University of Delaware – traditional education with an emphasis on experiential learning

Standing in the grassy green mall, the hub of University of Delaware’s 970-acre campus, you will find yourself surrounded by a mix of colonial and modern buildings. University of Delaware is one of the oldest US universities, established in 1743 as Newark College, then renamed Delaware College, and finally, University of Delaware in 1921. 


Despite its longstanding heritage, UD continues to renovate and upgrade its campus and facilities. Mechanical Hall is a climate-controlled art gallery home to the Paul R. Jones collection of African-American art, and Innovation Suite recently opened for the electrical and computer engineering departments. Students studying hotel and restaurant management gain hands-on experience in the fine dining restaurant and a Courtyard by Marriott right on campus. 


Here are a few quick facts about UDelaware:

Acceptance: 68%

Freshman retention: 91%

Freshmen out of state: 66%

Most popular majors: finance, marketing, nursing, psychology

4-year Graduation rate: 71%; 6-year: 81%

Student Community Diversity: 5% Black, 8% Latino, 5% International


Housing: All freshmen not commuting live in the dorms, making up part of the 40 percent of overall students who reside on campus. Housing is guaranteed and awarded by lottery, but many juniors and seniors move to off-campus apartments. 


Honors students live in designated residence halls and certain majors require students to live in a living/learning community. There are also a variety of optional special-interest living communities. Students in traditional residence halls are required to purchase the meal plan. UD students state that the food courts are really good with a variety of options for different dietary needs and restrictions, but the dining halls could use some improvement. 


Academics: UD offers 135 majors in a range of disciplines. Some of their newer offerings include biomedical engineering and human resources administration. In order to graduate, students must pass freshman English (critical reading and writing), earn 3 credits of discovery-based or experiential learning (internship, research or study abroad), complete First-Year Seminar course in freshman year and a capstone project in senior year. Other graduation requirements vary by college. 


The average class size is 35 students, but 34% of classes have fewer than 20 students. Professors stress the importance of collaboration and working together. Career Services is very active in making sure students are well-supported in gaining real-world experiences. One-third of students travel to 40 countries and 400 students receive stipends each summer to do research with faculty members. Students at UD also have a conviction to get involved in community service; 62 percent of students get involved during their time at UD. Service Learning Scholars program is a 10-week program that immerses students in community service opportunities in the local community.  


Similar colleges to consider: Penn State, Rutgers, University of Connecticut, University of Maryland


Social: Despite having a smaller percentage of students living in the dorms, most social life at University of Delaware happens on or around campus. Students can find plenty of events hosted by UD student organizations to attend. Greek life attracts a moderate number of students (18% of men and 23% of women pledge), but they do not have a monopoly on the social gatherings. 


True to their positive and friendly nature, University of Delaware offers a variety of fun traditions and activities. Hen Fest welcomes students back to campus each fall and juniors mark their progress in the fall with the Halfway There Party. This event features half-legged races, half-lemonade/half-iced tea (Arnold Palmers) and a DJ bumping popular songs…but only halfway through. 


Main Street runs almost right through campus, making most places within a comfortable walking distance. Students will find coffee shops, pizza places, restaurants, a movie theater and shops nearby. For students who want to venture a little further, New York, DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia are all about a two-hour drive away. 


Division I Blue Hens are becoming more competitive, with football being the biggest deal. Tailgate parties are very popular both before and after the games. Women’s field hockey won a national championship title recently, and women’s golf and men’s soccer have brought home Colonial Athletic Association conference titles. Men’s and women’s basketball teams have a lively rivalry with Drexel. Recreational sports also draw a lot of students with 35 club sports and 30 intramural programs. 


Financial: University of Delaware offers both need-based and non-need based financial aid as well as a some athletic scholarships. The average percent of need met is 59%, with 21% being fully met. 


