Category Archives: College Academics

The ABCs of Secondary School Curricula: Advanced Placement (AP)

 Why are so many students participating in Advanced Placement (AP) programs in the U.S.? In addition to enabling students to explore subject matter in greater depth, these courses and exams have become a gateway into prestigious and highly selective schools.

Due to the important role that this program now plays in the college admissions process, it is no wonder that there has been a tremendous surge in its popularity. In fact, during this week and next, almost 3 million high school students will be taking AP exams.

According to a recent study, from 1992 to 2012, the number of schools in the United States which offered AP courses nearly doubled, and the number of AP exams administered increased more than 500%. The AP program has international popularity as well; universities in over 60 countries outside the United States recognize AP in the admission process.

In this blog, we’ll provide an overview of the AP program, help navigate its complexities, and explore its potential benefits. AP courses are accepted at virtually all U.S. colleges and universities, but how the colleges use AP scores and credits varies. Some schools use AP scores to allow for advanced placement (skipping over entry-level courses), college credit, the satisfaction of distribution requirements, and/or early graduation.

AP Exam Scoring

To make sure that you understand how the AP exam scoring relates to college-readiness and college grades, here is a quick synopsis of how the exams are graded. The Advanced Placement Program offers more than 30 courses and exams. Each AP course concludes with a college-level assessment developed and scored by college and university faculty, as well as experienced AP teachers.

Research consistently shows that students who receive a score of 3 or higher on AP exams typically experience greater academic success in college and have higher graduation rates than their non-AP peers. Selective colleges treat strong scores on the APs as additional evidence of your ability to master course content. In order to be considered for credit or placement, you must send your official AP score report to the college you’re planning to attend.

Scores on the free-response questions are weighted and combined with the results of the multiple-choice questions, and this raw score is converted into a composite AP score of 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1.

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For example, earning a 5 is the equivalent of receiving an A in the college course. Similarly, AP Exam scores of 4 are equivalent to college grades of A−, B+, and B. AP Exam scores of 3 are equivalent to college grades of B−, C+, and C (See AP’s college database for specific policies at each university).

Benefits of Taking AP Courses/Exams

AP courses are more challenging than standard high school level courses. However, there are many benefits to taking AP courses, which can make them worth the extra work required to succeed.

AP helps you develop college-level skills, thereby easing the transition from high school to college

AP classes require college-level critical thinking skills. As a result, taking these classes can help high school students improve in areas like high-level computation, essay writing, and problem-solving, thereby easing the transition into college.

Adjusting to life in college is often challenging, as students have to make sense of many changes happening at once. For many college freshmen, this is the first time they are living away from home. They must learn to be self-sufficient while also navigating a new social and academic world. Taking AP courses in high school can help ease the academic transition, giving students one less thing to worry about.

AP courses are valued by college admission counselors

Admission officers specifically look for students who have taken the most challenging courses available to them. Success in high-level courses, like APs or the International Baccalaureate program, is a strong indicator of preparedness for college. Often, high schools reflect the rigor of AP coursework by weighting these courses higher than other courses in the GPA calculation, which provides students with a higher weighted GPA, and potentially a higher class rank (for high schools that rank).

 AP classes can help you save money

Taking AP classes in high school (and scoring well on the exam) can yield college credit. Depending on your university’s requirements, you may not have to take these subjects again in college. So, instead of paying a substantial amount for the courses in college, you only have to pay a small portion in order to take the AP exam in high school (See AP’s college database for specific policies at each university). AP exams can also help you to graduate early, if you so desire.

AP course credit enables students to take higher-level courses and a broader array of courses

Earning college credit in high school will free up your schedule, giving you the opportunity to take more electives in college. Gaining course credit through AP exams allows you to skip introductory courses and enter directly into higher-level courses. This is helpful for students who have already chosen a major by allowing them to dive right into the material they find most interesting. It is also helpful for students who are undecided, as it allows them to take more electives by skipping some general education requirements.

 

How Many and Which AP courses Should You Take?

Students and parents often ask how many AP courses is the “right” amount to be competitive in college admissions. The answer, as with so many other college-related questions, is “it depends!” Here are a few factors that should inform your planning of which and how many AP courses to take:

  • How strong are you academically? It’s important to consider this honestly and frankly; you want to challenge yourself to a reasonable degree, but not be overwhelmed by coursework beyond your capabilities.
  • To that end, what are your academic and career interests? Many students do not yet have a definite plan for their major or career, which is perfectly fine! But if you do have interests at this point, and discuss them in your college applications, they should be supported by your academics.For example, if you plan to apply to an engineering school within a University, it would be expected that you take AP Calculus, and you would strengthen your admissions chances if you also take AP levels of relevant sciences, such as AP Biology for Biomedical Engineering, or AP Physics for Mechanical Engineering.
  • What is your work ethic? Are you willing to do the extra work required by AP courses, and to participate more deeply in classroom discussion?
  • What are your other commitments? Family or work obligations, extracurricular activities, and other commitments are both important and time-consuming. Evaluate your time realistically, and choose an appropriate number of AP courses.
  • What AP courses are available at your high school?
    Colleges evaluate the rigor of your high school curriculum relative to what’s available at your high school. In addition to ensuring that your course-load is manageable for you, evaluate it in the context of what’s available to you.

 Important Tips & Takeaways 

AP classes will challenge you on an intellectual level, ease transition to college, and give you a chance to earn college credit while still in high school. Nevertheless, it’s important for students to show a balance between formal and informal studies to college admissions officers. Often, students feel pressured to add another AP course — sometimes a fifth, sixth, or seventh — and, consequently, drop something they really enjoy, like sports, music, or extracurricular activities.

But in actuality, most admissions officers want to see well-rounded individuals who are involved in extracurricular activities. Therefore, it is not necessarily the best course of action to drop extracurricular activities in order to fit more courses into your schedule. Challenge yourself in a way that is reasonable for you, while making sure that your course load provides you with material that keeps you interested and engaged.

Otherwise, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed, which could lead to burnout. “There are people who arrive at college out of gas,” says William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It’s crazy for students to think in lockstep they must take four or five or six advanced-placement courses because colleges demand it.”

Wondering what you should do? Collegiate Gateway has a wealth of experience in advising for future curriculum planning. Feel free to contact us—we’re always happy to help!

Majoring in Biology: How to Determine which Colleges Offer the Best Fit

Biology is a broad field, most basically defined as the study of living organisms. It covers the morphology, physiology, anatomy, behavior, origin, and distribution of every known species. As the field continues to evolve, so does education in biology. In the following blog we’ll provide information to help potential biology majors seek out the “best-fit program” for their course of study.

Should I Major in Biology?

Biology has often been considered an excellent major for students who plan to pursue future careers in the medical field, as most biology programs cover many of the medical school prerequisites. However, biology can be a difficult course of study, and no one should choose this path without first considering their high school grades in the subject area, as well as speaking to at least one student currently studying biology and one professor teaching it.

