Union College has interdisciplinary studies, engineering and unique study abroad options

union campus engineering

Union College is known for its interdisciplinary studies and study abroad programs. To emphasize creativity in its engineering programs, Union supports STEAM (with arts). During my visit there, I was most impressed with the high rate of graduation for women in the sciences and engineering. Union has a rather unique program in Siberian Russia which combines Russian studies and environmental studies. Building on a strong sense of community, all faculty, staff, and students are assigned to a “house” which is a space for them with seminar room, programming and community. (Upperclassmen can live in the house.)

Here are a few quick facts about Union College:
Union College

Acceptance: 38%

Freshmen from out of state: 75%

Most popular majors: economics, biology, psychology

Housing: Guaranteed housing freshman year

4-year Graduation rate: 80%

Academics:  “Union has outstanding academics.” says a freshman. Union operates on a trimester system, which means thrice-a-year exams and a late start to summer jobs—but also the opportunity to concentrate on just three courses a term. The common curriculum has modern language requirements and 5 writing across curriculum courses within the 7 distribution areas. Engineering majors must declare by the end of freshman year – bio-, mechanical, electrical, or computer. Union also provides wonderful opportunities for students to study abroad. One program allows students to study for a term in Siberia, Russia, delving into Russian and environmental studies. The professors here at Union are simply wonderful.” says another student. Students can expect to see full professors at the lecterns rather than TAs. 

Social:  “The majority of social life is on campus,” says a student. Campus events also include comedians, concerts, and speakers. What Schenectady lacks can be found in Saratoga Springs, which boasts restaurants, jazz clubs, horse racing, and Skidmore College, or in the nearby Adirondacks and Catskills. Popular road trips include Boston, Montreal, New York, and the ski slopes of nearby Vermont. Union’s athletic teams compete in Division III, aside from men’s and women’s ice hockey, both of which are Division I. 

Financial: Although the tuition and fees are approximately $62,274, Union College offers grants and need-based financial aid, with the average need-based scholarship of $32,000. 100% of need is fully met, although the Union is need-aware. Union does not combine merit and need-based aid.

What do you think about this college? What else would you like to learn about it? Please post your comments below.

10 Colleges with Unique Learning Opportunities during January

Johns Hopkins Homewood

In my recent talk with students in Kigali, Rwanda, they had a lot of questions about the unique features of American colleges and universities. Students were familiar with the brand-name colleges and a few colleges that had visited their school. Beyond that, they were surprised by the variety of college options, locales, and even distinctions among the Ivy League universities. One of the students with an interest in engineering asked about Johns Hopkins University.

Johns Hopkins
Johns Hopkins Homewood campus has a wealth of learning opportunities both on and off-campus.

A cool feature about Johns Hopkins is that it offers a January (“intersession”) term. The January term allows students to travel abroad or delve into an interesting topic that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to take otherwise, because it’s outside their course of study, nontraditional or both. For example, several of the courses offered recently at Johns Hopkins during its January term included Shiatsu sitting, Leading for Social Change, Iranian Intellectual History, travel study in Cuba, and ballroom dance.

Here are several other colleges that offer a January term:

This is a short list to whet your interest. There are numerous other campuses that offer a January term. Which additional colleges/universities did you find?


Why Add Princeton to Your College List

It’s graduation time and definitely the most rewarding time of year in my practice! This year, I’m attending a college graduation of a former client. Attending his graduation from college is particularly meaningful because he was in my first class of high school seniors. During the graduation dinner with his family, his mother recalled when they first hired me to work with him. I had spoken with his parents about his college list. (Keep in mind that this student had already spent a great deal of time thinking about where he wanted to apply to college.)

I thought his list was solid but wanted him to consider adding another East Coast university to his list. I knew that my student really wanted to remain in California as did his parents. At least by this time in our relationship, the student was open to my suggestion. Here’s some background on my thinking for adding Princeton to his list:

Case Study in Point!

princeton campusThe student attended a large public high school in California. His GPA was strongest in the 10th and 11th grade, with a couple of lower grades during 9th grade. The fact that his grades trended up for the remainder of high school still showed favorably. SAT scores were strong. What was truly remarkable about this student though was that he had started his technology business at age 13 and it was still going strong. As an entrepreneur myself, I marveled at his courage and stick-to-itiveness. He wanted to continue his entrepreneurial pursuits after college. The selective colleges on his list that would offer a strong program/exposure to entrepreneurship were Babson, University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford.

