Case Western Reserve University

I was impressed on a recent visit to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. In fact, my first sense was that the school has a decided Ivy League feel to it with its size, architecture, and urban location. Case is a private university with 4016 undergraduates and 5620 graduates. It is ranked as more selective by U.S. News, and attracts students with SATs averaging 1336 and an ACT cumulative average of 30. One of the few universities in the U.S. with more males enrolled (56%) than females (44%), this is no doubt due to the popularity of its engineering programs – although biology, nursing and psychology are also found on the list of top majors.

Case has some impressive institutional stats, including a 92% freshman retention rate. The school meets 91% of undergraduate student financial need, although I was less impressed by the average debt of recent graduates: $39,886. In athletics the school plays at the Division III level.

I loved the campus and its mix of traditional and modern buildings. A standout is definitely the Peter B. Lewis building, which houses the internal School of Management. Architect Frank Gehry may be known for the undulating forms and curves of his major buildings, but to my untrained eye it also looked as if a very unfortunate explosion may have occurred inside. My photo of the building is at the top of the blog. I am very sorry that our tour didn’t include a peek inside. I also popped in a picture from the lovely main library at the bottom, which was featuring therapy dogs as a relaxation antidote to final exams during my visit—which I loved.

Finally, an observation or two about Case’s location in Cleveland: the city is far from the joke it once was, shades of urban blight and the Cuyahoga River in flames. Cleveland is now known as a hip metropolitan center with much happening in the arts and sports, and I am aware that it is also a major foodie destination. Any student looking for a standout education in an interesting urban setting should consider Case Western. 

Pinnacle Summer College Planning Clinic

With school counselor caseloads climbing ever higher, families rightfully fear that students will lack personalized help with planning for college at the same time that admission selectivity reaches a peak nationwide. This summer local independent educational consultant Dr. Lisa Ransdell is offering a six-week reasonably priced college planning clinic to a small group of rising high school juniors and seniors.

The clinic provides 12 hours of instruction and personal guidance with key aspects of college planning, including college searching/matching, essay development and editing, career/major planning and assessment, financial aid guidance, model campus tours and interview preparation, and more. After completing the clinic, each participant will be far ahead of many of his or her classmates with much of the work of applying to college complete or solidly begun. Parents are invited to attend the financial aid and scholarship class meeting.

At the conclusion of the sessions each participant will receive a detailed, personalized report with college matches, the student’s edited essay draft, the college major assessment report, a point-by-point college planning timeline, financial aid and scholarship recommendations, and more.

Dr. Ransdell launched her education consulting practice, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC, in 2007 in the Denver area.  Lisa works with all kinds of students, sharing with each insight from her 20-year career as a higher education administrator and 28-years as a college faculty member (ongoing). She is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, and the Denver-Boulder BBB.

Lisa’s past clients are attending or headed to schools like the University of Denver, the University of Colorado, the University of Chicago, Gonzaga University, the University of Southern California, Villanova University, Louisiana State University, the University of Oregon, and many more excellent colleges. The summer clinic is very affordable and offers phenomenal value and terrific benefits to participants and families.

For info/to register:                   303-635-6620

Campus tour at UC Berkeley

Sound Planning for College Tours

I strongly recommend that students tour as many of the colleges they are applying to as possible, preferably before submitting an application.  If not then, college tours should be done later with the student’s top choice schools that offered an acceptance as one means of making the best decision about where to attend. Here are some pointers about how to approach college touring:

 Why tour before applying?

It’s great to learn from a client that her or his family started visiting schools early (sophomore year isn’t too soon!), possibly incorporating visits in family vacations and trips. In my view the more visits, the more students are likely to become discerning judges of what a college has to offer. It is also the case that some schools interpret a documented visit as an indication of sincere interest, a bit of an advantage for the applicant later when the college is evaluating applicants.

How to plan college tours and make arrangements….

The majority of schools offer twice a day dual offerings, most typically an information session led by an admissions staff member, and a tour conducted by a current student.  Both are valuable, and provide key information and impressions that can help with evaluating institutions. A typical schedule for a given college is a morning info session (for example at 10 a.m.), perhaps in the building where the admissions office is located, followed by a one-hour tour at 11 a.m.  Then there will be an afternoon pairing of sessions at perhaps 2 and 3 p.m. This allows for the possibility that families can schedule two schools in one day, provided they are close enough to permit travel from one to another.

Visits should be planned and scheduled well in advance. Go on the college website and click on Admissions, or Prospective Students.  Somewhere on the site there should be a schedule for campus visits that shows times and locations. It may be possible to register for a visit directly on the site, although you may need to call the admissions office to receive confirmation. Once you are registered you will probably receive information in the mail or via email, and possibly a parking pass also.

Some schools offer a much more in-depth experience, especially to seniors and candidates of high interest. These add-ons may include the possibility of meeting with a professor, staying overnight with a current student in a dorm, eating a meal in the dining commons, or attending a class. For students applying to distinctive programs such as athletics or musical ensembles, additional events may be open, such as observing a rehearsal or meeting with a coach. I suggest locating the admissions rep for your school or region and contacting that person to learn about the possibility of an expanded visit.