Although the cost of attendance for non-commuters is $29,200 and $52,200 for in-state and out-of-state, respectively, the average financial aid package is $20,000. Twenty percent of students receive some type of financial aid.

New York University – Where challenging academics and big-city living meet

If you are looking for challenging academics at a college where you can also enjoy a thriving city scene, you may want to consider New York University. Located primarily on Washington Square and in the heart of Greenwich Village, students will find trendy shops, galleries, bars and eateries in the surrounding blocks with SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown nearby. 


Here are a few quick facts about NYU:

Acceptance: 21%

Freshman retention: 90%

Freshmen out of state: 72%

Most popular majors: business, nursing, theater, individualized majors

4-year Graduation rate: 79%; 6-year: 88%

Student Community Diversity: 7.5% Black, 16% Latino, 21.7% International


Housing: While there was a time when NYU students had to “fend for themselves” in the outrageous New York housing market, students are now guaranteed four years of housing in one of the 22 residence halls. Most rooms have a private bath and are nicer than a lot of city apartments. Freshmen live in one of the freshman residence halls, many of which have themed floors. 43% of undergraduates live in university housing. NYU offers a free shuttle service to dorms that are farther away from academic buildings.


Campus dining halls offer extensive options, including a dedicated kosher eatery. Students also have plenty of inexpensive options  in the restaurants located downtown. Safety is taken very seriously at NYU. Students state that they see plenty of security officers patrolling, both on foot and in patrol cars. NYU Trolley & Escort Van Service provides door-to-door transportation until 3:00am so students (and parents) can be assured they will get back to their dorm safely.  


Academics: New York University’s Under the Core Curriculum prescribes freshman and sophomore to take courses in foreign language, expository writing, foundations of contemporary culture, and foundations of scientific inquiry. The foreign language options are much broader than most universities and include Arabic, Cantonese, Hindi, Modern Irish, Swahili, and Tagalog. 


Despite the large student population (27,000 undergraduates plus 25,000 graduate students), 59% of classes have fewer than 20 students. Even though many classes are taught by graduate students, most of the introductory courses are taught by a well-known, “top notch” professor. NYU students describe the faculty as being reasonably accessible. To help ensure student success, students meet with their academic advisor at least once every semester.


New York University boasts many noteworthy schools and programs. The Tisch School of the Arts has trained many successful actors and directors including Marcia Gay Harden and Martin Scorcese. The Stern School of Business is known for having an accounting program with a high job-placement rate. Students who are looking for more flexible schedules and the opportunity to engage in independent study can find that in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. 


Opportunities abound for the NYU student. The career center is very well-run and helps connect students to one of thousands of on-campus jobs, full-time jobs and internships. Also, with eleven academic sites internationally as well as exchange agreements with universities around the world, it’s no wonder 56% of NYU students take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad. 


Similar colleges to consider: U of Southern California, Cornell, Boston U, Northeastern


Social: Understandably, the majority of social life takes place off-campus. Students can attend Broadway performances, shop in SoHo, or hang out in Greenwich Village without having to go too far. That’s not to say there is nothing to do on campus. Students can become involved with their choice of more than 600 clubs and organizations and attend on-campus concerts and movies. Fraternity and sorority events are another popular on-campus activity, although only 5% of men and 7% of women “go Greek.” 


In the spring, NYU hosts their Strawberry Festival, which features free berries, and many students march in the Halloween Parade that takes over Greenwich Village each October. The Violet Ball is another well-attended event, which gives students an excuse to get dressed up. 


Sports is not NYU’s greatest strength. However, they do have several successful programs, including men’s and women’s golf, swimming and diving, and men’s wrestling which all compete in Division III. One-third of students participate in intramural sports. 

Financial: New York University offers both need-based and merit scholarships. NYU does not offer any athletic scholarships. The average percent of need met is 66%, with 12% being fully met. Although the tuition and fees are $77,000, the average financial aid package is $37,000. Fifty-one percent of students receive financial aid.

