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.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Even if your child doesn't plan to apply to a liberal arts college like I did but wants to attend a professional school that focuses on careers in, for example, business, nursing, or engineering, I strongly believe that the best preparation for a career in these and other professions but also for life in general is (in addition to their professional courses) a broad exposure to the liberal arts. I have come to this conclusion through many years of experience as an educator at some of America’s top colleges and universities including a well-known engineering school.

When I attended college, people thought it was very important to choose a career early and then immediately pursue a course of study supporting that choice. Had I followed this common pattern, I probably would never have become a college president, because what I did—indeed what most leaders in society do—drew heavily on the disciplines that make up the liberal arts and sciences. I not only used my knowledge of sociology (my college major), but I also drew heavily on mathematics, logic, history, physics, psychology, public speaking—indeed most of the courses I took as a college undergraduate.

Later in life, the importance of a liberal arts education became even more apparent when, with a freshly minted doctorate in history, I joined the faculty and administration at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (R.P.I.), one of the finest engineering schools in the country.

Why was an engineering school hiring historians? Well, long before I arrived on the scene, RPI faced a dilemma. Its students were graduating with strong credentials in math, science and, of course, engineering. But they received very little education by way of the arts and humanities. After graduation, these students landed wonderful, high paying first jobs in engineering firms, technology companies and corporations across the country. But when it came time for promotion, many found themselves at a disadvantage. They lacked some broad based skills including the ability to write clearly, appreciate the fine and performing arts, understand the historical and social context in which they lived, and understand different cultures. Consequently, many of these bright engineers got stuck in second and third level positions. R.P.I addressed this problem by creating a school of humanities, arts, and social sciences and requiring its engineering students to take courses in a variety of non-engineering disciplines, many of the interdisciplinary. I was hired, in part, to teach one of these courses.

Unfortunately, many institutions in America are not as enlightened as R.P.I. and have short-changed their students by providing them with a curriculum that, in my opinion at least, is far too narrow and proscribed. For instance, when recruiting students for admission to Harvard Divinity School where I was a dean, I once met with four seniors at a major mid-western public flagship university who were about to graduate with degrees in computer science, but not much else. They complained bitterly that when they began as first-year students, the computer science courses they were required to take were at the cutting edge of the discipline, but now, because of swift advances in computer technology, were outdated. Realizing that their career options in the computer science field might now be severely limited, they wanted to explore other professional opportunities including the ministry. But with only one or two college level credits in the humanities and no competency in a foreign language, I had to tell them that professional school was probably out of the question, unless they took at least another year in the arts and humanities.

My post next week will provide some additional reasons why you want your child to have to have a broad based education even if they plan to attend a professional school.

Again please share this post with friends who have a high school junior and senior and invite them to friend me on my blog.

Monday, November 13, 2017


Each year approximately 1.6 million high school seniors apply to colleges and universities across the United States. For almost all of them, the process is traumatic. Not only must they keep their grades up in high school, but, without knowing very much about higher education, they must also somehow pick and choose which one of the 3,500 four year colleges and universities or 1600 two year community colleges they will attend. By November/December of their senior year things get hectic. Hard choices have to be made, applications have to be filled out, and financial hurdles must be overcome. They must then patiently wait to hear whether they have been accepted or rejected by the colleges of their choice. Take these 1.6 million students and multiply their numbers several times over and you get an idea of the other people—mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles—who are also impacted by the admissions process. Applying to college is a family matter involving long held dreams and aspirations by many, many people.

My thinking about college admissions is driven by two strong biases that are the result of over 30 years in higher education. The first bias is my belief that the best preparation for life whatever profession or occupation your child will eventually take on is a heavy dose of the liberal arts and sciences. The second bias is my penchant for small colleges, or, if not small colleges, at least larger universities that can break their student populations down into smaller, more manageable groups. 

In writing this post I have striven to be brutally honest about the admissions and financial aid process, drawing heavily from my own experience as a college administrator and parent. I have also written in a style that tries to make complicated concepts understandable to people not familiar with higher education.

Next post I will write about why, even if your child is thinking about entering an undergraduate professional program (engineering, nursing, etc), a broad based undergraduate education with a heavy dose of the liberal arts and sciences is important.

