upper years, and with limited opportunities to be involved in research,  since professors will mostly just teach.

 

The good LACs will have plenty of research opportunities for students, as faculty will be required to be involved in research in order to get tenure. They will also often have summer research funding for students. They are also excellent at placing students in competitive outside research programs. My husband had two Goldwater Scholars during his time teaching at a LAC that wasn’t even in the top 50. The good LACs are known to be feeder schools for PhD programs. 

Plus, those close student/faculty relationships can lead to some pretty amazing opportunities. My husband’s academic job search after getting his PhD was made much easier by the fact that one of his undergrad profs had taken him with him to be a teaching fellow for several summers at an Ivy League university where he taught summer school. They are still close friends today.

While it is true that graduate level courses are lacking at LACs, it is not uncommon for faculty to offer one on one classes to students who want more challenge or have a special interest. My husband and I both did this.

Despite all my cheering for LACs, I would be cautious about some of the unranked or lower ranked ones. Around here, many have taken to adding or expanding professional programs like nursing to keep enrollment up. While I think they can be great for this type of program, I would be more cautious about choosing one for other goals without thorough research into opportunities and outcomes.

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9 hours ago, MEmama said:

Gently, though, the college search should be student led, not parent directed. This is her life she’s embarking on and she ought to be the one doing the research and be invested in her decision making. Maybe I’m reading your post wrong, but I get a little twitchy when I hear parents taking control of the process instead of the students. 
 

 

I get this sentiment, and I am sympathetic to the cause of students advocating for themselves.   

But ultimately I think this is unfair to the OP.  Students in regular school are often guided by experienced college counselors who attend meetups with college recruiters and have a solid understanding of the landscape of higher education.  

If a parent is unfamiliar with how college admissions works in the US, it is well worth their time to understand what it's all about.  It's an endeavor that is fraught with high costs, poor outcomes, and dissatisfied students.  It's never a bad idea to become informed about things like a school's reputation, and strengths and weaknesses of college rankings, selectivity, school culture and everything else.  

Educating yourself is not the same thing as making decisions for the student.    

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22 hours ago, regentrude said:

On the flip side, the lack of a graduate program may also leave a strong student without challenging classes in their major during the upper years, and with limited opportunities to be involved in research,  since professors will mostly just teach.

 

This can also be true, though I wonder if it's more of an issue for science majors than humanities majors.

Edited by Sebastian (a lady)
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Rather than focus on ranking as a way of judging schools, I would work on identifying qualities that might make a school a good fit. You've already articulated a few factors. More will come in the next few years.

Rankings tell you more about the popularity of the school and the type of students who are admitted than anything about the quality of education or social life on campus. Rankings rarely give info about specific programs or majors.

There are some great recent books about colleges and college admissions. A few I would recommend.

The Price You Pay for College by Ron Lieber

Who Gets in and Why by Jeff Selingo

Colleges that Change Lives (this one is now several years old, but it will still help you and your dd think about what she wants to find on campus)

Also, this paper does a good job of explaining why rankings are a pretty hollow measure of quality. https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/challenge_success_white_paper_on_college_admissions_10.1.2018-reduced.pdf

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Thank you! This was really helpful and encouraging. 😁

2 hours ago, Frances said:

The good LACs will have plenty of research opportunities for students, as faculty will be required to be involved in research in order to get tenure. They will also often have summer research funding for students. They are also excellent at placing students in competitive outside research programs. My husband had two Goldwater Scholars during his time teaching at a LAC that wasn’t even in the top 50. The good LACs are known to be feeder schools for PhD programs. 

Plus, those close student/faculty relationships can lead to some pretty amazing opportunities. My husband’s academic job search after getting his PhD was made much easier by the fact that one of his undergrad profs had taken him with him to be a teaching fellow for several summers at an Ivy League university where he taught summer school. They are still close friends today.

While it is true that graduate level courses are lacking at LACs, it is not uncommon for faculty to offer one on one classes to students who want more challenge or have a special interest. My husband and I both did this.

Despite all my cheering for LACs, I would be cautious about some of the unranked or lower ranked ones. Around here, many have taken to adding or expanding professional programs like nursing to keep enrollment up. While I think they can be great for this type of program, I would be more cautious about choosing one for other goals without thorough research into opportunities and outcomes.

 

Thanks for the additional book recs. I just finished Who Gets in... .

31 minutes ago, Sebastian (a lady) said:

Rather than focus on ranking as a way of judging schools, I would work on identifying qualities that might make a school a good fit. You've already articulated a few factors. More will come in the next few years.