Biology majors, however, are not limited to practicing medicine. According to Duke University, about 40% of their biology majors will go on to medical school, and 30% will pursue biological graduate programs typically involving research. But the rest will pursue a variety of paths including secondary school education, law school, business, and volunteer work with the Peace Corps. 

Trends

The Growth of Genetics

One of the fastest growing fields in biology is genetics. Not only has our knowledge of the area increased, but the amount of people interested in pursuing genetics has grown as well.

Genetics is the study of genes and the way they behave. In more recent years, scientists have been able to use genetics as a way to make significant advancements in medicine and health. According to the American Society of Human Genetics, exciting career opportunities are expanding for geneticists in the following fields:

  • Basic and clinical research
  • Medical professions
  • Interdisciplinary fields, such as patent law
  • Laboratory geneticists
  • Clinical work
  • Bioinformatics

Genetics has also received a lot of public interest in recent years and there has been much controversy over topics like the stem cell debate, genetic testing, and genetic engineering.

Increasing Opportunity for Research

Research has become an integral part of undergraduate education for students majoring in the sciences. And justifiably so—it helps students not only gain a greater understanding of their field, but identify future career paths, learn to tolerate obstacles, and enhance data analysis and interpretation skills.

The number of biology students who choose to pursue independent research varies by school. At Brown University, over 50% of students pursue research, while at Stanford University, that number hits 90%. Most institutions, however, offer students the opportunity to do research. Some schools even offer courses where research is required.

Students interested in biology should search for universities that offer beneficial and rewarding research experiences during their undergraduate time. Some schools offer on-campus research with professors or peers. Other schools may offer off-campus opportunities to work with institutions near campus, such as zoos or research centers. The research offerings of each school can generally be found on its website.

If research is your passion, you should look closely at the types of research that professors are conducting in the biology departments of your top-choice schools to help decide which programs are right for your interests. It is also important to participate in research opportunities during high school. For example, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth lists many exciting opportunities for high school students to apply for during the summer.

Common Concentrations

Colleges vary in whether they offer or possibly even require that students choose a concentration within the biology major. Pursuing such specialization will enhance your education within this particular field of interest and better prepare you for a future career in this specific area.

General Biology

Most concentrations are very specific and focused—General Biology is just the opposite. It is generally a good choice for students who have a strong interest in multiple areas, or are not sure what they’d like to focus on. According to Cornell University, the flexibility of their general biology concentration allows for endless opportunities both in school and out of school.

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology 

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology is a more specific concentration than general biology. The major areas in this concentration are functional morphology, foraging ecology, the adaptive significance of animal behavior, sexual selection, mating behavior, population genetics, phylogenetic, marine community ecology, theoretical population and community ecology, and ecosystem ecology.

Molecular and Cell Biology

The focus areas of Molecular and Cell Biology include molecular biology, genetics, genomics, and cell biology. The field has roots in the study of molecules and their interactions in the context of cells and tissues, which allows this field of biology to aid research for medicine and health purposes.

Other Possible Concentrations 

  • Neurobiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Anatomy/Physiology
  • Marine Biology
  • Computational Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Genetics/Genomics

Career Paths

A major in biology opens the door to a vast array of career paths. There are many types of biologists, such as Microbial and Cellular Biologist, Arborist, or Geneticist. There are also many options that do not involve research. For example, many doctors choose to major in biology as undergraduates, because the information is useful and relevant to their medical interests.

Teaching is another option for students who have a strong interest in the sciences, but don’t necessarily want to work in a lab. Depending on your level of education, biology could be taught at every level, from elementary to medical school.

There are also opportunities within government or law. In recent years, bioethics has moved into the public eye. Companies and government projects have been criticized for research, studies, and discoveries, and they often turn to professionals for protection. For students interested in both science and policy, bioethics is a great choice.

Profile of Top School

MIT is a top academic university all around, and the school is ranked #1 (in a tie with Harvard and Stanford) for undergraduate biology by US News. Their program strives to promote exploration and collaboration amongst their students. MIT offers a Bachelor of Science in Biology as well as a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Molecular Biology (offered jointly by MIT Biology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science).

Biology majors may also choose to focus their study on one of nine specific tracks or subfields within the biology curriculum:

  • General biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Cell, developmental, and molecular biology
  • Computational biology
  • Human biology
  • Microbiology
  • Neurobiology

All students take part in laboratory research, which fosters knowledge of experimental design, data evaluation, and scientific presentation. These skills are important to have for future careers and upper level education. MIT offers five affiliated labs and research centers for their students to explore their interests. Research is prized by the university, which helps to explain the high success rates of their graduates.

In researching your best-fit biology program, it is important to consider opportunities for student and professor interactions, class sizes, areas of research, laboratory technology, and available concentrations. You should speak with biology major graduates, current students, and professors if possible, to gain insight into their experience as a biology major at specific institutions. For further assistance in choosing your major, feel free to contact us! At Collegiate Gateway, we’re always happy to help.

3-2 Engineering Programs at Liberal Arts Colleges

The college experience is different for everyone. And for undergrads studying engineering, the best programs often found at big universities that focus on research, with large class sizes, and a more prescribed course sequence in math, science, and engineering.

Small liberal arts colleges, on the other hand, tend to offer small class sizes and a broad-based education emphasizing writing, critical thinking, and the expression of ideas. Students come to know their peers and professors well, and receive a more personalized education. However, liberal arts colleges are often more limited in their engineering offerings.

3-2 engineering programs are an interesting alternative in higher education, because they provide students both an intimate, well-rounded liberal arts program as well as allow them to attain a specialized engineering degree. 3-2 program participants typically pursue a bachelor’s degree in the sciences at a small liberal arts college for three years, then transfer to a partner engineering school to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering for two years. Usually, both bachelor’s degrees are awarded upon completion of all five years.

Where are 3-2 Dual Degree Programs Offered?

There are hundreds of 3-2 engineering programs, typically pairing a small liberal arts college with a larger research university that contains a school of engineering, such as Columbia University, Dartmouth, and Washington University in St. Louis. In fact, nearly every small liberal arts college that does not have an engineering major offers a 3-2 option.

Typically, students must fulfill specific pre-engineering requirements and meet minimum GPA requirements (both of which vary by program). These programs also differ in the timing of application (sophomore or junior year), and when each bachelor’s degree is granted. Sometimes, the engineering school reviews applications, and in other instances the engineering school provides an automatic admit if the student meets certain criteria and the liberal arts college grants approval.

Nearly all programs are 3-2, but Dartmouth offers a 2-1-1-1 alternative, in which students spend their first two years and fourth year in their home school, so that they can return for senior year.

Is a 3-2 Engineering Program Right For You?

While it might be appealing to experience two very different college environments (and pursue two bachelor’s degrees), 3-2 programs are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some students experience difficulty in adjusting to a new culture and social environment, especially since they are usually transitioning from a small, close-knit environment to a larger school.

Additionally, these programs lack the cohesive experience of a four-year undergraduate program, and students are sometimes frustrated that they are unable to gain leadership positions in activities, because of starting fresh at the new school. Most 3-2 students also cannot participate in study abroad programs.

