Brown University Becomes Latest Ivy League to Offer Free College

Brown University approved yesterday new enhancements to its financial aid program for lower income families. According to its press release, "students from families with incomes of less than $100,000 will no longer have loans as part of their financial aid packages, and most parents who earn less than $60,000 will not be expected to make a financial contribution to fund their child's education." With this announcement, Brown has joined Ivy League brothers Harvard and Yale in offering avenues to free college.

Brown's latest changes will apply both to current students and the new incoming Class of 2012. The new program comes at an estimated cost of $11.5 million, increasing the university's yearly expenditure on financial aid by more than 20 percent.

I would like to reiterate my desire to see this trend continue and look forward to many more announcements of colleges and universities across the nation dipping into their massive endowments to help make higher education more accessible. Kudos to Brown for being one of the newest pioneers in this area.

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Reviewing the Princeton Review’s Best 366 Colleges (2008 Edition)

While this post does contain affiliate links to Amazon.com, this review is my accurate and honest opinion. My comments are unsolicited and unpaid.

I was finally able to look through a copy of the Princeton Review's The Best 366 Colleges, 2008 Editionamazon affiliate, and as with all previous versions, I am very impressed.

What I have always liked about Princeton Review's guides is the anecdotal look at each college. Because the narratives are written by actual students at each of the schools, you get a very accurate portrait of the universities. In addition, there is terrific statistical information which discusses all of the basics like academic selectivity and tuition costs, and also often forgotten areas like the living situations, campus security, and classroom size.

The problem I have with most other college guides is that they focus too much on the elite schools and pay little attention to smaller local and state colleges. This guide gives time and space for even the little guys, and you can count on a full two-page spread for each.

Naturally, each of the reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, as the feedback comes from a very small sampling of students from each college. But if you are still trying to narrow down your selection, or if you need help differentiating between your top choices, I highly recommend this book.

If you have a previous version (from within the last couple of years), you should be fine without upgrading. But if not, all 832 pages with more than 120,000 students reviews can be found in The Best 366 Colleges, 2008 Edition (College Admissions Guides)amazon affiliate.

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The ‘Free College’ Fad is Catching On – Stanford and Washington Join Harvard and Yale

Last month, I discussed the new 2008 college endowment figures and answered the question: should you care? At the time I said no, but now I may be starting to change my mind.

California's Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri have joined the ranks of schools like Harvard and Yale in offering what has been dubbed 'free college' for students in certain financial brackets. Responding both to economic and political pressures, Stanford is offering free tuition to families earning less than $100,000 annually, and free room, board, and other expenses to families earning under $60,000. Washington University is also offering this new 'free college' program by replacing loans with grants for families earning under $60,000.

Stanford's new policy also hints at "other significant enhancements" regarding the financial aid program.

It has been common for universities, especially the top-ranked Ivy League colleges, to compete in "buying" elite students by luring them with attractive financial aid packages. As a result, their lesser performing and often economically disadvantaged peers would be forced to pay full price without much grant or scholarship assistance. Now there seems to be a greater emphasis on attracting a more diverse pool of students. Seeing colleges begin to use their hearty endowments for reasons outside of just 'merit money' is a big step in the right direction.

With several top-ranked schools reevaluating their financial aid packages, I estimate that it's only a matter of time until even more hop on the bandwagon. I have always believed that money considerations should not influence college decisions, and it is great to see this philosophy reflected in new policies focusing on providing wider access to education.

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Is an Online College right for me?

Online college programs -- also known as distance learning -- is a relatively new concept that many people are still skeptical about. USA Today reported that just a scant 33% of professors trust online learning.

This does not mean, however, that there is no value to online college. In fact, many programs nowadays will yield a degree identical and every bit as well-respected and accepted as a traditional one. But is a distance learning program right for you?