Vanderbilt beyond beautiful campus: A great fit for engineering, research, community, study abroad and foodies

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University, the smallest and only private college in SEC conference, offers 68 undergraduate majors across four schools and colleges: the College of Arts and Science, School of Engineering, Peabody School of Education and Human Development, and Blair School of Music. Students apply to a school. Each school is special in its own way and worth highlighting further. Students in the College of Arts and Science can design their own major. There are 8 tracks in the School of Engineering and students choose 3 of those tracks in which to take courses during their freshman year. The Organization Development major in the Peabody School requires an off-campus internship either in 2nd semester junior year or first semester of senior year. Since the Blair School only has an undergraduate program and is NOT a conservatory, students earn their degree through another school.

Prospective students usually fall in love with the Vanderbilt campus. Its park-like campus is located in the heart of Midtown, surrounded by restaurants, shops, and cultural destinations. There are, in fact, over 80 restaurants within walking distance of the campus. (Foodies beware!) On the main campus, art and sculptures dot the landscape and architectural styles range from Gothic to modern glass and brick.

Vanderbilt University

Don’t let the beautiful campus fool you, though. . . .Vanderbilt is still one of the most selective colleges in the US. Check out their acceptance rate and these additional quick facts about Vanderbilt:

Acceptance: 8.8%

Freshmen from out of state: 89%

Most popular majors: social sciences, engineering, interdisciplinary studies (No wonder with the flexibility students have to double-major across schools.)

Housing: 86% of undergraduates live in the dorms. All freshman live together which can be a plus for meeting new friends and building a tighter class community.

4-year Graduation rate: 84%

Academics: Vanderbilt’s study abroad program attracts 35 percent of students and offers the chance to spend a summer, a semester, or a year on one of six continents through 130 programs. There’s even a May-mester option to study abroad, so no excuse for students not to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. An interdisciplinary approach to learning is embraced and undergrads are encouraged to take classes across all four schools. From their first year, undergraduates can get involved with cutting-edge research with world-renowned faculty and participate in internships. Keep in mind, though, Vanderbilt does not offer a “co-op” program.

Social: Vanderbilt students have remarked that “Nashville is so much fun,” and “The list of excellent restaurants, bars, shopping, and live music venues is endless.” In addition to the 500+ student clubs, over half of undergraduate women participate in sororities and 30% of the guys. Although many Greek parties are open to the entire campus, the strong participation in Greek life may suggest that Vanderbilt is not be the best fit if a teen is not interested in Greek life.

Vanderbilt has a long tradition of community service, starting an “alternative spring break” as far back as the 70s. Today, an impressive 75% of students participate in community service.

Financial: Vanderbilt offers university grants and need-based financial aid, with 100% of need fully met.  Their financial packages do not include loans (hooray!). Thus, Vanderbilt’s offers include only gift monies and a small amount of expected student employment.

What do you think of Vanderbilt? What about this college is a good fit? Please post your comments below.

Anonymity not allowed at Austin College


“We admit more students than we deny!” rang like music to the ears of high school seniors visiting Austin College. As one of the 40 colleges featured in Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College likely gets a lot of visitors throughout the year who decide to apply. When students self-select into the Austin College application process, it’s likely that they may have read about the special features of this liberal arts college in north Texas.

There are 3 features that bring a unique flavor to Austin College:

