How to submit a question

If you are a parent with a child either in or going to college and have a question about any aspect of higher education, send it to me in confidence at I will select questions to be answered and then place the answers on this blog for public view but without the name of the person asking the question. I have access to many college and university faculty and administrators (deans, health care professionals, coaches, admissions and financial aid officers) and they will assist me in answering your questions. Neither I nor my company, Academic Collaborations Inc., receive compensation for this service.

Monday, May 7, 2018


My most recent blog ends the college admissions series.  At this point I normally take a break and then come back mid Summer to write the blog for parents whose children will soon be leaving for college.

I have been doing this now for three years but all good things must  come to an end. Consequently last week's post was my last. HOWEVER, I would like to hear from you if you found my blog helpful. Please email me at  And don't forget to buy my book "Off to College" or recommend it to others. 

Best of luck!!

Monday, April 30, 2018

CRITERIA FOR ADMISSIONS: How important are SAT or ACT scores relative to grades? 

Once your student has decided on the kind of college or university to attend, the next order of business will be to apply. Again, for this year's juniors this will happen next Fall.

Many people think that the most important criteria for college admissions is the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT). In fact, SAT or ACT scores are ranked somewhat lower at most selective colleges, because the predictive value of the tests is questionable.The tests were designed to predict how well students will do in the first semester of their college freshman year, and the correlation between test results and how well students actually do is extremely low. The tests are also reputed to have a cultural bias against American minorities, which is why many colleges have made the tests optional. For a list of colleges that do not require these tests, see The fact is that while it is still true that high test scores together with excellent high school grades might be predictive of college success, most admissions counselors agree that high test scores and low school grades suggest a bright student who lacks motivation, a good reason for rejection. Nevertheless, parents will still spend thousands of dollars on test prep courses.

They would do better to encourage their children to focus on high school grades and demanding courses, the two most important criteria for admissions to a selective college. Even if your child's high school freshman or sophomore year was not great academically, recovery is still possible. But by junior year they need to be taking the right (i.e. academic) courses and doing well in them. Unfortunately, high school students often wait until first semester senior year, when it is often too late, to worry about this matter. Even so, colleges are far more impressed by students who are improving academically than by those who start out strong but end up weak.

It is also important to understand that it is not just the courses a student takes, but the difficulty of those courses that impresses admissions officers. The easy way out is to take general math or “business” English” and get all As. But this will not impress a college admissions officer who would prefer to see applicants take Advanced Placement (AP) credits (i.e. high school courses that colleges will credit toward college graduation) or honors courses, even if it means getting a B. Admissions officers at selective colleges will be far more impressed with a B in Advanced Placement Physics or in honors Calculus than an A in a less rigorous course.

Monday, April 23, 2018

WHICH COLLEGE IS #1?: The Business of Rating Colleges.

U.S. News and World Report is BIG in my community. Students and parents use it to find out what the best colleges and universities are. So this year Princeton is rated #1 in the national university category and Williams is similarly rated #1 in the liberal arts college catagory. The institutions at the top of these ratings change very little from year to year.

The problem is that the diversity and complexity of American Colleges and universities almost defies this kind of rating system.

For instance, the United States Military Academy  in West Point, New York is rated #12 nationally in the liberal arts college category while Grinnell in Iowa is rated just below. Besides the fact that the West Point  isn't exactly a liberal arts college what does this mean? West Point  and Grinnell are two completely different institutions. Does this mean that West Point is better than Grinnell? It’s obviously better at preparing military officers. But does it do a better job than Grinnell in teaching English or economics? I would argue that ratings like this are almost meaningless. Yet Americans will use US News and World Report like a bible. “My kid is choosing Colby (#12) because it is rated higher than Bates (#23).” Bowdoin and Bates are two excellent liberal arts colleges in Maine and frankly it’s absurd to claim that one is "better" than the other.

My biggest problem with the survey is the reputation score given to each college. This score represents 22.5% of each college’s total rating. The reputation score is based on a survey sent out to leaders in higher education asking them to rate colleges. Many of us in higher education call this the annual US News and World Report beauty contest because like a beauty contest, the ratings are superficial to the extreme. Thus, for instance, as the president of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia (a national liberal arts college) I was asked (along with other college presidents) to rate similar colleges, in, among other places,  Illinois an Wisconsin. Because I knew next to nothing about these colleges I question how qualified I was to rate them. Worse, I once received a phone call from a colleague college president with an offer: “I will give your college a top rating if you do the same for mine.”