Again please share this post with friends who have a high school junior and senior and invite them to friend me on my blog.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


My previous posts have been directed to families who have children in their first year of college. HOWEVER, by now they should be seasoned veterans. 

I'm now going to direct my posts to families who have a high school student (junior or sophomore) who is beginning to explore college admissions. Parents of high school seniors ( who should be well into the application process), might benefit as well.

So I ask my faithful blog readers to share this post with friends who have a high school student and might be interested in the subject of college admissions. 

I will resume writing about the first year this Spring as parents of high school seniors prepare to send their children off to college orientation.

I am well qualified to talk about college admissions not only because, as a college president for twenty years, I hired college admissions counselors at my two institutions and therefore know how they think, but also because, in retirement, I volunteer at the Mamaroneck (New York ) High School counseling office where I help rising juniors and seniors prepare for college interviews. 

If you have any questions about the college admissions process, please direct then (in confidence) to 

Of course, listen to what your child's high school counselor says! They know your child better than anyone writing a blog like this.

And again please, pass this note on to friends who might have an interest in this subject.

Monday, October 30, 2017

TRANSFERRING: A New Life in College

Sometimes the first year of college is a trial—disappointing grades, not the right social or academic fit, too far from home. Of course, the hope is that everything will be great the first year and that your child will end up graduating from the college they started. But there is nothing wrong with making a change if things are not going well. According to Inside Higher Education 37.2% of all college students end up transferring. Many do so because their college is too small. Or too big. Or simply was not what they expected. 

I can give you examples of reasons for transfer from my own family. My nephew transferred from a perfectly good college to another good college because his high school girl friend, the love of his life, was a student at this college. He ended up marrying someone else! My niece transferred from a less competitive college to one that was highly selective. She also ended up closer to home.

I was a transfer! Emotionally immature at age 17 and with a learning disability that made reading extremely difficult I was an intellectual and social mess. I didn't have a life. I was getting terrible grades because I couldn’t keep up with homework assignments. My life was miserable. And so after completing the year I transferred. 

If things are not working out at college for your child, I would encourage them to stick out the year. Things often will get better. But if not, a change might be what is needed. After transferring I had an opportunity to jump start my life. I was a new face on campus. No one was aware of my past. I became president of my sophomore residence hall, just what I needed to gain confidence. And I found a professor who helped me develop strategies for reading. I ended up doing well as a college student.

This will be my final post for parents of first year college students. I will soon be writing about college admissions directed to parents with children who are high school juniors But seniors, who should be well into the college admissions process, might benefit as well. If you have friends who have juniors or seniors tell them about these posts which will start November 14.

Finally, this is the third year I have written this blog. Blogs like this can't go on forever and I'm considering whether to continue next Fall. If my posts on the first year have been helpful (or even if they haven't) please drop me a line at 

Monday, October 23, 2017


Drinking and drugs are also a major safety concern on all college campuses and often the cause of date rape (see my last post). Doing drugs (marijuana and up in most states) is a big mistake. Most colleges have zero tolerance for drugs and when caught the offender might be turned over to the police and then kicked out of college. 

Alcohol abuse is also a problem. Many college students believe that more than 90% of their classmates binge drink (defined as five drinks for man and four for women over a two hour period). This causes impressionable freshmen to think that they must binge as well. In fact, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 33.6% of first year students reported having binged in the past two weeks, still a disturbing number but not cause for freshmen to think that everyone does it. 

In reference to drinking, it’s against the law for 18 year olds to consume alcohol and my advice is for them not to do it. But if they do drink, they should guard against drinking to excess. If they or their friends get in trouble (alcohol poisoning is often the result of binging) they should call campus safety who will pick them up and take them to the hospital emergency room if they are very ill. They will probably have to appear before the dean of students and get a sanction (first time alcohol offenders are usually not kicked out of college) but at least they will be alive. Many colleges have a Good Samaritan clause which states that if an underage student who has been drinking with friends calls campus safety about someone who is in trouble, the caller will receive a reduced sanction or no sanction at all. The point is to keep students safe and save lives!

Finally, underage students shouldn’t use fake ID’s. I know a student who did this at her university, got caught by the State police in a sting operation and almost ended up in jail.