Rankings tell you more about the popularity of the school and the type of students who are admitted than anything about the quality of education or social life on campus. Rankings rarely give info about specific programs or majors.

There are some great recent books about colleges and college admissions. A few I would recommend.

The Price You Pay for College by Ron Lieber

Who Gets in and Why by Jeff Selingo

Colleges that Change Lives (this one is now several years old, but it will still help you and your dd think about what she wants to find on campus)

Also, this paper does a good job of explaining why rankings are a pretty hollow measure of quality. https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/challenge_success_white_paper_on_college_admissions_10.1.2018-reduced.pdf

 

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1 hour ago, daijobu said:

I get this sentiment, and I am sympathetic to the cause of students advocating for themselves.   

But ultimately I think this is unfair to the OP.  Students in regular school are often guided by experienced college counselors who attend meetups with college recruiters and have a solid understanding of the landscape of higher education.  

If a parent is unfamiliar with how college admissions works in the US, it is well worth their time to understand what it's all about.  It's an endeavor that is fraught with high costs, poor outcomes, and dissatisfied students.  It's never a bad idea to become informed about things like a school's reputation, and strengths and weaknesses of college rankings, selectivity, school culture and everything else.  

Educating yourself is not the same thing as making decisions for the student.    

Oh absolutely. DS didn’t get any guidance from his counselor—he doesn’t know anyone who did, from any school, but apparently those unicorns exist somewhere. 😉 I didn’t mean to imply she shouldn’t learn beside her daughter, I’ve just seen too many parents take the lead leaving the kid generally not invested in the process.
 

College admissions is absolutely crazy making in this country. It definitely requires all hands on deck. 

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Posted (edited)

I appreciate this. It's been...oh, good grief...20+ years since I applied for college. And, it wasn't a great experience for a variety of reasons that aren't really pertinent to this discussion. I ended up at Big State U, which was fine. But, I didn't really want to be there, which tainted my experience in many ways. Looking back, I wish I would have embraced it a little more. I didn't have great parental support once there either. Don't get me wrong, I loved being in college. I wish I could do it again (albeit, differently), but I think it could have been so much more. I very much want DD to have a good experience. For homeschoolers, I think college is both high school (but better) and college wrapped into one. I think it might be a double kind of excitement maybe.

1 hour ago, daijobu said:

I get this sentiment, and I am sympathetic to the cause of students advocating for themselves.   

But ultimately I think this is unfair to the OP.  Students in regular school are often guided by experienced college counselors who attend meetups with college recruiters and have a solid understanding of the landscape of higher education.  

If a parent is unfamiliar with how college admissions works in the US, it is well worth their time to understand what it's all about.  It's an endeavor that is fraught with high costs, poor outcomes, and dissatisfied students.  It's never a bad idea to become informed about things like a school's reputation, and strengths and weaknesses of college rankings, selectivity, school culture and everything else.  

Educating yourself is not the same thing as making decisions for the student.    

 

Edited by pitterpatter
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5 hours ago, Sebastian (a lady) said:

This can also be true, though I wonder if it's more of an issue for science majors than humanities majors.

I really don’t think it is an issue at any liberal arts college worth attending as a prospective science major. The only exception might be places where they are very focused on pre-health type majors for professional school admission and might even offer some health related graduate professional programs. At least out here, these are usually lower ranked LACs. I have a cousin who did pre-occupational therapy at one and then went right into their grad program. I know several people who got BSNs from various LACs. And I know another student who basically majored in pre-med (they called it health science or something similar) and is now in vet school. All of these students chose these lower ranked or unranked LACs specifically for their health or pre-health programs and none did or wanted to do research. So they were a great fit for these students, but I would hesitate to recommend them for regular science majors. On the other hand, I know many, many STEM PhDs who went to top grad programs after attending LACs in the top 75 or so.

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13 hours ago, Sebastian (a lady) said:

 

Also, this paper does a good job of explaining why rankings are a pretty hollow measure of quality. https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/challenge_success_white_paper_on_college_admissions_10.1.2018-reduced.pdf

Okay, the data nerd in me wants to jump into the IPEDS data and create a spreadsheet to re-rank all the schools without the nebulous "reputation among peers" and second graduation category. ETA reading this and Purdue-Gallup report have confirmed my suspicions about fit and engagement. For this last Dd I can see that my hesitations about her 2nd-4th picks on her applications are much more about engagement than academics.