The Benefits of a 3-2 Engineering Program

A 3-2 program typically begins at a small college, which offers a more personal and supportive environment that helps many students navigate the transition between high school and college. Additionally, students have the chance to ask more questions in small classes and receive more one-on-one help from professors in understanding course content. Many find that this helps prepare them for more difficult courses down the road.

On the flip side, students have access to the resources of a larger university during the latter two years of study. This gives applicants the opportunity to participate in a rigorous, possibly more selective engineering program that they may not have been prepared for or gained admission to as a freshman.

Finally, three years of a broad liberal arts education and two years of a focused, rigorous engineering program could be very desirable to potential employers. Students who complete 3-2 programs have been educated in the fields of writing, critical thinking, and communication, and are trained in highly technical engineering concepts. This combination of creativity and STEM could open many possibilities in ever-changing job markets.

When it comes to choosing a path in engineering, there is no easy answer, and there are many options for study. At Collegiate Gateway, we are always happy to share our expertise and find the best-fit education for you. Contact us!

Majoring in English: How to Find the Best Fit College

The current educational climate is very focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). College majors that teach specific pre-professional skills toward a set career path are also surging in popularity. But where does that leave the liberal arts majors?

In his book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, journalist and author Fareed Zakaria argues that liberal arts majors teach people how to think, write, and communicate, and that these skills will serve them well throughout the course of an ever-changing career landscape in our current digital economy. According to Zakaria, “The future of a country like the U.S. rests on our ability to master how technology interacts with how humans live, work and play. And that depends on skills fostered by the liberal arts, such as creativity, aesthetic sensibility and social, political and psychological insight.”

By engaging and analyzing texts, and developing reading, writing, and speaking skills, majoring in English will enable you to acquire valuable critical thinking skills, and broaden the scope of your knowledge of the world around you through. Through the study of English you will be able to explore a vast array of subjects during college, and prepare for an extensive range of occupations in the years that follow.

Many English programs are seminar-based, which allows students to work closely with their professors and student peers. Yale University has a descriptive list of what students will take away from majoring in English and reasons for committing to this major. Their final reason is “Because you want to!” Most English majors are passionate about their choice of study and see its inherent value in their lifelong love of learning.

Trends

  • Interdisciplinary Studies

In recent years, English studies have become increasingly interdisciplinary as institutions encourage students to pair the major with other fields of their choice. Many universities have created additional tracks within their English programs to accommodate students to combine English with other disciplines.

At Stanford University, the Interdisciplinary Program within the English major is open to students who wish to combine the study of one literary topic, period, genre, theme or problem with an interdisciplinary program of courses relevant to that inquiry. For example, with a dual major in Psychology and English, an undergraduate can examine a psychological issue or problem through a work of creative non-fiction.

At Boston College, English majors have the opportunity to minor in African and African Diaspora studies, American Studies, Irish Studies, Linguistics, or Women’s and Gender Studies.

  • Double Major

The flexibility of the English major course requirements can also lead to the opportunity to pursue a double major in English and another field. The University of Maryland states, “Double majoring in English is uniquely suited to a number of students, because it combines the broad liberal arts training of English with specific and/or technical training.” English majors do not have to pursue a set sequence of courses and many courses carry cross-disciplinary credits within the liberal arts college.

The benefits of a double major (in which one of the majors is in the liberal arts field) are also supported a 2015 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which found that many companies are looking for employees who are trained in “both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of knowledge” and that this contributes to long-term career success.

Some double majors focus on two liberal arts fields, but it is becoming increasingly popular at universities such as Johns Hopkins, to combine English and the sciences. At the University of Notre Dame, about 39% of business majors carry a second major in the College of Arts & Letters or Sciences. Students should keep in mind that completing a double major requires an increase in workload and careful management of your time.

  • Study Abroad

Majoring in English can also enable you to pursue a study abroad program for a year, semester, or summer. Again, the flexibility in English course requirements and the broad array of English courses offered at institutions in England, Scotland, Australia, and Ireland allow English majors the chance to study elsewhere and gain the rich experience of living abroad.

At Cornell University, English majors are strongly encouraged to take advantage of study abroad programs offered through the Cornell Abroad Program and the College of Arts and Sciences Abroad Program. There are restrictions as to how many English credits can be earned abroad, but with careful planning, students can participate in an array of exciting international programs.

According to the UC-Berkeley Study Abroad program, “English majors find that a term, or better, a year in a foreign university not only enhances their critical and writing skills, but that the experience of adapting to another academic and cultural world expands their self-understanding and gives them a keen sense of the political and social differences in today’s world. The personal and intellectual growth of study abroad provides further advantages when it comes to the challenges of graduate and professional study.”

Common Tracks within the Major

Majoring in English gives undergraduates the opportunity to become specialists on various topics through optional tracks. Many programs have core requirements, but after these courses have been completed, the English major is open to pursue passions in literature or writing through elective courses. This format allows for interdisciplinary study across the gamet of liberal arts fields, as well as, journalism, poetry, and creative writing.

For example, Princeton University offers a multitude of tracks including Literature, Language, and Culture, Arts and Media, Theory and Criticism, and Creative Writing. Students are even able to create their own track of interdisciplinary study by special arrangement with the departmental representative.

The University of North Carolina also offers a fascinating BA in comparative literature, within which students are able to pursue an international literature track, or a global cinemas studies track. Brown University offers a renowned Nonfiction Writing Track, which combines the writing of academic essays with journalism and creative nonfiction.

At NYU, “The department offers a full and varied curriculum in literary history, critical theory, dramatic literature, theatre history, and literary culture, as well as a second major track that allows students to specialize in creative writing.”

The English major is not a “one-size-fits-all” path of study. While there are restrictions and requirements, students have choices and are able to pursue varied interests as they advance in their studies. For many students, this ability to pick and choose from a range of interesting studies is very appealing and rewarding. Regardless, of your class choices, the themes of communication, critical thinking, writing skills, and the ability to make a persuasive argument are threaded throughout all courses.

Research and Internship Opportunities

Research as an undergraduate English major is usually focused on independent, individualized studies aided by the one-on-one mentorship of faculty.

Georgetown University, houses the Folger Undergraduate Program, which offers full access to the Library’s collections as part of an intensive research seminar on books and early modern culture. There, students acquire archival research skills, and pursue advanced independent research on early modern topics.

The University of Rochester has Undergraduate Research Awards that support English majors who need assistance in travel or stay outside of Rochester to pursue the following research opportunities: traveling to scholarly conferences or film festivals, conducting research in archives or libraries, participating in writers’ institutes, and attending intensive language programs abroad. Students must apply for the award and money is granted on a competitive basis.

If you do not wish to do research during your undergraduate experience, there are innumerable internship opportunities, in which you could partake instead. English majors have written pieces for esteemed literary magazines, put their skills into practice at publishing houses, and worked for literary agencies. There are also internships in marketing, advertising, law, politics, journalism, and so many more. Many colleges have a career center that can assist students in finding the right internship fit. Stanford University has a listing of internships that are specifically geared toward English majors.

