Thursday, August 12, 2010

AMERICA'S BEST COLLEGES: The best public and private colleges and universities, from the student's point of view

The best college in America isn't in Cambridge or Princeton, West Point or Annapolis. It's nestled in the Berkshire Mountains. Williams College, a 217-year-old private liberal arts school, tops our third annual ranking of America's Best Colleges. Our list of more than 600 undergraduate institutions is based on the quality of the education they provide, the experiences of the students and how much they achieve.

Williams rose to the top spot on our rankings, which are compiled with research from the Center for College Affordability & Productivity, after placing fourth last year and fifth in 2008. It's a small school (just over 2,000 undergrads) with a 7-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, affording students the chance to really get to know their teachers and have a unique college experience.

"One of the things that we really embrace is that we are tiny and very aware of where we are in the world. This fosters an incredible sense of community," says Amanda Esteves-Kraus, a double-major in art history and biology in the class of 2012. "It takes a very specific type of student to go to Williams, and there is a quirkiness here that you can't find anywhere else. This all makes the fact that we are in the middle of nowhere totally irrelevant because you don't actually want to be anywhere else."

While Williams' tuition is relatively high at $37,640 a year, the school tries very hard to help its students financially. This spring Williams replaced all its loans with grants. And the school has one of the lowest average student debt loads in the country: $9,296.

Some of Williams' prominent alumni include Steve Case, cofounder of America Online; Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Seagram; Elia Kazan, the Oscar-winning director of films including On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire; Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City; and James A. Garfield, 20th president of the United States.

Last year's No. 1 school, the United States Military Academy (West Point), fell slightly to No. 4 on the list. The U.S. service academies, which offer high-quality education at zero tuition, all do well on our list: the United States Air Force Academy (No. 11), the United States Naval Academy (No. 29), United States Coast Guard Academy (No. 105), and the United States Merchant Marine Academy (No. 165).

Princeton University (No. 2), Amherst College (No. 3), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 5) round out the top five. Super-selective schools like Stanford (No. 6), Harvard (No. 8) and Yale (No. 10) also rank highly.

Whether they're in the top 10 or near the end of the list, all 610 schools in this ranking count among the best in the country: We review just 9% of the 6,600 accredited post-secondary institutions in the U.S., so appearing on our list at all is an indication that a school meets a high standard.

To our way of thinking, a good college is one that meets student needs. While other college rankings are based in large part on school reputation as evaluated by college administrators, we focus on factors that directly concern incoming students: Will my courses be interesting? Is it likely I will graduate in four years? Will I incur a ton of debt getting my degree? And once I get out of school, will I get a good job?

To answer these questions, the staff at CCAP gathers data from a variety of sources. They use 11 factors in compiling these rankings, each of which falls into one of five general categories. First, they measure how much graduates succeed in their chosen professions after they leave school, evaluating the average salaries of graduates reported by (30%), the number of alumni listed in a Forbes/CCAP list of corporate officers (5%), and enrollment-adjusted entries in Who's Who in America (10%).

Next they measure how satisfied students are with their college experience, examining freshman-to-sophomore retention rates (5%) and student evaluations of classes on the websites (17.5%) and (5%). They look at how much debt students rack up over their college careers, considering the four-year debt load for a typical student borrower (12.5%), and the overall student loan default rate (5%). They evaluate how many students actually finish their degrees in four years, considering both the actual graduation rate (8.75%) and the gap between the average rate and a predicted rate, based on characteristics of the school (8.75%).

And finally, the last component is based on the number of students or faculty, adjusted for enrollment, who have won nationally competitive awards (7.5%), like Rhodes Scholarships or Nobel Prizes.

CCAP also compiles a best-value ranking comparing school quality to cost. This year it's dominated by the U.S. military's service academies. The top nonmilitary school? New York's Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, which awards full-tuition scholarships to undergraduates (valued at $34,600 for the 2009-2010 school year). Public schools also fare well on this ranking, as they typically cost less.

Some readers may disagree with the way we construct our rankings or the weights we apply to the data. Or they may want to consider other variables, such as campus crime rates or SAT scores. So we also offer a do-it-yourself ranking that customizes the process, allowing users to construct their own list according to personal tastes and preferences.

You can only learn so much from ranking schools; it's important to match the individual student to the place. A student who thrives at Williams might do terribly at Florida State, and of course it's possible to get an Ivy League-quality education at a big state school. But with tuition and fees up significantly in the last decade, college has become one of the biggest financial decisions families make. They deserve all the information they can get.