Edited by MamaSprout
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I just want to second Sebastian (a lady) that the rankings are a pretty pointless measure of schools. And it's not merely that reputation is included. Since reputation is a proxy for other elements that are hard to measure - like research quality and level of challenge in classes and things like that - the rankings become even easier to game for schools if you throw those out. But then including them makes it a popularity contest. There's no way to fix it. I could go on at length, but really anyone who is lopping off parts of a ranking list and focusing on a certain tier of schools as the only options is going about this all wrong on a number of levels.

I also wanted to chip in that there are "pre law" programs at colleges just like there are "pre med" and "pre health" programs. These are not majors, but are advising programs that some schools have. The requirements for law school are typically much simpler than medicine and virtually any decent school will be able to give law school advice so finding a school with some sort of a program isn't all that important.

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Our experience is that smaller LACs are less diverse than large public universities.  Our kids, even the ones who thought they wanted small, ended up choosing large.  They all found wonderful groups of friends bc there are many varied backgrounds, interest groups, etc on campus.  They have also had great relationships with their professors who have been wonderful mentors.   They have had UG research opportunities, qualified for elite national competitive programs like the Critical Language Scholarship Program (my dd is participating in CLS for a 2nd time), etc.  

In terms of college selection, I have never been able to predict in 9th grade what my kids' profiles would look like in 12th.  Scholarships are a vital part of our kids' search, so end of 10th has been a better starting point for me to help them start narrowing down options.  Their academic strengths and interests really start to solidify going into jr yr whereas as 9th graders they are still more finding their "who am I" feet.

I am another who doesn't believe that rankings are a valuable metric.  My kids have not attended schools that are even close to be considered "highly ranked" as UGs and they have ended up with excellent post-UG options.  Outcomes are far more dependent on individual pro-active decisions than name on diploma. 

My current college student is attending a school that is ranked way down in the 200s.  But, it has an excellent program in her major and as a rising sophomore she has paid on-campus research with a professor who mentors students through graduation, helps with NSF applications, grad program matching, etc.  She is working in a building surrounded by research that matches her long-term goals.  The U's ranking on USNWR is completely irrelevant to the U's real world importance in its field of research and value by industry.

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2 hours ago, MamaSprout said:

Okay, the data nerd in me wants to jump into the IPEDS data and create a spreadsheet to re-rank all the schools without the nebulous "reputation among peers" and second graduation category. ETA reading this and Purdue-Gallup report have confirmed my suspicions about fit and engagement. For this last Dd I can see that my hesitations about her 2nd-4th picks on her applications are much more about engagement than academics.

How does one know such things? 

we got a Fiske guide to colleges thinking we would get a feel, but it’s not really helpful I am finding. It did scare us off from Georgia Tech. 

I am not even sure visiting these schools (and we can’t because $$$ and distance and lack of time) is that helpful. 
 

And fit to me is a total mystery concept, because for a major that can be found in every institution, I am just not sure how to even approach fit. I get rural/urban and large/small comparisons but I could personally see a whole lot of different scenarios working for my children. This is how the stupid rankings get parents. Most google best schools for the given major and end up with the same overinflated list of 30 high achieving places that aren’t even a possibility given their admissions rates. I have been trying to look at grad school outcomes, but those aren’t easy to get based on major. 

This really is a very frustrating and expensive process. 
 

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17 hours ago, Frances said:

The good LACs will have plenty of research opportunities for students, as faculty will be required to be involved in research in order to get tenure. They will also often have summer research funding for students. They are also excellent at placing students in competitive outside research programs. My husband had two Goldwater Scholars during his time teaching at a LAC that wasn’t even in the top 50. The good LACs are known to be feeder schools for PhD programs. 

Plus, those close student/faculty relationships can lead to some pretty amazing opportunities. My husband’s academic job search after getting his PhD was made much easier by the fact that one of his undergrad profs had taken him with him to be a teaching fellow for several summers at an Ivy League university where he taught summer school. They are still close friends today.

While it is true that graduate level courses are lacking at LACs, it is not uncommon for faculty to offer one on one classes to students who want more challenge or have a special interest. My husband and I both did this.

Despite all my cheering for LACs, I would be cautious about some of the unranked or lower ranked ones. Around here, many have taken to adding or expanding professional programs like nursing to keep enrollment up. While I think they can be great for this type of program, I would be more cautious about choosing one for other goals without thorough research into opportunities and outcomes.

I will also say-look at consortiums for LAC's. My kid was interested in women's colleges, which are on the small side In most cases, and there is a big difference between schools that are stand alone and which are part of consortiums which add additional opportunities to take classes and may have dual degree options as well. Usually consortiums will be in urban areas. The LAC my kid has chosen made no bones, from first contact on, that yes, it was possible to run out of classes, especially if you came in with a lot of credits, but this is how they manage it and what the opportunities are at that point).