Careers

Careers commonly associated with English often include teacher, writer, and lawyer. Yet, English has allowed individuals to pursue careers in a wide range of fields.

A study conducted at Brown University illustrates the diversity of career paths that arise from being an English major. With their broad-based English backgrounds, Brown alumni were able to pursue a vast array of occupations in fields including, journalism, publishing, entertainment, public relations, law, and medicine. The University of Michigan also has a website detailing impressive career paths taken by their English major alumni.

How to Evaluate English Programs

When comparing English programs, it is helpful to research the following areas:

  • Student/teacher ratio
  • Seminar class size
  • Core requirements and elective courses
  • Opportunities for interdisciplinary study
  • Minors and concentrations, which can enhance your English major
  • Double major opportunities
  • Research and internship opportunities
  • Study abroad programs
  • Faculty profiles
  • Honors program
  • Independent study

 

For more information, contact us at Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help!

 

The ABCs of Secondary School Curricula: International Baccalaureate (IB) Program

Colleges evaluate applicants’ academics within the context of the curricula offered at their secondary school. In the United States, many high schools offer an AP (Advanced Placement) curriculum and the IB (International Baccalaureate) program, and abroad many English-speaking countries provide yet another curriculum, the A-levels.

Our series – The ABC’s of Secondary School Curricula – will consist of individual blog posts explaining each of these programs, concluding with a final post comparing and contrasting the three. As Part I of our look at alternative secondary school curricula, let’s begin with the highly respected International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

While the IB curriculum’s holistic approach to education is continuing to gain increasing popularity within the United States, it’s already well-established throughout the world. In order to grasp a better understanding of what this “holistic approach” really means, below is an overview of the IB curriculum and assessment techniques.

IB Programs

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The International Baccalaureate is a non-profit educational foundation that offers four different programs for students aged three to nineteen: IB Primary Years Program, IB Middle Years Program, IB Diploma Program, and IB Career-Related Certificate. 869 high schools in the United States currently offer their students the curriculum and an opportunity to graduate with an IB diploma.

Each program works to cultivate students’ “intellectual, personal, emotional, and social skills to live, learn, and work in a rapidly globalizing world.” For the purpose of this post, we will be focusing on the Diploma Program, which is offered to students ages 16-19. However, the three programs are philosophically aligned, each centered on developing attributes of the IB learner profile. The profile aims to develop learners who are:

  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective

The IB Diploma Program (DP) is a rigorous academic program with final exams that prepares students for success in college and a lifelong love of learning. It has been designed to address the intellectual, social, emotional and physical well-being of students.

The IB Diploma Program Curriculum

The IB curriculum is divided into six groups of content knowledge, similar to areas of concentration. To ensure breadth of knowledge and understanding, IB students must choose one subject from each of the first five groups. In addition, students may choose either an arts subject from the sixth group, or a second subject from the first five groups.

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  • Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature
  • Group 2: Language Acquisition
  • Group 3: Individuals and Societies
  • Group 4: Sciences
  • Group 5: Mathematics
  • Group 6: The Arts

 

One facet that sets IB apart from other honors programs, including Advanced Placement, is that students are required to take courses in the six subjects simultaneously.

Subjects are taken in either higher level (HL) or standard level (SL). At least three (and no more than four) subjects are taken at higher level (240 teaching hours), while the other subjects are taken at standard level (150 teaching hours).

Students are free to choose their sixth subject, which might include an entirely new creative course or a second science, social science, etc. With respect to course planning, it is vital to select the ‘best-fit’ subjects with respect to a student’s academic and career goals.

The IB program cultivates higher-level thinking skills and self-discipline. “IB students are responsible for their own learning, choosing topics and devising their own projects, while teachers act more as supervisors or mentors than sources of facts. IB emphasizes research and encourages students to learn from their peers, with students actively critiquing one another’s work.”

Assessment Approach

Students are assessed through teacher observation (“external assessments”) and testing (“internal assessments”). Forms of testing include: essays, structured problems, short-response questions, data-response questions, text-response questions, case-study questions, and multiple-choice questions.

Teacher observations include oral work in languages, fieldwork in geography, lab work in the sciences, investigations in mathematics, and artistic performances. The internal assessments begin in January of junior year and conclude in February of senior year, while the external exams take place in May of senior year.

A student’s examination performance in individual subjects is scored on a scale of 1–7 points with an additional 3 points available based on performance in the theory of knowledge (TOK) and the extended essay components. Students who display satisfactory levels of performance across all subject areas and achieve a minimum of 24 points (out of a possible 45) are awarded the IB diploma.

IB tests are graded by a third party, outside of school, and exams are the same worldwide, regardless of where a student lives. In addition to testing, students completing the IB Diploma Program must participate in community service and write a research paper.

Although students are encouraged to enroll in the comprehensive IB Diploma Program, some schools, like Locust Valley High School in New York, allow students to elect to take fewer than the six subjects. In these cases, students who fail to satisfy all requirements or elect to take fewer than six subjects are awarded a certificate for exams completed, instead of the full IB Diploma.

Benefits of Participating in an IB Program

  • Students are more prepared for the academic rigors of college.

A study of IB Diploma programs in Chicago found that when compared to a matched comparison group, students in the IB DP are 40 percent more likely to attend four-year colleges and 50 percent more likely to attend more selective colleges. When in college, IB DP students report feeling prepared to succeed and indeed excel in their coursework, often stating explicitly that their experiences in the IB DP taught the specific skills and behaviors demanded of them in college.

  • College admissions officers look favorably on IB Program courses.

According to Marilyn E. McGrath, Harvard’s Director of Admissions, “Success in an IB program correlates well with success at Harvard. We are always pleased to see the credentials of the IB Diploma Program on the transcript. GPA is not nearly as important a factor in university admission as the IB Diploma. If a student has to choose, choose the Diploma over protecting the GPA.”

“We’re looking for students who are engagers—students who are maximizing opportunities in and out of the classroom. What’s very unique about IB is that through its curriculum it allows students to be able to satisfy the requirements of the types of students that we’re looking for,” states Dr. Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions at the University of Texas—Austin.

  • By participating in an IB Program, you might be eligible to earn college credit or place into more advanced courses, depending on your IB exam scores.

Colleges differ in their policies of whether they grant credit for both SL (Standard Level) and HL (Higher Level) exams and what scores are required. Some colleges automatically provide credit for certain scores, whereas others rely on department heads or deans to decide.

Most importantly, colleges differ in how IB credit may be used by students: typical options include the ability to waive out of courses, take upper-level courses, satisfy distribution requirements, and/or graduate early. In this respect, IB credit offers a similar array of options as AP credit. Watch for our next blog in the series, focusing on AP Curriculum.

 

Below is a chart detailing the policies of several selective schools. Check the websites for the most updated information.

