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College Primer for Parents

Just about every parent dreams of sending their child to the college of their choice.  Achieving that dream is a complex, multi-year undertaking for both the parent and of course the student.  This article focuses on 4-year degree programs.  OneDublin.org has separately published information on 2-year community college transfer programs. Many factors play into the decision:

  • Major – most colleges have one or more areas of specialization – the best place to start is what major does your child plan to pursue?
  • Cost – tuition ranges from approx. $3,500 to $38,000 annually for in-state schools, with some out-of-state schools approaching $40,000 annually.  Room and board will set you back around $11,000 and book, supplies and personal expenses a few thousand more.
  • Scholarship / financial aid opportunities
  • Location – there are over 2,000 accredited colleges in the U.S. with some of the best right here in the Bay Area – if you’d like to have your child close to home for a few more years, you have options (your child may have the opposite view…)
  • Athletic options
  • Campus life

OneDublin.org College Prep Resources

In addition to the overview provided below, OneDublin.org has published multiple resources to assist parents and students with college admissions preparation.

College Prep Starts in 6th Grade

The process of preparing for college starts early – even before high school.  In the Dublin Unified School District, counselors from Dublin High School and middle schools (Fallon and Wells) meet with parents in the 6th grade to map out a 6-year plan for each student.  The course choices made in 8th grade can impact options in a student’s freshman year of high school which in turn can impact the options available for later college applications.  Parents should always take an active role in their child’s education and that active role needs to include college preparation planning much earlier than is generally assumed.  Planning early isn’t about increasing stress – but rather managing the process to ultimately reduce stress.  With over 2,000 accredited colleges in the U.S., there is sufficient choice for many budgets and many levels of student.  Community college transfer programs (covered in a separate OneDublin.org article) provide another option for students seeking a 4-year college degree.

Comparing Colleges

To help get you started below is a small sampling of 2010 data for colleges in the Bay Area and beyond.  The colleges shown below spotlight local options and a variety of in-state and premier out-of-state colleges.  The takeaway is the diversity of options available for students. Another resource is Colleges That Change Lives, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and support of a student-centered college search process.

College first-year retention and four-year graduation rates are also important. Read more…

Cost / Admission Rate

Tuition rates vary significantly among public and private colleges. The statistics below are from the College Board’s 2011 College Handbook:

Bay Area 4-Year Colleges Type Tuition % Admitted
St. Mary’s College of California Private $35,430 79%
University of California – Berkeley Public $8,325 22%
Stanford University Private $38,700 8%
San Francisco State University Public $4,740 73%
San Jose State University Public $5,054 74%
Santa Clara University Private $37,368 59%
California State University (CSU) – East Bay Public $4,872 73%
California College of the Arts Private $33,254 75%
Mills College (women only for undergrad) Private $37,605 57%
Select 4-Year Colleges (California) Type Tuition % Admitted
California Institute of Technology Private $36,282 15%
Chapman University Private $38,254 56%
California Institute of the Arts Private $36,742 33%
Pepperdine University Private $39,080 41%
California State Polytechnical University: San Luis Obispo Public $6,498 37%
San Diego State University Public $4,902 36%
Thomas Aquinas College Private $22,400 78%
University of California (UC) – Davis Public $9,364 47%
University of California (UC) – Irvine Public $9,399 44%
University of California (UC) – Los Angeles Public $9,151 22%
University of Southern California Private $39,274 24%
Select Out of State 4-Year Colleges Type Tuition % Admitted
Harvard University Private $36,828 7%
Princeton University Private $36,640 10%
Yale University Private $36,500 8%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Private $37,782 11%
Columbia University Private $41,316 10%
Canadian Citizens Living in the United States

An important point not captured here, but relevant for children with citizenship in another country, is your child may be eligible for a lower tuition rate in that country.  For example, Canadian citizens can attend any Canadian university at the citizen tuition rate (which varies by university and program, but averages CDN$5,000 – CDN$10,000) – without a residency requirement.  An option to consider for Canadians living in the United States.

Admission Requirements

GPA and AP academic test scores, admissions essays, standardized test results (covered in a separate section below), athletic, visual or performing arts achievements, extracurricular activities, community service and maybe even an in-person interview.  All of these can play a role in college acceptance – the more competitive the college, the more you can expect to provide for admission selection.

Dublin High School has created three diploma options reflecting the diverse student population in Dublin.  The regular diploma exceeds the minimum standards required by the State of California and the Dublin High Advanced Scholar Diploma mirrors the requirements for the most competitive public and private colleges.  Part of the planning process is parents, school counselors and students working together to map out a challenging but achievable path to a college destination – what level of courses, including Advanced Placement (AP) courses is realistic?  AP courses can result in a higher GPA – for the equivalent grade – and provide excellent enrichment options for students capable of the challenge and workload.

The 2010 statistics provided below offer some context for the range of academic requirements for admission (NL indicates the stats were not available).