Why Princeton

I suggested that this student add Princeton to his list. Princeton isn’t necessarily known for entrepreneurship. However, these qualities about their undergraduate program were still a good fit for this particular student:

  1. Princeton has a strong community. I felt that if this student would be attending college so far away from home, the community of students would be very important. College, after all, should feel like your home away from home. Even moreso when that college home is 2,926 miles away!
  2. Princeton offers a liberal arts education. Although my student was considering computer science or engineering, based on his technology interests, Princeton offers a range of classes for exploring interests that may be undiscovered. Part of the exciting transformation that happens in college is discovering an interest or passion that had been hidden in high school.
  3. Princeton emphasizes independent work in the junior and senior years. This independent work culminates in a senior thesis.

These three qualities match well with those necessary for entrepreneurs, namely networking skills, open-mindedness, and independence. The experiences that can be garnered through the four years of college would bring those other sustainable qualities to bear.

The Rest of the Story

With attending the graduation ceremony, my relationship with this family came full circle. I was excited to be part of such a joyous occasion and beamed with pride as my student accepted his AB degree in History from Princeton University. While he still has plans to pursue his entrepreneurial interests in the next few years, he will be working in New York City, learning about a completely different industry but building a network and skills that will last a lifetime.

Where you can Go to College for FREE . . . Study Abroad

Lately, I’ve had several conversations with parents who are seeking ways to further reduce the cost of their college investment. An alternative to the high cost of tuition for US colleges is attending college in another country.

Here are 7 countries to consider:

  1. Germany
  2. Finland
  3. France
  4. Sweden
  5. Norway
  6. Slovenia
  7. Brazil

While it may sound great on paper (or during cocktail party conversations), there are several questions parents should ask to make sure that this option is viable for their teen. These 3 questions capture the overall fit that makes a difference in whether a student is successful in college, in the US or abroad:

  • Is studying abroad for college a good academic fit?
  • How will my teen fit in socially during their college years on a campus abroad?
  • What other financial costs will there be that may offset the tuition savings?

Then the flip-side of these questions will be those questions that the parents must ask themselves, like can they emotionally bear having their teen “so far” away from home. That’s a difficult question for many parents to answer whether they are sending their first or their last child off to college.

What does “College Fit” mean?

santa clara campus

During a recent talk to high schools, Peter V. Johnson, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Columbia University stated elegantly:

Columbia University, where I almost attended!

“We do not admit statistics to an institution. We admit people to an educational community.”

His statement defines college fit which we have been hearing more and more about these days.

Student perspective on College Fit

There are 2 sides to this “college fit” coin. Dean Johnson intimates the importance of fit from the college’s side. On the other side of this coin, the student can select colleges based on fit. While I don’t have a pithy quote like Dean Johnson, I will share three aspects of college fit from the student’s side.

Three aspects of college fit that students can consider when developing their list of colleges are

  • Academic fit
  • Social/cultural fit
  • Financial fit

Questions to ask about these components may include:

  • Academic – Does this college have my major interest?
    What are the required courses for graduation?
    How long will it take me to graduate based on the course offerings and schedule?
  • Social/cultural – Will I fit in?
    Can I get the type of support I need within this campus community?
    What will I do on the weekends?
  • Financial – What available scholarships will make this college affordable for my family?
    What financial sacrifices must I make to graduate from this college?
    Am I OK with those financial sacrifices?

Students have the best chance of graduating on time when these areas of fit are considered up-front.

In the same way, colleges have the best chance of admitting students who will contribute to the quality of their communities when they ask the right questions about students upfront. If you want to see the questions that matter to a college, check out their essay questions. Those questions say a lot about the type of people they want to join their educational community!

What Parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP): Part 2

SAT Subject Test

This posting is the second of a three-part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP). . . but didn’t know to ask!

In last week’s posting, we addressed the #3 Most common response about AP. Now, for this week, we provide 2 tips to address the

#2 Most common response about AP

Tip 1: Read the fine print on AP credit granting

Every college is different when it comes to granting AP credit. If your teen is taking AP to advance in a topic area or challenge themselves, that’s a good thing. If your teen is merely taking AP for the sake of getting college credit, that’s a nuanced thing!

Bowdin College

Check out the language of AP credit from this college:

AP US History

Score: 4 or 5

*Must complete a History course at Bowdoin with a minimum grade of B. If a student has scores for more than one exam (ie. AP European History), only 1 total credit will be awarded.

Bowdoin received about 6,700 applications last year. So, it’s likely that of the 1M + high school students applying to college this year, that Bowdoin is not on your teen’s college list. Whatever college is on their list, please check the guidelines for granting AP credit. The guidelines vary by college and their website should provide the details for granting AP credit.