 

School IB Program Recognition Policy
Brown University Three HL courses can be assigned six course credits. With departmental approval, an SL course with a superior mark may be counted for one credit.
Columbia University Grants 6 points of credit for an IB HL exam score of 6 or 7, provided the score is in a discipline that Columbia offers as an undergraduate program. However, the maximum number of points a student may receive is 16, and no points are awarded until the first year of study is completed.
Dartmouth College Grants up to six course credits for superior HL scores in fields of study offered by Dartmouth’s Arts and Sciences departments (typically one course credit for each HL exam score of 6 or 7; a second credit may be granted, subject to departmental determinations.) These credits may be used to reduce the number of courses required for graduation, but may not normally be used to satisfy any other degree requirement.
Duke University Placement and credit are available for IB HL exams with scores of 6 and 7.
Georgetown University Credit will be awarded for specified HL subjects with scores of 6 or 7.
Harvard University Students who have earned the IB diploma with a grade of 7 on at least three HL exams may qualify for Advanced Standing.
MIT Only exams taken at the IB HL are recognized.
NYU IB HL exams with grades of 6 or 7 may be considered for credit and/or placement depending on the area of study and/or program requirements. Typically, 8 semester hours of credit (equivalent to two terms or one academic year of a specific subject) will be awarded for each HL.
Northwestern University Results of HL IB exams are evaluated for possible award of academic credit.
Princeton University Uses exam results for advanced placement purposes only. A score of 6 or 7 on the HL exams is normally accorded advanced placement recognition.
You can use advanced placement in three ways; to enter upper-level courses; to fulfill the foreign language requirement; to become eligible for graduation in three or three and one-half years (advanced standing).
Tufts University Recognizes the IB for admissions purposes, advanced placement, and individual course credit for a maximum of eight credits. With eight credits from the IB, students may graduate in six full-time semesters instead of the eight normally required. Typically, individual course credit is offered for HL exams with scores of 5 through 7. No credit is given for SL courses except for scores of 6 and 7 on English and for scores of 5 or higher in foreign languages.
Tulane University Awards credit or advanced placement for IB scores of 5 or greater on HL exams. No credit or placement will be awarded for SL tests.
University of Michigan Awards credit for IB HL exams only for appropriate academic subjects. No credit is given for SL exams.
University of Notre Dame Students must present scores of 6 and 7 HL exams in order to qualify for credit in specified courses.
University of Virginia Students matriculating in the College of Arts and Sciences will be considered for advanced standing and credit for qualifying scores on HL exams.
Williams College Students presenting scores of 6 or 7 on HL exams may be placed in advanced courses and/or may receive course credit toward the major or concentration. Credit is not awarded for SL courses. IB credit may be used as a prerequisite or in partial fulfillment of the major or concentration requirements. IB credits MAY NOT be used to reduce the normal course load of any semester, to make up a deficiency incurred at Williams, to satisfy the Distribution Requirements, or for acceleration, i.e. completion of the degree in fewer than four years.
Yale University Yale awards as many as two acceleration credits (the equivalent of two Yale courses) in certain subjects to students who have received either a 6 or 7 on the HL exams. These credits can be applied if the student wishes to graduate early, and the decision to accelerate is made during sophomore year. No acceleration credits are awarded for SL exams. Students who score a 6 or 7 on HL exams may also use these scores to place into more advanced courses in some disciplines.

 

Deciding which advanced program of courses to pursue can be a daunting process. Collegiate Gateway is happy to help in planning your high school course options to maximize your academic potential and college admissibility. Feel free to contact us!

 

Finding the Right Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities

A learning disability is a neurological/developmental condition that is caused by a difference in how the person’s brain is “wired.” As a result, the individual has difficulty in receiving and processing information. Students with LD are as smart, creative and motivated as their peers, but they have often suffer from discrepancies between their cognitive ability and their academic performance. In most cases, students with learning impairments simply need to be taught in a way that is compatible with their unique learning styles.

We now know that brains continue to develop throughout adulthood. Recent scientific research shows that throughout a person’s lifetime, the brain possesses neuroplasticity, the capacity to rewire by forming new connections in response to experience, learning, thought and emotion.

The sooner an individual with LD begins to learn effective approaches to receiving and processing information, the sooner he or she can take steps to strengthen learning, communication, personal growth and self-esteem. As a result, finding a college that will support and nurture students with LD is critical to their academic success.

Levels of LD Support in College

Colleges range widely in the degree of support services for LD students; some provide only the accommodations that are federally-mandated by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), while others offer comprehensive programs that charge a separate fee in addition to tuition. In between these extremes are colleges that provide moderate support programs that vary in the frequency of meetings, types of services and training of personnel. All LD services require appropriate documentation, including psycho-education testing and evaluation.

Comprehensive or Structured Programs

Comprehensive programs provide a full range of services, are fee-based, and are staffed by personnel with expertise in the learning and social needs of LD individuals. Students meet a minimum of once a week (and often 2-3 times a week) with a professional learning specialist, academic tutor and/or ADHD coach. Students receive structured support on a regular basis throughout each semester of enrollment. The program may be offered all four years, or just for freshman year with strong follow-up services.  Often, a separate application is required.

In addition to receiving accommodations and technology support, students obtain guidance on executive functioning, writing and content area skills.  Services often include:

  • Assistance with the transition from high school to college
  • Summer transition programs (for incoming freshmen)
  • Priority course registration
  • Academic advisement
  • Tutoring services
  • Study skills training
  • Time management training
  • Peer support groups
  • Self-advocacy assistance
  • Assistive technology-based services, such as digital calendars and homework apps
  • Frequent monitoring of student progress

Moderate Support Services

Most colleges provide moderate support, including services beyond what is mandated by the ADA, but not the full array of resources.

Typical characteristics of these programs include:

  • Basic accommodations (see description below)
  • A Learning Center, which may or not be open to all students
  • A dedicated specialist with training in learning disabilities
  • Centralized tutoring by peers, graduate students, and/or professionals
  • Workshops or one-on-one assistance to help with organization and build study skills (not guaranteed on a weekly basis).

Basic Accommodations

Basic support services include those federally mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and are provided free of charge. Typically, colleges that offer basic accommodations have one staff member in the Office of Disabilities, often without a specialized background, who coordinates with faculty and other staff on campus. Services are typically decentralized, and delivered through an Academic Support Center open to all students. At these colleges, LD students must self-advocate and find content tutors within individual departments.

Accommodations include:

  • Extended time to complete tests (ranging from time and a half to unlimited time)
  • A quiet, distraction-reduced testing environment
  • Audio textbooks and/or readers for tests, for students with visual processing issues
  • Visual accommodations, such as sitting upfront.
  • Note-taker in class to produce readable, well-organized notes of lectures
  • Computer accommodation, or the use of the word-processing function of a computer during tests for essays and short-answer questions
  • Hearing accommodations, such as captioned videos and sound amplification systems

For example, in New York State, Cornell University and Union College provide accommodations that are federally-mandated, while Hofstra, Marist and RIT provide comprehensive support programs. A variety of colleges fall in the middle, offering moderate support services. These range from small liberal arts colleges (such as Bard, Colgate, Hamilton and Skidmore) to large research universities (such as Columbia, New York University and the University of Rochester) to public institutions (such as SUNY Binghamton and SUNY New Paltz).

Two excellent sources of information about individual colleges’ support services include Bass Educational Services and College Supports for Learning Differences.