US News and World Report is good for one thing however. It provides raw data on America's colleges and universities like graduation and retention rates, class size, and student selectivity that can be helpful in evaluating an institution. But don’t think that just because a college or university is rated #1 its better than one that’s rated #2 or even #20. 

Next week my posting will be on the most important criteria for admissions: Board scores vs Grades

Monday, April 9, 2018


In my last post I discussed deciding between large versus small institutions. There are other choices your child will have to make in selecting a college. Let me list some of these and then briefly outline the pluses and minuses for each.

College near home vs far away: Data shows that most kids go to a college within a 50 mile radius of their home. There are obvious reasons for this including seeing their parents more often, parents who are more easily able to attend athletic contests or other events in which their children are involved, and just regional familiarity. On the other hand there are virtues to going to college away from home including not being too close to Mom and Dad, an opportunity to attend an exceptional college (i.e. Stanford for someone living in the northeast or south) and experiencing another region of the country.

Urban vs rural: I’m a New York City kid and I went to a college in the rural Midwest. I missed being in a big city. But then I know of other New York City kids who really need to get out of town and kids from the rural mid-west who really need to experience life in a large metropolitan area. 

Secular or religious: I believe in faith-based colleges. I was president of two. But I can also understand why some kids might not feel comfortable in a college that is too focused on religion. Fortunately in America there is great diversity on this front from strictly evangelical colleges like Wheaton, in Illinois, to denominationally-related but otherwise non-sectarian colleges like Hobart and William Smith in upstate New York, to completely secular institutions like state universities.

Public vs private: Because I attended and then was president of a private college I have been biased to this sector. But frankly, public universities are just as good--sometimes better--than universities in the private sector. And, of course, they are less expensive because of subsidies from their states. However, if your child wants to attend a small college of say 1200 to 1500, they will have more options in the private sector. There are very few small public colleges.

Again, the great thing about higher education in America is its diversity. But please keep in mind: the choice of where to go to college is really your child’s not yours. Of course you must be involved in the decision and can give good advice. But I would avoid doing what many parents do namely restricting their child’s choices like where they can and can’t go to college. Of course there are limiting factors like the cost of a college. But everything being equal, the choice should be theirs.

In my next post I will discuss the role of surveys like US News and World Report in picking a college. 

Monday, April 2, 2018


I know this is a generalization, but when I do practice college interviews at Mamaroneck High School, it seems that boys want to attend large (sometimes huge) universities while girls are more interested in smaller ones. This post is not meant to argue for larger universities over smaller ones or vice a versa, just to set out the pluses and minuses of each.

Teaching. While larger research universities have much more variety in their course offerings, tenured faculty tend to want to teach graduate students rather than undergraduates. The result is that more often than not, graduate assistants (PhD students) will take on a larger share in teaching undergraduates so that senior faculty can teach graduate courses and advise PhD candidates. At smaller colleges on the other hand, all faculty teach undergraduates because there are no graduate assistants. At large research universities graduate assistants are often great teachers and I don’t want to demean them. But I am reminded of an experience I had at an elite major research university one of my daughters was considering. We were in the university’s amazing gothic library and the tour guide, a sophomore, was bragging about the fact that most of his first- year teachers were graduate assistants. “They’re really cool,” he said, “and understand our generation,” whereupon a mother standing next to me uttered under her breath (but loud enough for everyone to hear), “Why am I paying a small fortune to have my child taught by someone who is only a couple years older than she is?” I think she had a point.

Sports. If your child plays a sport and they are really good, a Division I university makes sense. They can play at top, competitive levels which usually doesn't happen at a small college. But if they don’t consider athletics to be at the center of their existence but would enjoy playing on a team anyway, a smaller Division III institution makes sense. I often meet high schools students who love playing their sport but think they can’t make the team at a larger DI institution. So they either give up their sport altogether or decide to play intramurals and there is nothing wrong with this. But if they really want to play their sport competitively they should consider a DIII or D II college or university. Most DIII and DII programs accept “walk on” athletes (ie athletes who have not been recruited) and in my opinion they are just as competitive as DI.

Want to experience the college”spirit.” There is a commonly held belief among the high school students I work with that the kind of college spirit you might witness at, say, the University of Michigan doesn’t exist at a smaller college or university. I imagine its exhilarating to root for the Wolverines at a Big Ten football game. But I must tell you, watching traditional rivals Randolph-Macon and Hampden-Sydney play football or basketball in the tiny DIII Old Dominion Athletic Conference (which I did many times while president of RMC) was just as exciting as attending the Harvard/Yale football game which I also did many times. College spirit exists at practically every college and university in the United States!