Tread carefully with skipping any introductory college course

In some cases, a student may be able to skip an introductory course if they earn a 3” or higher on an AP test.


Think about this option a bit more . . . .  It could actually work to the student’s disadvantage to skip an introductory college-level course. The introductory college courses are typically very different from your AP course in high school. (One of the reasons that AP is being revamped.) Skipping an introductory course can turn out to be a setback for the student’s GPA and confidence in freshman year.

Next week, we will cover part three of this three-part series on What parents need to know about Advanced Placement (AP) . . . but didn’t know to ask!

How Athletes can still Study Abroad at Colgate

According to my campus tour guide, there’s “no such thing as bad weather [at Colgate] only bad clothing!” That’s important for families to hear because many students may overlook this wonderful campus because of its location/weather. Besides . . . there are tunnels to connect the buildings.

Reasons to attend Colgate

Colgate has a lot to offer to students who attend there. It’s a small-to-midsize college with an active student body of just less than 3,000 students.  Colgate students are active in Greek life (40%), engaged in community service (majority), and likely to study abroad (approx. 70%).

My tour guide also mentioned that community service is so important to the undergraduate students there that it’s “hard to leave without getting involved.” One popular program is Sidekicks. This is a Big Sibling-type of program, whereby Colgate students mentor local kids in the area.

One of Colgate’s themes is Global Engagement. This theme is encouraged through a number of different types of study-abroad programs at Colgate. The typical program may last for a semester-long, with courses co-taught between a Colgate professor and faculty in the host country. Students can choose from 26 different study abroad groups, like the Economics group which studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

Study abroad for Student-Athletes

What about the athlete who can’t spend the full semester away? There are a number of “extended study” programs. The extended study is a 3-week long program that begins with the academic class. After the class ends, the extended study abroad is then led by the faculty members who taught the class.  What an innovative approach to reinforcing and applying what was learned in the classroom!

Top 3 Must-haves at Hamilton College

New students at Hamilton College get 2 things – an adviser and a reference librarian. These two people

Hamilton College
Hamilton College

are important to the Hamilton student’s success because Hamilton is a school with no course requirements. In short, students can take courses that interest them. Students must, however, take 3 writing-intensives which is similar to most other colleges. A student described the open course selection well when she stated, “Open is good, but you have to have some foresight.” The adviser certainly helps in that area. The reference librarian, of course, is important because Hamilton students will spend a lot of time conducting research and studying in the library.

Although the student body is academic-minded, the weekends on campus offer numerous options for fun and hanging out with friends. The “barn” on-campus features late-night, “dry” entertainment, like casino night or live music. After a good time at the barn, the on-campus diner serves breakfast from midnight to 3 am! Nothing quite like eating pancakes at 2 am. . . they always taste better then!

Now, what do you think are the Top 3 must-haves at Hamilton College? 🙂

University of Virginia President Resignation and Freshman Class of 2016

Two years in office for a district superintendent may be acceptable. When it comes to a University President, however, two years is really no time at all. The last president of University of Virginia-Charlottesville held that office for 20 years. Dr. Teresa Sullivan, the new female president who came into office in 2010 with such high hopes, an impressive resume, and a scholarly research record will only hold office for two years when she leaves on August 15, 2012:

The announcement Sunday shocked the university community and signaled potential hard times ahead for the flagship university, an institution founded by Thomas Jefferson and unaccustomed to instability. The previous president, John T. Casteen, stayed for 20 years. When she exits on Aug. 15, Sullivan will have served two years and two weeks, the shortest presidential tenure in the school’s history. Helen Dragas’s handling of Teresa Sullivan’s ouster confounds many who know her. Sullivan attributed her departure to “a philosophical difference of opinion” between herself and U-Va.’s governing board of visitors. It was unclear when the rift began, but its existence surprised the Charlottesville community.

via University of Virginia president to step down – The Washington Post.

This will be an awkward time for entering Freshman Class of 2016 who will arrive on campus in August to greet new roommates as many of them embark on their first experience away from home in the “adult” world of college life. Freshmen and

upperclassmen at UVA can’t possibly know what to expect this 2012-2013 school year. Will there be any faculty or administrative backlash as a result of the president’s resignation? With a new president comes many changes to a university’s academic, fiscal, and social culture.

The transition to a new environment for the Freshman Class of 2014 will be felt in the dorm room, classroom, and every nook and cranny of the Charlottesville campus. The university may have a look and feel that’s quite different from what Freshmen experienced in the admissions process.