Questions to Ask a College’s Office of Disability Support Services

Once students become more aware of “best-fit” college features, and begin to narrow down their potential college list, it would be useful to visit the Office of Disability Support Services as part of your college tours. There is no downside to identifying yourself and asking questions regarding the support that your student could receive.  Legally, colleges cannot discriminate against students based on disabilities, and there is no transfer of information from the Office of Disabilities to the Admissions Office during the application review process.

These questions can be modified based on a student’s individual needs, interests, and goals.

Eligibility for Services 

  • What documentation is required to receive accommodations and services through the Office of Disability Support Services?
  • How current should the documentation be?
  • What is the process for reviewing documentation and determining eligibility?

Staffing of Office of Disability Support Services

  • How many staff members work in the Office of Disability Support Services and what are their responsibilities?  What is their background and training?
  • Do the staff members in the Office of Disability Support Services have previous experience working with other students with my disability? What types of accommodations and/or services have been provided in the past?
  • Who provides tutoring services for specific classroom subjects? Is there a Writing Center and Math Center? Are they paid staff or student volunteers?
  • Who would be my primary contact person in the Office of Disability Support Services?

Support Services

  • What accommodations and support services are available through the Office of Disability Support Services ? (See above for a list of potential services)
  • Does the Office of Disability Support Services offer a distraction-reduced environment for students to take exams and/or to study?
  • Are there services provided to assist freshmen students with the transition from high school to college?
  • What types of assistive or adaptive technology resources are available on the campus?
  • Do students have the following course options:
    • Take a reduced course load
    • Substitute required courses
    • Waive certain graduation requirements, for example foreign language
  • Are there any fees for the services offered by the Office of Disability Support Services?

LD Student Population

  • What percentage of students receive assistance through the Office of Disability Support Services?
  • Do you provide information about the graduation rate and/or the retention rate for students who are served by the Office of Disability Support Services?

Campus Environment

  • What are some examples of how the college culture supports students with learning disabilities?
  • How are professors at the college notified about academic accommodations, and how is compliance maintained?
  • What types of community resources are near the college, such as medical facilities or psychological services? Is the Office of Disability Support Services connected with any of these resources?

 

Every student (with or without a learning disability) has individual needs. For guidance tailored specifically to your circumstances, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

Why Institutional Accreditation Matters To You: Part II

In our recent blog, Part I: Why Specialized Accreditation Matters to You, we explored a variety of national accreditation boards that provide programmatic accreditation for academic programs in the STEM, arts and business fields. This blog discusses the accreditation of the overall institutions of higher education.

The United States has a unique approach to accreditation of higher education institutions. The vast majority of colleges and universities participate in voluntary, non-governmental accreditation through a peer review process.  Importantly, the agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education “as reliable authorities concerning the quality of education or training offered by the institutions of higher education or higher education programs they accredit.”

Benefits of Institutional Accreditation

There are numerous benefits of institutional accreditation to all the stakeholders:

  • Ensures that the institution’s overall academic program meets specified standards of quality;
  • Qualifies the institution to participate in Title IV federal funding for student financial aid;
  • Assures employers who want to pay for tuition or fees as part of a company-sponsored benefits program;
  • Helps students transfer credits to another institution if appropriate;
  • Strengthens students’ candidacy for graduate school.

The accreditation process itself significantly improves the institution.  Higher education faculty and staff cited the following strengths of participating in the accreditation process: peer-review, self-study, more effective planning and agenda-setting, greater collaboration and dialogue between departments, and reflection about priorities, goals and future needs.

Regional Accreditation Boards

Most institutional accreditations of colleges and universities are conducted at the regional level by the following DOE-approved agencies:

Each agency operates autonomously and sets its own standards. For example, the Middle States Commission, which oversees colleges and universities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, has seven current standards in the areas of: mission and goals; ethics and integrity; design and delivery of the student learning experience; support of the student experience; educational effectiveness assessment; planning, resources and institutional improvement; and governance, leadership and administration.

Ongoing Institutional Evaluation

Accredited institutions must have comprehensive evaluations at least every ten years to maintain their accredited status – they cannot rest on their laurels!  California College of the Arts was required to have re-accreditation review by WASC (Western Association), the regional accreditation body, from 2007-2009.  According to Melanie Corn, CCA’s Accreditation Liaison Officer, “The process was successful and quite fruitful, inspiring important college-wide conversations.”  Since the prior accreditation, CCA had increased faculty, expanded facilities, and implemented student learning and program assessments.

In addition, new or changed programs require re-accreditation.  New York University has been a member of MSCHE (Middle States Association) since 1921, was last reaffirmed in June 2014, and will have its new locations in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi reviewed for accreditation in June 2019.

Relationship between Regional and Specialized Accreditation

It’s possible to receive both regional institutional accreditation, as well as specialized programmatic accreditation; or to receive one without the other.

Babson College, which provides a business and entrepreneurial education, has both regional NEASC accreditation and specialized AACSB accreditation. SMFA, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, has programmatic accreditation through NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design), but is in the process of receiving regional accreditation by NEASC. Cornell has regional institutional accreditation through MSCHE, and has a variety of specialized accreditations in engineering, business, and architecture, but some programs, such as Industrial and Labor Relations, are not accredited.

Every college is unique. In addition to finding schools that fit your preferences and interests, check whether they are accredited!  For more information, contact us at www.collegiategateway.com.  As always, we’re happy to help!

Why Specialized Accreditation Matters To You: Part I

Just as you are evaluated for admission to colleges, many academic programs at colleges are themselves subject to scrutiny and approval!  There are a variety of national accreditation boards empowered to perform a peer review of specialized academic programs to ensure that the educational experience meets specified quality levels and that graduates are adequately prepared to enter the profession. Typically, periodic evaluation is required, and the process involves self-study, peer review, and site visits.

Accreditation is a serious, comprehensive process, and in no way a pro forma validation of programs, even strong programs at top colleges. Accreditation is one of many features that may factor into your assessment of whether academic programs are a good fit for you.

Graduating with a degree from an accredited program can be very influential for a student’s future prospects in employment or graduate school admissions.   For students, accreditation verifies academic quality, increases employment opportunities, helps with licensure and certification, and establishes eligibility for federal student loans and scholarships.  The programs themselves grow stronger through the process of self-evaluation and peer review, gain from the international recognition and are able to attract stronger students.  Employers benefit from knowing that students have met the educational requirements for the profession, and are familiar with best practices. And the public reaps rewards from the resulting innovations.

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes dozens of programmatic accreditation agencies for programs of higher education.  This blog discusses many of the most sought-after endorsements, and the range of programs that are – and aren’t – accredited.

STEM Disciplines

One of the most well-known and widely respected specialized academic accreditation bodies is ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering Teaching, a non-profit agency for the fields of applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology.  ABET has endorsed over 3400 programs in these fields at almost 700 universities in the US and internationally, and about 85,000 students graduate from ABET-accredited programs each year.

