Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Choosing a Major? It’s OK to Explore!

Is your student unsure about their college major? If so, they’re not alone, and more importantly, it’s normal!

Many students worry about which major to list on their college applications and, because they may feel pressure to make an uninformed and early choice, about 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

On average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career.

Here at Millsaps College, we encourage students to apply as “exploratory” students, because our Compass Curriculum intentionally provides breadth across academic disciplines AND opportunities for real-world engagement before students have to declare a major.  Plus, our faculty members serve as their mentors – professors want to teach at Millsaps precisely because they love working closely with our undergraduate students.

So what about job prospects – does deciding on a major before entering college really matter?  Here are some results from a recent report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems:

  •       93% of employers agree that candidates’ demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.

  •       4 out of 5 employers agree that all students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

  •       And how about this myth-busting result from another recent study: the top factor associated with a six-figure salary was not one’s college major, but having taken a large share of classes outside one's major. The researcher, Richard Detweiler, said faculty engagement on a personal level seemed to be the factor in the undergraduate experience that had the greatest impact on life success by the measures he studied.

That kind of personal engagement is the hallmark of a Millsaps College education. Just ask our students and alumni!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

When paying for college, lost time is lost money!

Like most parents, you want to see a strong return on the investment you make in your child’s education. At Millsaps College, we want to ensure a great return as well – and in a time frame that doesn’t exceed four years. 

In many states, the volatility in funding for public universities is forcing ongoing double-digit tuition increases and ever-larger class sizes, and making it nearly impossible for students to graduate on time. Here at Millsaps, our funding is stable because it comes from a combination of your tuition dollars, alumni and foundation philanthropic donations, and federal and state financial aid programs. As such, we are able to plan and budget long into the future, and our Compass Curriculum is by definition a pathway to graduation in four years. 

Millsaps' four-year graduation rate is one and a half times that of the next highest university or college in the state, and much higher than other large public universities in the region. That’s why we can promise a strong return on your investment through our four-year graduation guarantee.

Our promise is simple: We guarantee graduation in four years if a student meets the basic course load and performance requirements, or Millsaps will waive tuition and fees on courses required to complete a bachelor’s degree. 

When you think about your own family finances and how you'll pay for college, please consider this: while a public university may cost less per year, if it takes more than four years to get the classes needed to graduate, not only are you paying additional annual tuition, fees, room and board, but your student is losing out on the salary they would have earned if they had entered the job market on time!  That additional year or two doesn't just cost more - it eliminates a year's worth of salary!

Here's a hypothetical example of how this plays out, using very round numbers, with a Millsaps student who graduates in 4 years with a starting salary of $50,000, versus a student who pays less to attend a large public university but needs a fifth year to graduate: 

Net Cost
# of Years to Graduate
Cost to Degree
Salary In Year 5
Total Investment
State U
Millsaps College
*Many institutional scholarships, state grants, and federal aid programs expire 
after four years, so the annual cost for year 5 may increase significantly

... and that's just the first year of a Millsaps' graduate's professional career! So, when you think of college costs as an investment, and consider time-to-graduation, and starting salary, spending more on a high quality college education makes more financial sense than choosing the least expensive option. The purpose of investing is to get the greatest return, and Millsaps College is the best educational investment you can make.

Millsaps CollegeGraduation in four years, guaranteed.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Attitudes Toward Academics: Survey Results Analyzed and Implemented

A recent survey of prospective students and parents revealed interesting attitudes toward the importance of academics in a college curriculum.  I think you'll find the results as interesting as we did, and I want to show you how we've used these findings at Millsaps College.

Major takeaways:
  • Students place more importance on their intended major, while parents are more attuned to the comprehensive curriculum.
  • The vast majority of students and parents find that most colleges describe their curricular offerings poorly or only moderately well. 
  • Students and parents agree on the importance of finding a college that clearly maps out the course of study to graduate in four years, while still having some choices in the courses they take.
  • Students and parents agree that a liberal arts curriculum offered through small seminar courses is somewhat or very important.
  • Students most highly value Collaboration and Team-based Approaches and Business Skills and Money Management.
  • Parents most highly value Critical Thinking and Reasoning and Writing and Communication
  • Both students and parents desire increased focus on real life application of skills and theories
These findings were incorporated into Millsaps' curricular redesign, led by our faculty, and aligned with Millsaps' vision to engage students in a “transformative learning and leadership experience that results in personal and intellectual growth, commitment to good citizenship in our global society, and a desire to succeed and make a difference in every community they touch.”  Our new Compass Curriculum is a key building block in that experience, and offers all incoming first-year students (beginning fall 2015) a new and exciting tool to find their best path to graduation and beyond!

A current Millsaps student's remarks helped us to determine the right name for the curriculum, when he said, “A compass provides an opportunity to choose his/her own path, while providing enough direction to ensure they reach their destination.”

