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By Elizabeth LaScala

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About this blog: I post articles to offer timely and substantive college admission guidance on important topics and issues. Originally from New York, I have a B.S. from Hunter College in NYC and advanced professional degrees from the University of...  (More)

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Colleges You Ought to Know

Uploaded: Feb 7, 2016
As a college advisor, families often ask me "What makes a college a good college?" Sometimes it’s a school that has a familiar name. But often times it isn’t. Students who are beginning their college search should keep in mind that some very “good” colleges are ones they have never heard of before

In Northern California we are fortunate to have several very fine and very well-known research universities, among them Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley. These schools enroll some of the brightest minds in the world. But these are also among the most difficult places to gain admission. Last year Stanford accepted only 5 percent of the students for its incoming freshman Class of 2016. Berkeley accepted only 16 percent. Each year acceptance rates to selective colleges decline, the number of applicants rises, while the number of available seats in a freshman class does not. Hence the frenzy related to selective college admissions.

One key sign of a “good” college is their four year graduation rate. Last year Stanford reported that 76 percent of students who entered in 2010 graduated within four years. UC Berkeley’s graduation rate was 72%, UCLA’s was 69% and Davis only graduated 51% within four years. Why use this indicator? Because the four year graduation rate is one of the best measures of how well colleges do their job. Interestingly, there are many schools that, while less selective, do at least as well as Stanford at graduating a freshman class. One example is a public university: the University of Virginia. This school took 30 percent of its applicants last year and had a better graduation rate than Stanford, Cal and, in fact, better than each of the other UC campuses. Eighty-seven percent of its 2010 freshman class graduated on time. It even beat Harvard (86%)—but only by a smidgen!

This example helps show that a large part of selectivity is a measure of demand for seats in the freshman class; but selectivity may not always directly correlate with the quality of the education that a college offers, the fit for a particular student or how well that school retains and graduates the students they do accept. Higher education is the only service business that is rated in part, by the percentage of potential customers who do not get to use it. I doubt that you read of banks or hospitals that are considered the best because they turn more customers away. Service businesses are highly regarded when they provide superior customer service, which strong colleges do for their students and alumni, giving them a good education and graduating them on time. This includes helping them to set academic and career directions early in their college years, and providing opportunities to test those directions both in the classroom and through experiences and internships beyond coursework. It also means building and supporting a strong professional network that will be there for the rest of their graduates’ lives.

There are many good colleges in the US that offer as much quality of education as Stanford, UC-Berkeley and the University of Virginia. Admittedly, their names are often far less familiar to college-bound students and families. Often that is because they are in less popular locations, and this is compounded by the fact that some families do not travel much beyond the area they live in. As a college advisor I often feel that the U.S. is very small indeed—even when students who are willing to explore new places outside of California, they often limit the list of possible locations to places like Chicago, New York and Boston!

This year I will tell you about many of these schools. Some are small liberal arts colleges, others larger and more comprehensive universities, offering undergraduate and advanced degrees as well. Some may be in places you know and others in places that might be unfamiliar. But all of them do what a good college is supposed to do.

Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admission. Elizabeth helps students identify majors and career paths, and develops best match college lists; she offers personalized essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth guides students from all backgrounds to maximize scholarship opportunities and financial aid awards. For more information visit Elizabeth Call (925) 385-0562 or email her at

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