  1. Faculty mentors – Each student is matched with a faculty mentor that remains with them for their four years. The faculty mentor supports the student through all aspects of navigating the academic and social life of college. In order to register each term, the student must meet with faculty. This ensures that you speak with your mentor each term, but many students are meeting with their mentors much more frequently than that.These strong faculty-student relationships then support the high rates of graduate school admissions for Austin undergraduates. Despite its small student body of 1,300, each year Austin ranks highly for its number of Fulbright scholars.
  2. International experiences – A majority of Austin students study abroad for at least one term during college. Austin makes these opportunities available to its students through an office dedicated to international study and the January Term. During the month of January, students devote their studies to 1 course which can be offered anywhere in the world. The faculty designs this intensive course which is only taught during January Term.Recent January term courses have included a “Kilts and Castles” tour of Scotland, environmental research in Brazil, plus volunteerism and non-profits in South Africa. What exciting opportunities for Austin students!
  3. Career services – The career service offerings begin in freshman year for Austin College students. You may be surprised that many colleges do not start this process until Junior or Senior year. The admissions officer noted that “Starting early is key to figuring out what you want to do!”Starting early with internships also positions Austin College students to get engaged with its community and strong alumni network during this exploratory phase.

The Austin College community has a lot to offer for the right student. In fact, here are the students who would NOT fit well here:

  • Students who want to be anonymous – the strong faculty-student-peer-administrator relationships will out you! There are no auditorium classrooms, either.
  • Students who want do class only – you’re limited to 4 classes per semester and there are numerous activities for expanded involvement
  • Students who want a 24/7 “big city” life  – the Sherman community is approximately 40K and about 118K with surrounding community. Dallas is about an hour away so you’re not far!

As another sign of the campus community, my information session and tour actually started a few minutes later so that we could wait on another family to arrive. That’s never happened during any visit I’ve joined. Cheers to Austin College hospitality!


Volunteer abroad during Gap Year: Is this an option for College-Bound Students?

In my travels around the country, I talk with a lot of families who are curious about the term “gap year.” It’s a term that originated in Britain and has made its way over the pond in the last 3 decades or so.

What exactly is a gap year?

It is a break in formal education, usually between high school and college where students continue learning through a cultural immersion, volunteer opportunity in the US or abroad, deeper skill development in their sport, arts, language, or academics. It’s a time of reflection and maturity. More importantly, it is a period of purpose and intention.

A gap year is not a vacation, nor a year of hanging out for the sake of hanging out.  The purpose and intentional aspect of a gap year is important because it suggests that the gap year is most effective when it’s planned in advance.

For many incoming freshmen who decide to defer their matriculation to  college, the colleges will grant deferred admission if you outline your plans for how your time will be spent during the gap year. For students who want to have a more competitive application for college, they may apply to college during the start of the gap year and the applicant must state how their gap year time is being spent. So having a plan for how the gap year will be structured is critical for college-bound students.

On our radio show today, we spoke with Andrew MacKenzie and Anna Walker of Africa and Asia Venture in Britain. Gap years have been popular in Britain for many years and their program has been around since 1993! Their program offers opportunities for cultural immersion and volunteer experiences in Africa, Asia, and The Americas.

Several of the topics covered in this discussion included:

  • Benefits of participating in such a program
  • Deferred admission vs. applying to college during their gap year
  • Trends in students pursuing a gap year
  • And of course . . . safety and security measures that families must consider prior to any cultural immersion or volunteer abroad opportunity

You can listen to this podcast on volunteer abroad gap year programs and learn Anna’s tips on travel insurance and resources that families must consult when vetting these programs!


Our radio show is broadcast regularly on blogtalkradio. Please join our Facebook page for show updates. You may also send show topic suggestions or guest ideas to radio at compasseducationstrategies dot com.

How to Choose the Colleges that fit YOU with “Colleges that Change Lives”

High school Juniors, have you listened to our podcasts focused on you? We have broadcast three prior shows as part of our Junior Series. The previous show has discussed campus visits, the SAT, ACT, and AP. A third show delved more into the SAT Math section since that part of the SAT often gives students a lot of grief!

In today’s show topic, we discussed another aspect of the college admissions process that is top of mind for many high school students and juniors especially. Whether you have done campus visits, taken the SAT, or asked your recommenders, the more critical question will be . . . “How do I choose the right colleges for me?” I use the term colleges as plural, instead of college singular, because I want to dispel the myth that there is only one college for a student.