ABET keeps up with the newest subspecialties.  For example, 65 aerospace engineering programs are ABET-accredited, including MIT, Princeton, Clarkson and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. And when MIT launched a revolutionary new aero-astro program in 2010-2011 to provide a more flexible interdisciplinary approach, it received ABET accreditation.

Computer Science, one of the fastest growing STEM fields, had its own accreditation board until it was merged into ABET in the 1990s.  381 computing programs at 299 institutions have received ABET accreditation, with 92% in the US and the rest international. ABET-accredited computing programs range from private liberal arts such as Tufts, to technical schools such as WPI, to large state schools such as UCLA.

In fact, over the past five years, the curricular area of information technology has had a nearly 300% increase in the number of ABET-accredited programs, making it the fastest growing area.  The next highest growth is in the curricular area of engineering, engineering physics and engineering science, with a 72% increase.

Another STEM area of growth is pharmacy, due to the aging population, and the growth of pharmaceutical and related biotechnology industries. ACPE, Accreditation Council of Pharmacy Education, accredits both BS in Pharmacy and PharmD programs.  This agency made a landmark change in the pharmacy profession when it decided in 1997 that the PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) degree would be “the sole professional practice degree for pharmacy in the United States.” And in 2011, the guidelines were changed to reflect increasing emphasis on student learning outcomes and collaborative health care teamwork. 

The Arts

There are four Council of Arts accrediting associations for higher education:

Art and Design

NASAD, the National Association of Schools of Art and Design was founded in 1944, and currently has 323 accredited institutional members.  Competencies are outlined for each specialization in art, such as animation, digital media, glass, painting, photography, sculpture; in design, such as fashion, industrial or interior design; as well as combined art and design, such as the interdisciplinary study of studio, art history and museum studies.  NASAD-accredited programs range from specialized art schools such as Parsons at The New School to specialized schools within research universities, such as the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. None of the Ivy League institutions have NASAD-accredited art programs.

Music

NASM, National Association of Schools of Music, was founded in 1924, and includes about 650 accredited institutional members.  The NASM’s Handbook specifics competencies for specializations, such as professional undergraduate programs in music theory, jazz studies, musical theatre and music therapy; general liberal arts music programs; and specialized fields such as recording technology. The Frost School of Music at the University of Miami is an excellent example of a top-ranked accredited program, with specializations from instruments such as voice and piano, to applications including music business and music engineering.

Dance

NASD, National Association of Schools of Dance, founded in 1981, includes about 80 accredited institutional members, such as Barnard, whose dance program encompasses studio and dance studies courses as well as performances.

 Theater

NAST, National Association of Schools of Theatre, founded in 1965, has about 177 accredited institutional members, including University of Cincinnatti College-Conservatory of Music.

Additional arts-related fields are accredited as well, outside of the Council of Arts, such as architecture, interior design and landscape design.

Architecture

A unique aspect of certain fields, such as architecture, is that licensure is required for applicants to begin their professional practice. And licensure is only granted if the individual has attended an accredited program.  The NAAB, National Architectural Accrediting Board, is the only agency authorized to accredit US professional degree programs in architecture, and has so far accredited 154 programs in 123 institutions, including 58 BArch, 95 MArch and 1 DArch program. In California, the architecture programs at UCLA, Berkeley and USC are accredited, as you would expect… but you might be surprised to learn that Woodbury University, a private college in Burbank with 1600 students, has a School of Architecture that offers NAAB-accredited BArch and MArch degrees.

Business

In the field of business, the recognized international accreditation agency is AACSB, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, founded in 1919.  Today, 716 business schools in 48 countries have earned AACSB Accreditation, as well as 181 institutions with specialized accreditation for their accounting programs.  30 institutions received initial business accreditation in 2014, with eight in the United States, from Saint Mary’s College of California, one of the oldest schools in the West, to Menlo College, founded in 1927, with the tagline “Silicon Valley’s Business School.” Menlo aptly describes how “all members of the college community (i.e., students, faculty, and staff) contribute to the achievement of AACSB accreditation.”

The AACSB interactive website allows you to search easily for type of program, country and state. For example, there are nine accredited undergraduate programs in entrepreneurship in New York, including Fordham and RPI.  Accredited programs in international business in the UK total 11, including University of Edinburgh and University of Manchester.

Accounting represents a growing area of employment.  AACSB provides an Accounting Accreditation Process similar to the Business Accreditation Process, and requires that an institution have a Business Accreditation in order to receive an Accounting Accreditation.  Criteria for the Accounting Accreditation include ethical behavior, collegiate environment, and a commitment to corporate social responsibility. Only 182 schools have received the AACSB Accounting Accreditation, including Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics, University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business and UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce. While the University of Michigan Ross School of Business boasts that its Graduate Accounting Program is ranked #5 in the US, it is not AACSB- accredited (though the business program is).

A university can have multiple programs accredited. For example, Cornell has four distinct business programs. Three have received AACSB accreditation — BS in Applied Economics and Management (AEM) in the Charles H. Dyson School in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS); MMH (Masters of Management in Hospitality) in the School of Hotel Administration (SHA), and MBA in the Johnson Graduate School of Management – but the Business program in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) has not.

Every college and every academic program is unique. In addition to finding schools and programs that fit your preferences and interests, check whether their academic programs in your areas of interest are accredited!  Stay tuned for a future blog about regional accreditation of institutions, and for more information, contact us at www.collegiategateway.com.  As always, we’re happy to help!

Majoring in Psychology: How to determine which colleges offer the best fit

Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and the mind, and is one of the oldest fields around! In 387 BC, Plato suggested that the brain is the source of mental processes, but it was not until 1879 that the first psychological lab was established by Wilhem Wundt at the University of Leipsig, followed by the first such lab in the US at Johns Hopkins University in 1883.

Trends

A New Focus on Neuroscience

The most significant trend over recent decades is the increased attention to the workings of the brain, still considered “our most complex but least understood organ.”

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As such, neuroscience is emerging as one of the most popular and valuable new fields of study, and typically involves the combination of psychology and biology to understand behavior and cognition.  For example, the University of Pennsylvania created the Biological Basis of Behavior Program (BBB) in 1978. One of the first neuroscience undergraduate programs, the major brings together faculty from the psychology, biology and computer science departments of the School of Arts and Sciences, as well as faculty from the Graduate Schools of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.

Colleges approach neuroscience from a variety of perspectives. Barnard offers the major Neuroscience & Behavior as a distinct major from Psychology and Biological Sciences, although courses in these related areas can be taken to fulfill the major requirements.  St Andrews, in Scotland, offers a BSc degree in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience, which resides within the College of Science.  And Princeton offers a Certificate in Neuroscience (minor), which can be satisfied with courses from a range of disciplines beyond psychology and biology, such as computer science, engineering and philosophy.

More Interdisciplinary Study

Beyond the an increased focused in neuroscience, the study of psychology is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary; many academic programs now allow and encourage psychology students to pair the major with other fields, ranging from philosophy to women’s studies.