Remember that a significant focus of admissions events is a marketing orientation, so do your homework beforehand and ask good questions about the things that matter most to you. Try and grab a copy of the student newspaper while on campus, as the stories may reveal a more inside perspective. Chat up as many current students as possible during your time on campus, especially some who are not affiliated with the admissions office.

Touring colleges across the U.S. is a constant for me as an educational consultant, and I never tire of it. Some fun things that I do to commemorate a visit is to take several photos while on the tour, and stop by the campus bookstore to purchase a pennant and a pack of pens or pencils.  The pennant is for my office, and the pencils are for gifts for clients. I hope you enjoy your college tours as much as me!

Undergraduate Research Opportunities at The College of Wooster

The College of Wooster is one of many first-rate private liberal arts colleges in the Midwestern U.S.  Located in Wooster, Ohio, about an hour south of Cleveland, it boasts an attractive campus, and solid educational outcomes for students. On average two thousand students attend Wooster, and they get a lot of close faculty attention with the 11 to 1 student-faculty ratio.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of academics at the school is the Independent Study Program that requires each student to submit a major research paper or project during senior year. The program, which is in its sixth decade, is widely known and esteemed. U.S. News and World Report has cited the school’s outstanding undergraduate research opportunities and stellar senior capstone projects each year for 10 years (along with Princeton, the only other school named in both categories all ten years). Fiske commends Wooster’s focus on teaching students how, rather than what to think, and Wooster was prominently featured in Lauren Pope’s book Colleges That Change Lives.

The total cost of attendance for 2011-12 is $45,668, but 95% of students receive some form of financial aid, with an average award of $24,820. My client Emma and I toured the campus one day in early October, and we both thought it would be a great place to attend: small enough to have a tight community and large enough to have many academic options and opportunities. See my photo above of Emma and our tour guide Brenna in the library.

Is College Tuition Overpriced?

Two days ago I returned to Denver from having toured several selective midwestern private liberal arts colleges with one of my student clients. Each school is on the small side (averaging 2000 students or less), each has a reputation as a fine institution, with multiple factoids of distinction, such as freshman retention rates, graduation rates, percent employed after graduation, etc., and three were even profiled in that overly-touted 2006 tome Colleges That Change Lives.

Two of the four institutions charged students in the current (2010-11) first-year class just under $50,000 for tuition, room, board and fees, and two charged about $52,000. Are these charges worth it in terms of quality of experience and value of degree? Are they worth generating debt that will trail behind graduates and their families for years, perhaps decades to come? I think not, and I’m far from being the only college commentator who thinks so.

Many higher education journalists and bloggers observe that college costs have exceeded the inflationary spiral of health care costs in the U.S., and some forecast a course reversal that will rival what followed after the recent mortgage-bank crisis and consequent recession. So what will stop the craziness? Families that refuse the hype and demand accountability for fees, and students who agree to attend the best college that their parents (and they themselves) can reasonably afford.

I wholeheartedly agree with the advice given by one financial aid expert whom I recently heard at a public forum. He suggested that parents and students have an open talk about what is affordable well before a college list is assembled. Students can apply wherever they wish, within reason, but attendance is predicated on the total cost of attendance quoted by colleges after all discounting from grants, awards, and scholarships is reviewed.

The smart and talented student-client (a junior) who accompanied me on the trip hales from a regular middleclass Colorado family, and she has a sibling who will likely begin college during her third year of attendance. If costs continue to increase I am certain that she will be facing $60,000 in fees at the kind of college she hopes at attend, and her parents will have a dual burden for at least two years. I plan to advise her to apply widely, both in-state and out, and to seriously consider her best offers only. If this posture becomes the norm, colleges will need to take note, and adjust their pricing accordingly.

Recently Visited: Swarthmore College

There are so many great colleges in the eastern U.S. A beautiful, highly respected and historic one is Swarthmore, near Philadelphia. Swat, as insiders affectionately know it (students are “Swatties”), dates from 1864, and was founded by the Society of Friends.

These days Swarthmore is a highly selective liberal arts college of just over 1500 students known for challenging academics, activism, and civic engagement. Beyond the usual liberal arts disciplines, Swat also offers Peace and Conflict Studies, Education Studies, Film and Media Studies, and Engineering.

Remarkably, Swarthmore boasts an 8-1 faculty-student ratio, and fully meets the financial need of accepted students, thanks to its vast endowment.

Swarthmore has a strong sense of tradition, and symbolic rituals for entering and exiting students underscore this. The ceremony for entering students is called First Collection, and involves a candlelit gathering of new students, faculty and staff at the outdoor amphitheater on campus.

Finally, Swat has a stunningly beautiful 425-acre campus that is also an arboretum. On the day of my visit there were groups of nature lovers also touring the campus, savoring the magnificent towering trees and other vegetation. Studying in such an atmosphere would definitely be inspirational, in more ways than one.