Want to have more friends. It is true that if your child attends a large university there will be more friends to choose from. But I would suggest that this argument is somewhat specious. How many friends can you have at a university with 10,000 or 40,000 students? Even at a small college with 1500 students you will never get to know everyone. 

Won’t be enough to do. Similarly students will often reject a small college because they believe there won’t be enough to do on campus. It is true that larger universities can offer a wider range and variety of activities. On the other hand with classes taking up most of a student’s time, there is just so much they can do outside of class unless having a social life is their most important priority. So a large university with 100 clubs versus a small college with 25 makes little difference. At both kinds of institutions there will be plenty to do. 

In my next post I will discuss some other factors your child will need to consider in selecting a college.

Monday, March 26, 2018


In my Westchester, New York community high school students are under enormous pressure to get into the “right” college, “right” being an Ivy League or a top rated college according to US News and World Report. As a student I too was under that pressure both at a high school that prided itself in the number of students admitted to prestigious colleges and from a father who attended Yale and wanted me to follow in his footsteps. The problem was that I was a very average high school student struggling with a learning disability. So I ended up going to a college that was not considered very prestigious.

But here is what I have learned as an adult who later went on to teach and be a dean at an Ivy League university: THE most important thing is for your child is to go to a college where they can be successful and happy not necessarily to a prestigious college where you might be happy but they might very well be miserable. Had I been able to gain admission to Yale, I might have dropped out of college. At age eighteen, a teenager with dyslexia  I just wouldn’t have survived Yale's very competitive academic and social environment. Where I did go to college—a small relatively unknown liberal arts university in New Jersey—I was able slowly to conquer my learning disability and grow socially becoming president of my residence hall sophomore year. By junior year and with the hands-on help of one of my professors who believed that I had potential, I excelled academically and at graduation I was admitted to an elite graduate school.

Which brings me to another point most parents don’t consider. If you child aspires to be a lawyer or a physician or some other profession, it’s really the graduate school, not the undergraduate college they attended, that opens professional doors. Moreover, elite graduate and professional schools often recruit college students who have done well academically but are also big fish in small ponds –and it’s easier to be a big fish at a small college! I have a friend who attended an Ivy League university as an undergraduate and wanted to go on to law school but neither excelled academically nor was a student leader as an undergraduate. As a result he could only get into a regional law school and today resents his Ivy League university for failing him . On the other hand, I attended an unknown college, did well enough to get into two highly competitive graduate programs that opened doors for me and went on to become president of two liberal arts colleges. 

Again, the point is that your child should attend a college where they can be happy and successful. If they can do this at an Ivy League university, fine. If they can’t (as was the case for me) it’s not the end of the world. Students can achieve their potential at almost any college.

In my next post I will discuss the virtues of small vs large universities.

Monday, March 19, 2018


In the past, community colleges have often been considered as a place your child goes to if they can’t get into a four year college. This is unfair to community colleges because they serve a number of important purposes including providing post-secondary education for students who don't desire or are not ready for a four year residential experience but also for mature students who must continue to work. 

But there is another reason why students and their parents might want to consider a community college—cost.

Many community colleges have articulation agreements with four year colleges and universities. Under this arrangement, a student does their first two years at a community college and then transfers into a senior four year institution for the last two years. Because of the articulation agreement, all courses taken at the community college are seamlessly transferred to the four year institution. For example, general education courses taken at the community college fulfill the general education requirement at the four year college or university. 

The reason many people are beginning to consider the community college option is because of the cost differential. Take, for example, a typical four year liberal arts college. At this college, you will pay $50,000 per year for room, board and tuition or $200,000 for four years (less at a four year public university). Of course this "sticker price" can be brought down by scholarship support. However if your child takes their first two years at a local community college that has an articulation agreement with a four year institution (and lives at home), tuition and fees for two years will be only $12,500 (which can vary from community college to community college). If you add this $12,500 to the $100,000 your will pay for your child's last two years at a four year institution, the total cost of a BA or BS will be $112,500, expensive but a whole lot less expensive than the $200,000 you would have paid for your child to attend a four year private college. And your child gets the same degree!

Worth considering if college cost is a big issue for you.

In my next post I will discuss why going to an Ivy League university is not necessarily the most important thing in the world.