Remember that:

  • In online colleges, most of the material you learn is text-based. This is bad for those of you like to have things explained by teachers.
  • Even though there are online chatrooms and bulletin boards to talk to your peers, most of the work is done individually. Those who like a group setting may be uncomfortable with this.
  • You make your own schedule and are responsible for your own education. If you have problems staying organized or tend to procrastinate, this may get you in trouble.

If you think an online program may be right for you, then don't be scared away. An online college is still one of the most flexible and convenient ways to earn a degree. Just remember that you will have to work just as hard and make just as much of a commitment as would be required in a traditional, physical college.

For more information, be sure to read my article about Common Questions and Concerns about Online Degrees. It's also a good idea to read up on phony online colleges and How to Spot a Diploma Mill.

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Ivy League Admissions Statistics for 2007

The news that the amount of students applying to college skyrocketed for 2008 has worried many applicants. To calm fears, I have taken a look at the average recent application and compared it with the 2007 applications and admissions rates (as well as data from previous years) and have discovered that the selectivity of many elite ivy league colleges has not changed to a degree that many may expect.

For comparison purposes, here are some top schools' admissions statistics from 2007:

      SAT scores by percentile
  Acceptance Rate Students in top 10% of HS class 25th 75th
Brown 13.5% 94% 2010 2290
Columbia 10.4% 88% 1980 2200
Harvard 9.0% 90% 2080 2370
University of Pennsylvania 17.7% 91% 1980 2250
Princeton 10.2% 95% 2050 2360
Yale 8.6% 95% 2080 2370

What should this mean to me?

If you fit into an accepted student profile for 2007, chances are good that you will also match the profile for 2008 or beyond. Despite the greater number of applications to each of the ivy league colleges, I expect that the admissions statistics for 2008 will remain relatively unchanged. Scoring in the top 10% of your high school's graduating class will still be the utmost importance, along securing an SAT score comfortably within the bounds of the 25th and 75th percentiles.

Application statistics may have gone way up for 2008, but it does not appear that admissions statistics will be fundamentally different.

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Why ‘Undeclared’ May Be a Good Idea

The Admission Game just posted an interesting article explaining why indecision about major is much less harmful than many students think. I would like to go even further and suggest that there are advantages to the Undecided major, especially on the application. The most interesting points of the article, I think, involve these three statistics:

You will probably change your major in college! Most students (about 65%) change their minds about their majors at least once while they are in college. Half of them change their minds twice.

Further, a large amount change their minds three, four, or even five times. The record that I've personally experienced has been seven different majors before graduation (he ended up with three minors). Another interesting fact: the most populous major at most colleges? Undeclared.

Many colleges report that 80-90% of the people who graduated more than 25 years ago are now in careers that did not exist when they graduated.

Technology is exploding at a rapid pace. Any sort of Engineering or science-based field is going to see a lot of new development constantly. Even a steady field like psychology has seen new developments (Cognitive Science, an interdisciplinary subpart of psychology, didn't even exist as a field 25 years ago).

About 85% of the parents I survey indicate they are no longer in the careers they intended to pursue when they were 18 years old!

I would think that the percentage would be even higher than this. Though even 85% highlights the fact that any expectation that students have to plan their futures during the admissions season is unreasonable.

My suggestion is for applicants to take advantage of the fact that students typically are not required to declare a major until the end of their Sophomore year. There is no need to have additional stress from trying to pick a field of study when already overwhelmed by simply picking a university.

Unfortunately, there are times that you may need to declare something on your application. Some programs offer only limited enrollment (this is common in fields like Engineering, and especially Bioengineering), and restrict students who did not declare the major prior to admission. These programs are rare and are usually demarcated somewhere on the college's information pamphlet or website, so it is important to declare such a major if one may potentially interest you. You can always switch out later.

But if one of these 'impacted' programs is outside your sphere of potentials, simply leave yourself undecided and choose a path once you're in a position to make a more informed choice. There's no shame in waiting to declare; in fact, you are showing responsibility by choosing to wait and weigh your options. I'm sure the student I knew who graduated in his seventh major wishes he had taken that advice.

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