Next week's post will be for parents whose children have struggled with college (either socially or academically) and are thinking of transferring. 

Monday, October 16, 2017


When I attended first year orientation at Tufts University in preparation for my book Off to College: A Guide for Parents, I dropped in on a session on date rape. What I learned was disturbing to say the least:

• On U.S. college campuses, thirty- five rapes are committed each year per thousand female students.
• One out of six college women will experience rape or attempted rape.
• The number of college men who rape is very small, but most have predatory histories and some average fourteen attempted rapes per year.
• These men tend to be well liked and charming.
• First- year women are the most vulnerable, and most rape attempts are made within the first six weeks of college.
• Nine out of ten rapes are done by men their victims know.
• Eighty- four percent of all rapes go unreported.

College date rape is a problem nationally and when it happens the victim (usually a woman) needs to immediately report the rape to the dean of students and then go to the health center or a hospital to do a rape kit and to get needed emotional support.

Better yet, they shouldn’t hook up at a party after drinking all night ending up in a stranger’s bed room!

I also learned at Tufts that seventy- five percent of male students and 55 percent of women involved in date rape were drinking. To this end, in next week’s post I will address the issue of alcohol and drug abuse.

Monday, October 9, 2017


Because of campus shootings in the past such as the one at Virginia Tech in 2007 when a deranged student shot and killed thirty-two people, some think that college campuses are very dangerous places to be. In fact college campuses are probably among the safest places on earth to be—if common sense is used. Indeed, according to a survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, 78.7 percent of first year students feel perfectly safe at their colleges. 

Since 1990, all colleges and universities by law must provide the public with crime statistics on their campus (the so-called Cleary Act). To get a sense of how safe a particular campus is parents should request this information from the admissions or campus safety office. There is one caveat, however, to this information. Colleges and universities with more sophisticated campus safety operations will have a fuller report on crime and thus might look more dangerous than a college that lacks adequate campus safety resources and therefore under reports. 

Most crimes on college campuses are minor, involving things like petty theft or use of drugs. Date rape has been very much in the news and I will say more about this next week. But things like campus shootings and murders are extremely rare. You child is probably at higher risk from shootings in their home community.

Almost all colleges and universities have a police force or a campus safety operation. At large universities, a fully trained and properly armed police force is involved, many of them former municipal police officers. At many smaller colleges an unarmed security force might be used. This could be concerning to parents, but the fact is that most small colleges are located minutes from the municipal and state police. In the rare event of a hostage situation or a shooter on campus, parents really want police officers involved who, like the state police, have been specially trained to deal with these extreme situations. Many municipal police officers and most campus safety personnel haven’t. The last thing anyone wants is for an innocent bystander to be inadvertently shot. The idea that college students should be armed to protect themselves from a shooter coming on campus— an idea gaining traction in some states—is absolutely mind boggling not only to most college presidents but to the police as well. A shooter coming on to a college campus happens very infrequently, maybe once every seven or eight years nationally, so the chance of armed students having to defend themselves if this happens is infinitesimal. But if you want to see shootings on campus sky rocket, just give loaded guns to a group of inexperienced (and sometimes inebriated) teenagers! 

Supplementing campus police or safety officers on most campuses are blue light telephones stationed around campus (whereby students can contact campus security if they see a suspicious person or are in trouble--see photo at head of this post), monitored surveillance cameras, and alert systems that can notify students about emergencies via email, text and landline. Common sense, however, is the most important component of campus safety. 

The only way a parent can 100% guarantee the safety of their child is to never let them leave home! But short of this radical solution to safety, helping to instill some common sense is important. You should tell your child that if a hurricane or a tornado is about to hit their campus they should follow instructions from college authorities and stay in a safe place, like the basement of their residence hall, rather than going out on flooded streets in a canoe (as two Virginia college students did when I was a president) and getting swept into the sewer drain; that they shouldn’t leave campus alone at 2 am in the morning to make contact with a stranger they just met on the internet risking getting raped—or worse; and that they shouldn’t abuse alcohol or drugs, the cause of many of the safety issues just mentioned. 

In my next post, I will discuss date rape