There are about 3,800 colleges and universities in the US and several could be a fit for you in different ways. For example, a campus may have appeal because it’s near your favorite city or perhaps another college has a professor who is focusing on your area of interest. They can both be great colleges that match you academically, socio-emotionally, and financially. As students consider all the various options available, there are steps that students can follow to determine which colleges could be right for them to apply.

The other data point or research that I want to insert here is that studies have found that the breakdown in college graduation happens in the application process. Did you know this? So it behooves students and families to think through this process of choosing the right colleges in an informed and strategic way. Although there are many parents who are supporting their student with college selection, I can’t stress enough that the “You”  in this case, refers to the student. Parents may mean well but it really does a disservice to the student if the parents choose where the students apply! Strongly suggesting that a student applies to college because the parent is an alum is risky and likely to backfire. The parents can help but they must be careful about not doing and actually choosing the colleges where their son or daughter will apply. I do realize the parents are footing the bill but this process of choosing the right colleges that will be a fit starts with the student.

In this show, Marty O’Connell, Executive Director of Colleges that Change Lives shares some great steps that students should take towards finding those great matches. Prior to CTCL, Marty served in college admissions for twenty-eight years, most recently as vice president for enrollment and dean of admission at McDaniel College (Westminster, Md.), Now she has devoted herself to the Colleges That Change Lives mission: helping students and families better understand the college admissions process to find the best college fit possible.

As we warmly welcomed Marty to our shows, we also want to invite YOU to download the podcast and hear what Marty suggested. The steps we discussed may change the way you’re thinking of approaching this critical component of the college admissions process.

How to Decide Which Colleges

Centre College and Transylvania U in Kentucky

Centre College, located in Danville, Kentucky, has a national reputation. The college is located in a small town where the college is the happening place. It wasn’t clear, however, if there was a strong relationship between the town and the college. A student described the Centre-Danville relationship as “getting better.” Staff and students consistently described the culture of the campus as “academic” and “All-American.” So, if that sounds like your kind of campus, great, keep on reading! If these descriptors are not appealing to you, keep reading this posting, but perhaps we should talk! ☺

Culture and tradition at Centre

The more telling signs of the cultural spirit may be the strong presence of students from Ohio and Tennessee with a 55% in-state population overall. My own impression of the Centre culture is a Southern/Midwest homey-ness!

All freshman dorms are single-gender with graduated visitation privileges. Upperclassmen have varied housing options. The new upper-class dorm got rave reviews. The dining hall, fitness center, and other academic buildings are also either new or recently renovated. What was nice about the renovations on campus is that they maintained the character of the architecture on campus

What makes Centre College special

A signature differentiator of the college is the “Centre Term.” Centre Term, a 3-week period between the first and second semesters, provides an opportunity for almost every student to study abroad. The main dining hall is adorned with flags displaying all the countries visited by Centre students.IMG_0399

Gotta check out the glass-blowing course if you attend!

While I was in Kentucky, I also visited Transylvania University. Quite frankly, I didn’t know much about the college until I heard the President speak at an IECA conference last November. The fact that the President had been a partner at Goldman was even more intriguing. One of the reasons I visited was to see what compelled him to relocate to Lexington, KY!

Transylvania students love their campus

The Transylvania campus is located in a really hip section of Lexington – not too far from campus. There were several restaurants close by and the homes in the neighborhood appeared well-kept. I was a bit disappointed with being on campus, however, because a campus police officer actually followed me around. Not sure why I was singled out. Nevertheless, it dampened my spirits a bit.

transylvannia university campusStudents that I met were enthusiastic and positive about their experiences at Transylvania. (I didn’t let the overzealous campus police ruin that.) Students remarked on the small class sizes and access to extra-curricular activities. I didn’t get a sense of Transylvania’s distinguishing qualities, but do plan to visit again! Stay tuned.