Over and over again I hear how discouraged people are by the competitive and costly aspects of getting into, and paying for, college. While this is certainly a valid concern, I like to point out that these issues are usually the case with a select subset of colleges that are very popular and well-known (whether for sports or academics or both) such as Stanford, USC, UCLA and the Claremont Colleges, to name a few in California.
There are, however, many more than just these “flavors” of college to consider. In fact, there are about as many different flavors of college as there are different tastes of people. So, why not taste the rainbow and look into performing arts schools, military academies and single-sex colleges? Although some of these are just as competitive, many are not, and it is beneficial to explore all options in order to find the right fit for you.
Let the music play
For students who wish to study music in college, it is helpful to have a clear understanding of the kind of experience you are looking for and your strengths and weaknesses. There are several music paths to evaluate:
1. Conservatory. Offers focused, performance-intensive training for students who want to pursue a career in music. Examples include Juilliard and the New England Conservatory.
2. Within a university. Another path is to select a conservatory, music college or music school within a university since it allows for a more “typical” college experience. Examples include: Oberlin and Carnegie Mellon School of Music, and locally, University of the Pacific.
3. Music departments. Some universities have strong, and highly competitive music departments. Examples include Amherst and Yale.
4. Dual degrees. Usually this is a five-year program leading to a bachelor of arts and a master of music. An example is Harvard/NEC program.
A variation on the theme: visual arts
Student life at art schools is unique when compared to a “typical” college experience. Visit and it becomes obvious with the tours of studios and displays. From fashion design to toy development to animation, art schools are launching students in to such varied career paths as architecture, advertising and digital media. If this is a path that seems interesting to you, be sure to confirm whether schools have accreditation since it matters for funding, grants and credibility.
The types of bachelor’s degrees that may be earned are arts, fine arts, architecture and industrial design. Some excellent schools to examine are Rhode Island School of Design, Pratt, Parson’s the New School for Design, and — closer to home — CalArts and Otis.
An important component of this application process is the portfolio, which is a small, representative collection of an artist’s current or recent work. All schools require submission of a set number of drawings/creations and may even specify the medium and content of such drawings. To get a sense of how your portfolio stacks up, plan on attending National Portfolio Day. This is a free event where representatives from colleges accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design review your artwork, discuss their programs and answer questions about professional careers in art. Check it out at www.portfolioday.net.
Do you want to be all you can be?
If you love a challenge and flourish in a very structured environment, the United States Service Academies (U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy) may be worth investigating. They provide undergraduate education and training of commissioned officers for the United States armed forces. Although the admissions process is quite onerous and very competitive, admitted students receive full tuition scholarships with an estimated value of between $200,000 to $350,000 for a commitment of at least five years of service upon graduation.
There are also many other military colleges (both two-year and four-year) besides these. Check out http://www.amcsus.org for more information.
If you are interested in the academies, here are the basics to consider:
Once the only way women could earn a higher education degree, women’s colleges are now a choice rather than a default. There are 48 active women’s colleges in the United States, most of which are small, private, liberal arts schools. Some are better known nationally such as Barnard and Mount Holyoke, while others like Mills College and Scripps are not.
Why choose this path? Well, the National Survey of Student Engagement studied random samples of female first-year and senior students from 26 women’s colleges, and 264 other four-year institutions and found that women at single-sex institutions were more engaged in effective educational practices and reported higher levels of feelings of support and greater gains in college. See the survey results at http://cpr.iub.edu/uploads/Umbach%20et%20al.%202007.pdf.
For those of you concerned about the lack of coed social interactions at women’s colleges, keep in mind that several of these women’s schools provide students with ample opportunity to take coed classes. Scripps, for instance, is part of the Claremont Colleges, so Scripps students may take classes at any of the other schools in the consortium. The same is true with Mount Holyoke and the Five College Consortium (University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Hampshire, Smith and Amherst). At Barnard, students may take classes and participate in extracurricular activities at Columbia. Students at Mills can cross-register for classes at UC Berkeley. In a nutshell, there are more options to take classes with men than meets the eye.
While we are on the topic of men, let’s not forget that there are still some men’s-only colleges in existence. Examples include Hampden-Sydney, Wabash and Morehouse, to name a few. Some students find this to be a more comfortable learning environment. Unlike the performing arts schools and military academies, single-sex colleges do not have additional application requirements. See box for more information.
Until next time
So if the traditional chocolate and vanilla flavors don’t whet your appetite, explore specialty schools and discover what is most appealing to you. After all, finding a good fit is a necessary ingredient in the recipe of life.
— Jennifer Borenstein is an independent college adviser in Davis and owner of The Right College For You. Her column is published on the last Tuesday of the month. She lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.therightcollegeforyou.org.
Additional application requirements for specialized schools
Performing arts: Usually an audition and/or submission of written/performed pieces
Visual art: Submit portfolio
Military academies: Get nomination.
Single-sex: No additional requirements.