Washington University in St. Louis offers an interdisciplinary major in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology (PNP). Boston College promotes their interdisciplinary minors, and suggests that students interested in the psychology of women consider the Women’s Studies Minor. Oxford University offers a renowned degree in Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics (PPL), which prepares students to “enter careers in fields including professional psychology, education, research, medicine, the health services, finance, commerce, industry, the media and information technology.”

Common Undergraduate Concentrations

As a psychology major, you will often have the opportunity or requirement to pursue specialized programs within the major, including:

  • Clinical/counseling
  • Developmental/childhood
  • Educational
  • Environmental
  • Family
  • Forensic/law
  • Industrial/Organization
  • Neuroscience
  • Quantitative
  • Social

For example, Harvard’s Psychology Concentration (major) offers three tracks:  General Psychology, Mind/Brain/Behavior: Cognitive Science, or Life Sciences: Cognitive Neuroscience & Evolutionary Psychology.  Carnegie Mellon offers three “sub-domains:” Cognitive Psychology (including Cognitive Neuroscience), Developmental Psychology, and Social/Personality/Health Psychology. On the other hand, the Psychology major at Williams, a small liberal arts college, requires students to take a variety of courses, but has no specialized tracks.

Note that undergraduate psychology is relatively unregulated in terms of institutional accreditations. The APA does not accredit or rank specific undergraduate psychology departments.

BA vs. BS Degree in Psychology

Differences between the Programs

Psychology majors can either obtain a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS). The BA degree has a more liberal arts focus, whereas the BS degree typically requires more in-depth study of psychology, and a greater emphasis on scientific research.  New York University offers the options of a BA in Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as a BS in Applied Psychology in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, and provides an excellent comparison of the two programs.

NYU’s BA in Psychology requires 36 credits in psychology and 92 credits of liberal arts. In contrast, the BS in Applied Psychology requires 68 credits in psychology, including several research courses, a multi-semester fieldwork sequence, and a 5-course concentration, with the remaining 60 credits in liberal arts. As such, it’s easier to double major or minor with the BA degree within the total of 128 credits.  Lehigh’s approach is similar to NYU in that the BS in Psychology program requires more courses in the major, a more scientific focus, and a required concentration within psychology.

 Impact on Your Graduate School and Career Plans

Your future interests in graduate school and career also come into play when deciding between a BA vs BS degree in psychology. Note that each college’s programs have a unique focus.  At NYU, students planning to pursue graduate school in psychology, business or law could take either course.  Pre-meds are encouraged to take the BA in Psychology, due to the opportunities for lab research.  Students who wish to practice psychology in community-based settings are encouraged to take the BS in Applied Psychology because of the fieldwork requirement. In contrast, at Lehigh, students interested in a career in medicine or the health-related fields are encouraged to take the BS program.

The American Psychological Association suggests that the best way to evaluate programs is to visit them, meet with students, and choose a program that feels comfortable to you:

“In truth, there is often little difference between the two degrees. Some schools only offer a BA, others only BS. The requirements for the two degrees might overlap completely. Even when a school offers a choice of either a BA or BS, your decision may not be all that critical. The more important consideration is taking courses that will prepare you for the program you want to enter as a graduate student.”

If you are planning to pursue graduate study in psychology, you can find information about the requirements of over 500 programs online or in the print volume Graduate Study in Psychology, 2015 Edition. The revised MCAT2015 incorporates a new section on The Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior; if you want to major in psychology as a pre-med, evaluate the requirements and course offerings of various BA and BS programs to determine which would provide the strongest foundation. If you plan to pursue a career in business and law, either degree would provide useful background, but if you are more interested in the scientific or technical fields, such as patent law or business operations, a BS may be more suitable.

Research Opportunities

Regardless of whether students are in a BA or BS program in Psychology, there are substantial opportunities for conducting faculty-supervised research as a psychology major:

  • Laboratory.  Students work in a laboratory, also referred to as “basic” or “bench” research, studying topics such as learning, memory and motivation. Yale offers a myriad of research opportunities in diverse areas such as cognition, memory and motivation.
  • Clinical.  Students have access to clinical settings, such as elementary school classrooms or senior citizen centers, in which they can study social interactions or developmental processes.  Clinical research often involves developing, administering and analyzing surveys. In Georgetown’s Psychology Department, students can collect or code data, screen and recruit research participants, and conduct background literature searches.

Typically, honors programs require that students participate in research. In addition to research during the academic year at your university, you can pursue summer research or internships at other colleges, such as Middlebury College, or research organizations such as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.  The American Psychological Association maintains an excellent list of summer research opportunities.

Careers

When people think of careers connected to the psychology major, they often think of traditional fields including psychological or career counselor, or school psychologist. But there are rapidly-growing opportunities in more specialized interdisciplinary fields, such as forensic psychologist (applies psychological to criminal investigation and law), engineering psychologist (studies how people interact with machines and other technology), sports psychologist (focuses on motivation and performance related to sports), genetics counselor (provides information about genetic disorders to families) and industrial-organizational psychologist (studies workplace behavior).

In choosing a major, it’s important to find a subject you’re passionate about, while also considering your future career path. Luckily, psychology is a broad-based field, with many different practical and career applications; knowledge of people and their motivations can be applied to virtually all careers!  The study of psychology may expose you to many different career paths, and help you identify your interests.

For more information, contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Graham Turk, Princeton 2017

Meet Graham, a member of Princeton University’s class of 2017! Graham is a graduate of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, New York, and he is now pursuing his Bachelor’s in Computer Science.

What is your favorite memory from your first year of college?

Bus rides with the club hockey team.

What was the most challenging part of your first year?

Maintaining the high level of discipline necessary to block out all distractions.

What has been your favorite course so far?

COS 126: General Computer Science. It’s an introductory computer science course with no prior experience necessary. The course is organized extremely well with engaging lectures, fun assignments and infinite resources for help. In the third week we wrote a program to simulate planets’ orbits around the sun. In the sixth week we created a guitar simulator that you can play with the keyboard. The course is the reason I became a Computer Science major.

Describe a favorite extracurricular activity you have participated in during your first year at college.

Club ice hockey. I have been playing hockey since I was three years old and I knew I wanted to continue in college. The club team is the perfect level of commitment and competition. We practice twice a week and play about 20 games in a season. I met all of my best friends through the team. It’s also the ultimate escape from schoolwork. Finding a release from the academic environment is essential to happiness – once I step onto the ice I forget entirely about tests and essays.

What were your living arrangements for your first year at college? How did your roommates work out?

I lived in a two-room triple. There was a common room and a bedroom. The room itself was a little cramped but I became very close with my roommates. I am living with both of them sophomore year.

What are you most looking forward to as you begin your second year of college?

Beginning the computer science track. Last year I was in chemical engineering but switched because I realized that I should study what I enjoy, rather than what I think will be the best background.

What advice would you give to incoming college freshmen?

I’m sure people have told you these will be the best four years of your life and that you will absolutely love it. Don’t feel that you need to fulfill those statements immediately. You may not love it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You aren’t doing anything wrong. Keep a positive outlook. Be open to try new things and meet new people. And despite being the most overused maxim in college, you really do need to find a balance.