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1 hour ago, Roadrunner said:

How does one know such things? 

we got a Fiske guide to colleges thinking we would get a feel, but it’s not really helpful I am finding. It did scare us off from Georgia Tech. 

I am not even sure visiting these schools (and we can’t because $$$ and distance and lack of time) is that helpful. 
 

And fit to me is a total mystery concept, because for a major that can be found in every institution, I am just not sure how to even approach fit. I get rural/urban and large/small comparisons but I could personally see a whole lot of different scenarios working for my children. This is how the stupid rankings get parents. Most google best schools for the given major and end up with the same overinflated list of 30 high achieving places that aren’t even a possibility given their admissions rates. I have been trying to look at grad school outcomes, but those aren’t easy to get based on major. 

This really is a very frustrating and expensive process. 
 

Ask here?

I know my region really well, but I received a lot of really great insight on this board about other areas. I did it in a "don't quote b/c I'm going to delete most of the details tomorrow" kind of way. Everyone was really helpful. It solidified her choice to to stay in our region.

Also, she is the youngest kid (and grandkid) in our large-ish family. Her siblings, cousins, and their friends went several different directions, so we have the benefit of those experiences. I work in higher ed. That said... there are parents like me from every region on this board. We can help you build a list. 

After that, then you can start eliminating by virtual visits, live visits, and "Heck, let's just add it to the application and go visit if they give you money." strategies. In the beginning, you really only need to pick where to apply.

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5 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

Our experience is that smaller LACs are less diverse than large public universities.  Our kids, even the ones who thought they wanted small, ended up choosing large.  They all found wonderful groups of friends bc there are many varied backgrounds, interest groups, etc on campus.  They have also had great relationships with their professors who have been wonderful mentors.   They have had UG research opportunities, qualified for elite national competitive programs like the Critical Language Scholarship Program (my dd is participating in CLS for a 2nd time), etc.  

 

I completely agree about the diversity of small LACs vs public universities and it was one of the primary reasons my son ultimately chose the one university he applied to rather than one of the elite LACs where he was accepted. He had already spent two years taking classes at the local LAC during high school and even his wonderful mentor there encouraged him to go on to a university. But LACs can be a wonderful fit for some students. I’m positive given my background and personality that I would never have ended up in a top ranked grad program at an Ivy had I chosen a state U rather than a “Colleges that Change Lives” LAC. And still 30+ years later, some of my and my husband’s closest friends are faculty members and their spouses, despite now living 2000 miles away. One couple is coming to visit us next month and we just bought tickets to see another one in September. Ultimately, I think it’s almost all about the best fit.

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4 hours ago, Roadrunner said:

How does one know such things? 

we got a Fiske guide to colleges thinking we would get a feel, but it’s not really helpful I am finding. It did scare us off from Georgia Tech. 

I am not even sure visiting these schools (and we can’t because $$$ and distance and lack of time) is that helpful. 
 

And fit to me is a total mystery concept, because for a major that can be found in every institution, I am just not sure how to even approach fit. I get rural/urban and large/small comparisons but I could personally see a whole lot of different scenarios working for my children. This is how the stupid rankings get parents. Most google best schools for the given major and end up with the same overinflated list of 30 high achieving places that aren’t even a possibility given their admissions rates. I have been trying to look at grad school outcomes, but those aren’t easy to get based on major. 

This really is a very frustrating and expensive process. 
 

Would this site help for grad school outcomes? Or are you more interested in professional grad programs?

https://www.collegetransitions.com/dataverse/top-feeders-phd-programs#econ

 

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1 hour ago, Frances said:

Would this site help for grad school outcomes? Or are you more interested in professional grad programs?

https://www.collegetransitions.com/dataverse/top-feeders-phd-programs#econ

 

I have seen that and I am skeptical. For example, certain UCs are often found at the top of those ranks and yet every kid we know who has gone to one reports overcrowded classrooms, little attention from teachers, virtually no research opportunities for undergrads. Yet if you look at rankings, UCLA and UCB are “the bomb.” 
This is part of the reason when I look at ranking all I read is reputation. They are the popular kids, but I am not sure they deserve the popularity. 

 

So I think MamaSprout is right. The key is to ask people with actual experience at those places and ask about specifics that are important to you. 

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I think " fit" is highly overrated. The books and websites want to suggest that finding the right college is like finding one's true unique soul mate.