Bay Area 4-Year Colleges GPA 3.75+ GPA 3.50-3.74 GPA 3.00-3.49 GPA 2.00-2.99
St. Mary’s College of California 26% 13% 36% 25%
University of California – Berkeley 91% 4% 4% 1%
Stanford University 90% 7% 3% 0%
San Francisco State University 6% 12% 44% 38%
San Jose State University 10% 15% 46% 29%
Santa Clara University 29% 31% 36% 4%
California State University (CSU) – East Bay 7% 10% 40% 43%
California College of the Arts 11% 15% 39% 35%
Mills College (women only for undergrad) 45% 29% 22% 4%
Select 4-Year Colleges (California) GPA 3.75+ GPA 3.50-3.74 GPA 3.00-3.49 GPA 2.00-2.99
California Institute of Technology NL NL NL NL
Chapman University 47% 20% 27% 6%
California Institute of the Arts NL NL NL NL
Pepperdine University 51% 21% 25% 3%
California State Polytechnical University: San Luis Obispo 60% 23% 16% 1%
San Diego State University 25% 27% 37% 11%
Thomas Aquinas College 59% 20% 14% 6%
University of California (UC) – Davis 58% 24% 17% 1%
University of California (UC) – Irvine 68% 26% 5% 1%
University of California (UC) – Los Angeles 92% 4% 3% 1%
University of Southern California 50% 31% 18% 1%
Select Out of State 4-Year Colleges GPA 3.75+ GPA 3.50-3.74 GPA 3.00-3.49 GPA 2.00-2.99
Harvard University NL NL NL NL
Princeton University 83% 11% 6% 0%
Yale University NL NL NL NL
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) NL NL NL NL
Columbia University NL NL NL NL

To SAT or ACT – That is the Multiple Choice Question

While there has been some backlash regarding standardized tests, that has resulted in both the SAT and ACT tests changing over the years, multiple choice tests are unlikely to disappear.    For the colleges of interest is the SAT or ACT required?  Are additional tests such as the SAT Subject Tests or ACT with Writing required?  As outlined below, for students capable of achieving the academic results required for the most competitive colleges in the U.S. either the SAT with Subject Tests or ACT with Writing will be required.  Should a student do both the SAT and the ACT?  That is a conversation best had with a school counselor – you can find as many opinions as there are indexed pages on the Internet.

OneDublin.org recommends that parents plan early with their children for taking these tests – multiple choice tests are very different from long-form answer tests and require a different kind of preparation (strategies for taking multiple choice tests are available here).  Most important is planning early and practicing often.  Useful SAT and ACT resources are provided at the bottom of this article.  Students planning to take the SAT should prepare for and take the PSAT/NMSQT (starting with a practice run in the fall of their sophomore year and official run in the fall of their junior year).

Bay Area 4-Year Colleges SAT or ACT Required?
St. Mary’s College of California Yes (ACT with writing optional)
University of California – Berkeley Yes (+ SAT Subjects Tests or ACT with writing)
Stanford University Yes (ACT with writing)
San Francisco State University Yes (may be exempted if GPA >3.0)
San Jose State University Yes if GPA <3.0
Santa Clara University Yes (ACT with writing)
California State University (CSU) – East Bay Yes if GPA <3.0
California College of the Arts Recommended, but not required
Mills College (women only for undergrad) Yes (SAT Subject Tests rec., ACT writing opt.)
Select 4-Year Colleges (California) SAT or ACT Required?
California Institute of Technology Yes (SAT Subject Tests; ACT writing optional)
Chapman University Yes (ACT with writing)
California Institute of the Arts No (talent-based criteria)
Pepperdine University Yes (ACT with writing)
California State Polytechnical University: San Luis Obispo Yes (ACT writing optional)
San Diego State University Yes (ACT with writing optional)
Thomas Aquinas College Yes (ACT with writing optional)
University of California (UC) – Davis Yes (+ SAT Subjects Tests or ACT with writing)
University of California (UC) – Irvine Yes (+ SAT Subjects Tests or ACT with writing)
University of California (UC) – Los Angeles Yes (+ SAT Subjects Tests or ACT with writing)
University of Southern California Yes (ACT with writing)
Select Out of State 4-Year Colleges SAT or ACT Required?
Harvard University Yes (+ SAT Subjects Tests or ACT with writing)
Princeton University Yes (+ SAT Subjects Tests or ACT with writing)
Yale University Yes (+ SAT Subjects Tests or ACT with writing)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Yes (+ SAT Subjects Tests or ACT with writing)
Columbia University Yes (+ SAT Subjects Tests or ACT with writing)

Campus Life

Dublin High School offers field trips to local colleges, such at St. Mary’s College of California, to provide students with a taste of campus life.  Parents are encouraged to visit colleges with their young children to plant seeds for the future.  As those young children mature into high school students the college visits will be less about planting seeds than making a decision on which campus will be the most conducive to a rich and rewarding college experience.  As powerful as the Internet is nothing replaces walking through a campus and experiencing campus life first hand.

OneDublin.org has published a series of Life in College articles about the transition from high school to college written by recent Dublin High School graduates:

Other Resources

  • College Fair Planning Guide published by St. Mary’s College of California – provides useful California-specific information
  • 2012 College Handbook published by CollegeBoard – a summary guide of every accredited college in the U.S. – both 4-year and 2-year colleges
  • The College Finder – a book of lists that takes the problem of reviewing thousands of colleges more manageable by filtering colleges into much shorter lists across many different categories – great for narrowing the college search process; the book has an accompanying website: Inside College
  • Official Student Guide to the PSAT / NMSQT – students planning to take the SAT are encouraged to take the PSAT (Preliminary SAT) which also serves as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT)
  • The Official SAT Study Guide published by CollegeBoard – if you are planning to apply to a school that requires the SAT, this book is a must have; additional SAT Subject Test guides (for colleges requiring SAT Subject Tests) may also be required
  • ACT’s PLAN Assessment – resources for high school sophomores who are planning to take the ACT
  • Preparing for the ACT (free download) – if you are planning to take the ACT this is a must have (and is free)
  • unigo provides thousands of first person reviews of colleges by students
  • Global Student Experience (GSE) – Choose our college study abroad program and experience the world while obtaining college credit.

Sources: College statistics from the 2011 College Handbook published by CollegeBoard.  USA News & World Report college rankings used for selecting out-of-state school examples.  College websites referenced for additional background information where required.

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