America's Top 10 Colleges
1. Williams College

2. Princeton University

3. Amherst College

4. United States Military Academy

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6. Stanford University

7. Swarthmore College

8. Harvard University

9. Claremont McKenna

10. Yale University

Written by David M. Ewalt for on August 11, 2010
Posted by Lindy Kahn, MA, CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Survival Guide for College Freshmen

Right now I imagine you are experiencing a mixture of feelings. One minute you dread the thought of leaving, and the next minute you want to leave immediately. Strangely enough, it's all part of the process of breaking away, and it's perfectly normal and traumatic, all at the same time.

Here are some tips on surviving your first six weeks of college. This information has been passed on to me by previous students and from other resources on surviving college life.

First, some facts: About 78% of freshman experience feelings of anxiety, homesickness, and loneliness during the first six weeks of school. No matter how cool most of your fellow freshmen appear, remember this statistic. You are not alone.


•For 18 years, adults have been around to warn you of consequences of your wrong actions. Now, no one will be around. Play it safe academically the first six weeks. Make a daily schedule of what you plan to do all week and stick to it! Study two or three hours for every hour in class. If you have a plan, your chances of good success increase. You can modify your schedule when you receive mid-semester grades.

•As soon as you arrive on campus, find out how to drop or add a class. What is the deadline for dropping? Do you need an advisor's signature? This is critical information. Many students need to adjust their schedules first semester, and you might be one of them.

•Don't eat alone the first six weeks! Instead, seek out those people who are sitting by themselves. You can learn a lot from meeting new people, and you'll definitely feel less lonely. Some freshmen have met so many people this way that they ended up running for freshman political positions and winning.

•Find out about health services at the beginning of the semester – before you get sick. Where is the health center? Hours? Any costs? Sometimes if you get sick first semester, it can make you homesick; so if you're prepared, you'll have it all under control and can take care of yourself.

•Before you leave home, make sure everyone in the family knows who is paying for what. Then everyone can budget his own funds (i.e. paying for fraternity fees, spring break, etc.)

•You should open a checking account at your college or somewhere close to campus.

•Begin signing your legal name on all documents with first name, middle initial and last name. Avoid nicknames because you are registered in your given name.

•Identify your support systems before leaving home. If you're feeling low, do you play your guitar, go jogging, attend church or synagogue? Take your support system with you to college. Get involved in intramural sports, the school chapel, etc. Sing in the shower. Wear your favorite old baseball hat. Keep your favorite stuffed animal from childhood on your bed or in your suitcase.

•If at all possible, don't take a car first semester! Everyone wants to feel popular, but when you have a car, you will be used (sometimes this is not intentional). You'll feel guilty when someone wants to borrow your car and you say "No", or when you need to study, but your friends want you to drive out for a pizza. There's pressure involved with a car, so if you do take it, have your policies ready for the first time someone approaches you.

•Professors are available for discussing class materials and other things. Find out when they will be in their offices (they'll usually give you their office hours the first day of class) and get to know them.

•Find out what tutoring facilities are available. Use them if you need them as soon as you find yourself falling behind or not understanding something your professor is covering.

•Once the first excitement of college begins to wane, be prepared for a letdown. Get involved in your work.

•Watch yourself for any excess in your behavior. Examples: apathy, all work and no play, changes in your sleep pattern such as insomnia or too much sleep, eating too much or too little. Check to see if you're doing too much of anything, like constant partying or no partying. If this happens, seek out other people and talk about it. Go immediately to you R.A., a friend and some other adult friend. Everyone who moves into a new adventure like college will have some feelings of self-doubt or fear of not succeeding.

•When you get to school, write your parents a letter thanking them for sending you to college. It will mean a great deal to them. It's an easy thing to do; you can find decent cards in the campus bookstore.

•When you go home for Christmas break, remember that you are idolized by your younger brothers/sisters. Save the beer drinking stories for others who have also left home.

•Ask your parents not to remodel your room your first year of college. They may not understand this, but it’s comforting to you to feel your roots when you come home.

•Establish some rules or guidelines with your roommate before you get to know each other, preferably the first or second day (i.e. smoking or not smoking, quiet hours, boyfriends/girlfriends in the room, etc.)

Good luck this Fall!
Lindy Kahn


I am an educational consultant in private practice advising families on day/boarding schools, college admissions, schools for teens and young adults who have emotional/behavioral problems, learning issues, neurological and psychiatric problems.

This blog is dedicated to the wonderful students and families who come to me for advice on school placement. I will try to post information that is related to Texas and national college admissions, as well as information related to topics of interest in the field of education. We will address a variety of issues and trends in college admissions, boarding schools or programs who serve students with special needs.

We hope to provide you with answers to frequently asked questions and current trends in the industry. For more information on the Kahn Educational Group, LLC, please visit my website. Thank you for your interest. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

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