In reality, the student has a lot of agency in creating their unique college experience. It needs to have the right major and be academically solid, but beyond that, most colleges will work for most students if the students want to make it work. Even at large schools, students can have close relationships with instructors, receive academic assistance; even at small schools, they will find groups of like minded folks, be involved in interesting activities. The details will differ from college to college,  but mostly it's in what the student brings to the experience. 

I am saying this not to be dismissive, but to lighten the perceived pressure. 

Eta: this said, there is indeed a significant difference between a top tier school like U Chicago and a solid uni like St.Louis U or the state U. That doesn't mean a motivated student can't get a great education at the latter; however,  there are real differences in the level of coursework and the student population. The problems from DD's honors intro physics at U Chicago pose difficulties for many of our grad students. So, the rankings aren't all just made up popularity contests.

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2 hours ago, regentrude said:

I think " fit" is highly overrated. The books and websites want to suggest that finding the right college is like finding one's true unique soul mate.

In reality, the student has a lot of agency in creating their unique college experience. It needs to have the right major and be academically solid, but beyond that, most colleges will work for most students if the students want to make it work. Even at large schools, students can have close relationships with instructors, receive academic assistance; even at small schools, they will find groups of like minded folks, be involved in interesting activities. The details will differ from college to college,  but mostly it's in what the student brings to the experience. 

I am saying this not to be dismissive, but to lighten the perceived pressure. 

Eta: this said, there is indeed a significant difference between a top tier school like U Chicago and a solid uni like St.Louis U or the state U. That doesn't mean a motivated student can't get a great education at the latter; however,  there are real differences in the level of coursework and the student population. The problems from DD's honors intro physics at U Chicago pose difficulties for many of our grad students. So, the rankings aren't all just made up popularity contests.

So the biggest issue for us for example is finding such quality/rigor in places that have reasonable (not single digit) acceptance rates.  I do think people often think parents want high ranked schools because of prestige and maybe many do, but some of us want quality, and it’s hard to know where we can find quality without having to squeeze through the needle.
One hopes to find them in state flagships, but  I don’t know how one goes around evaluating such a thing. 

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3 hours ago, regentrude said:

I am saying this not to be dismissive, but to lighten the perceived pressure. 

I think focusing on rankings is going to be more pressure for most people than focusing on finding a school that you just like that has the sort of programs you want, which is all "fit" really means.

Of course, if anyone treats it like finding their one true Disney/romcom level romance - as some people do - then they're bound to find it to be just as much if not more pressure than trying to get into a certain tier of school.

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3 hours ago, regentrude said:

I think " fit" is highly overrated. The books and websites want to suggest that finding the right college is like finding one's true unique soul mate.

Lol. It can definitely be over emphasized. Looking at regional colleges for us that offer dd’s major, though, the “fit” is really the main difference.

I’m not talking squishy feel good stuff, but the things they talk about in the Gallup-Purdue poll (faculty engagement, long term projects or research, on-campus activities and culture that is welcoming to the student).

Yeah, my kid could make any school work that has her program, but there are definitely places where she could thrive. She’s been making do for long enough. She needs peers.

And in the male dominated field she’s interested in, fit is definitely about being valued as a women in a STEM community. I do not feel that she would be in the uni where I work, and that has made me look for that in the schools she’s considering.

So yeah, don’t throw out a perfectly good school in the name of fit, but certainly consider fit, especially in a widely available major.

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I went back to school for a graduate certificate and work as an Educational Consultant now that my active homeschool days are over.

When I talk about fit to students, I don't mean one school that is the one and only that will make them happy. I am thinking more along the lines of being a place where most of their needs can be met academically, socially, and financially. If a student wants to major in engineering, they need a school that has ABET engineering programs they can be admitted to. If they want to study a specific foreign language, there needs to be sufficient depth to support that. 

I think the social fit is one where most students could be ok in a range of settings. 

I think a student is going to have the best experience when they show lots of initiative to build networks with other students and with faculty. 

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Yes, this! I'm trying to figure out what the middle ground is. At what rank does quality and overall value dissipate?

On 7/17/2021 at 5:03 PM, Roadrunner said:

So the biggest issue for us for example is finding such quality/rigor in places that have reasonable (not single digit) acceptance rates.  I do think people often think parents want high ranked schools because of prestige and maybe many do, but some of us want quality, and it’s hard to know where we can find quality without having to squeeze through the needle.
One hopes to find them in state flagships, but  I don’t know how one goes around evaluating such a thing. 

 

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