My urging to Freshmen Class of 2016 is to get involved with the hiring of the next president however they can. The role of the university President is too important to the success of students’ next four years to be a bystander.

UVA President at 2012 graduation with Katie Couric. -from Washington Post
UVA President at 2012 graduation with Katie Couric. -from Washington Post

Why choose a women’s college – Leadership and diversity

Smith College

My dear friend from high school attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She has always spoken very highly of her college experience and its life-changing affect. In my visits to Smith over the years, I have come to realize as well that it is indeed a special place for many reasons.

Occasionally, I have talked with a female college-bound student about the benefits of a women’s college. A women’s college isn’t a fit for every female student. However, unfortunately, it can be a great fit for more female students than those who seriously consider what those campuses have to offer. The first response is “I won’t see any guys.” My myth-busting response is “Really? On the upper west side of NYC, next to Columbia University. . . no guys?” 🙂

If you are at least open to considering why women’s colleges are appealing for many young women each year, check out this interview with Barnard’s President, Debra Spar:

Q.What does the Barnard experience offer for women? To what extent is the experience of attending Barnard different for women when compared with other American colleges?

A.It’s both very different and not very different at all. You walk across Barnard and it feels like walking across Harvard, or Northwestern, or University of Chicago. It’s a big urban campus, very diverse, with men and women. They would look to be in equal proportions. But when you look more closely, what the Barnard students experience is really the best of both worlds. They get the big diverse co-ed environment when they want it but in terms of both their classes, and more importantly their extra-curricular activities, girls are the majority.Just by definition, the president of the student body is female. The leaders of all of the clubs are female. The young women really get an opportunity to be in a female environment and to develop intellectually, personally and academically, without always being conscious of being the woman in the room.The sense you get, even in the best universities in the U.S. is that women, even subconsciously, oftentimes feel that when they put their hand up they are giving the women’s point of view. You feel that you are somehow responsible for presenting a position, and that’s a burden. Whereas if you are in a Barnard class, you put your hand up and you are just being Deborah or Joanne, and I think that frees students to be themselves and discover themselves intellectually. By the same token, in terms of their social lives or the community life, it is this big diverse place.

Q.Does the college have specific programs to encourage woman leadership?

A.We do. We have a program that’s been in place for just two or three years now, so it’s very new, but its done amazingly well. It’s called the Athena Center for Leadership Studies. It is dedicated to helping young women think about their leadership potential, and more importantly what it has really done a great job of is actually giving young women leadership skills.There’s a lot of good talk in the U.S. and around the world about leadership, but a fair amount of it is hand waving and inspirational leadership. What we’ve tried to do is to think about what the skills are you need to run anything, a newspaper or a college or a Fortune 500 corporation. We hypothesize that there are certain skills you are going to need in any of those, and we teach those skills. We teach things like finance, negotiation, fund raising, and public speaking. So, it’s not specific to women – appropriately so because I don’t think there are women’s leadership skills, there are just leadership skills. But statistically, women seem less inclined to acquire these skills.

via Why Choose a Women’s College? – NYTimes.com.

There are 60 women’s colleges in 24 states in the US. (Massachusetts has 8 women’s colleges.) My hope is that more female college-bound students would be open to at least considering a campus visit at a women’s college. Here is a list of those colleges:

Judson College
Mills College
Mount St. Mary’s College
Scripps College
Woman’s College of the University of Denver
Hartford College for Women
St. Joseph College
Trinity University
Agnes Scott College
Brenau University  
Spelman College
Wesleyan College
Lexington College
St. Mary’s College
St. Mary-of-the-Woods College
Midway College
College of Notre Dame
Bay Path College
Lesley University
Mount Holyoke College

Pine Manor College
Regis College
Simmons College
Smith College

Wellesley College
College of St. Benedict
College of St. Catherine
Mississippi University for Women
Cottey College
Stephens College
College of St. Mary
College of St. Elizabeth
Douglas College of Rutgers University
Georgian Court College
Barnard College
College of New Rochelle
Russell Sage College
Wells College
Bennett College
Meredith College
Peace College
Salem College
Ursuline College
Bryn Mawr College
Carlow College
Cedar Crest College
Chatham College
Moore College of Art and Design
Rosemont College
Wilson College
Columbia College
Converse College
Texas Woman’s University
Hollins University
Mary Baldwin College
Sweet Briar College
Alverno College
Mount Mary College

via Women’s Colleges in the United States.