The Compass Curriculum has, as its foundation, four key Student Learning Outcomes:
  • Thinking and reasoning
  • Communication
  • Integrative and collaborative learning
  • Problem solving and creative practice

...and the Compass Curriculum incorporates:
  • A foreign language requirement for all students
  • A business literacy course
  • A strong interdisciplinary humanities program offered over the course of the first-year, exploring human experience and world cultures throughout history.
  • Seminars on problem solving and communication as part of the first-year experience
  • Specific Explorations in the “knowledge domains” of the humanities and sciences:
    • Business
    • Fine Arts
    • Mathematics
    • The Natural World
    • The Social World
    • Non-native Languages
    • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
You can learn more about the details of Compass Curriculum at

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How can I compare costs across different colleges?

This is an important time of year for students, families, and yes, college admission offices!

Over the next few weeks, financial aid awards will be determined and families will receive notifications. Most schools attempt to provide a helpful breakdown of the annual costs of attendance, including the impact of financial aid on the bottom line.

College is not a consumer good with an associated cost - education is an investment!
Higher education remains the smartest investment you can make, even when considering the increasing cost of college.  Americans with four-year college degrees earn nearly double the income of those without a degree.

How do you calculate the cost of college?
   Sticker Price (tuition, fees, room, board, travel..)
− Scholarships/Grants from all sources (do NOT need to be repaid)
− Loans, federal and private (DO need to be repaid)
= Actual Cost

How does the Financial Aid process work?
The financial aid staff starts by deciding upon your cost of attendance (COA) at that school. They then consider your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) calculates your EFC, based on taxed and untaxed income, assets, benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security), family size, and the number of family members in college.  The FAFSA can be filed for free at

   Cost of Attendance (COA) − Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Need

Your family’s Financial Need calculation will be used to award Need Based Financial Aid, including:
Federal Grants (including the Pell Grant program) and some institutional grants
Federal Loans (including Subsidized, Unsubsidized, and Parent PLUS Loan programs)

Most colleges also offer scholarships (grant aid, does not need to be repaid) based on:
Academic Achievement – not only for the top of the class!
Artistic/Music Performance
Athletics (NCAA Divisions I and II)
Alumni/Legacy Relationships
Religious Affiliations

For families wanting to compare costs, I suggest a spreadsheet where you can make comparisons side-by-side.  The key is to ensure that all of the same costs AND comprehensive aid awards are included for each school, so you can truly compare apples to apples.

For total costs, I recommend including the coming year's tuition, fees, room, board, books, and travel expenses.  You should find these amounts on the award letters, and/or on the school's website.

For the deduction of financial aid, certainly include all grant aid from the school (both any merit-based and need-based grants), and any federal or state grant programs for which you qualify.

If loans were offered as part of the aid package, you may want to calculate a net cost with AND without loans included.  Most Americans are comfortable taking out a loan to buy a car, but a car only depreciates over time.  A college degree, on the other hand, is worth more and more over your lifetime.  I can't say it enough: don’t think of college as a cost, think of your education as an investment!  Student loans are the only form of debt that will pay dividends in the future!

The New York Times recently published an article titled “The Reality of Student Debt ,” highlighting that among four-year college graduates who took out loans, their average debt is about $25,000, a sum that is a tiny fraction of the economic benefits of college.

The share of income that young adults are devoting to loan repayment has remained fairly steady over the last two decades.  Most four-year colleges you’ll consider will have stellar loan repayment.

Once you've calculated net price, I recommend a couple of additional considerations:
  • Average time to graduation.  At many large state universities, finding the classes needed to fulfill graduation requirements can be difficult and make it nearly impossible for some students to graduate in four years.  That additional year or two doesn't just cost more in tuition, but also adds another year of rent, food, living expenses, and deducts a year's worth of salary!  That's what economists call opportunity cost - and it can make attending a college like Millsaps a less expensive option in the total cost to graduation, even if the cost per year is slightly higher than a large state school.
  • The value of personal attention.  With an average of 14 students per class, students at Millsaps College will be challenged to think and interact with their professors, not just listen and take notes (or fall asleep during a lecture).  We could deliver education less expensively - we could add more students in every class, or substitute graduate students or adjunct faculty instead of top-notch professors with the highest degrees in their fields - but that would substantively change the educational outcomes our students expect.  Millsaps College graduates credit their experiences with our faculty as the basis for their success in their careers and their lives.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why does college cost so much? And is a college degree still worth the price?

As a higher education professional, I am asked this question all the time.  Certainly, I agree that college is an expensive proposition, but I argue that in fact, a college degree is not a cost, but an investment.

In production, research, retail, and accounting, a cost is the value of money that has been used to produce something, and hence is not available for use anymore.

I prefer to categorize college expenses as an investment: money spent in the hope of future benefits actualized over a span of time.

The purchase price of a car is a cost; that car begins to depreciate as soon as it is driven off the lot, and even more as miles driven add wear-and-tear.  Unlike a car, a college education becomes more and more valuable the more you use it, as additional experience adds to the theoretical concepts learned in a classroom.  And I'm not the only one to see things this way...

Those with bachelor’s or associate degrees earn more money over their lifetime than those who skip college, even after factoring in the cost of higher education, according to a report released last summer by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

A recent New York Times report lauded the “Rising Value of a College Degree” with data demonstrating that a bachelor’s degree recipient can expect to earn about $1.2 million more, from ages 22 to 64, than someone with just a high school diploma.  When considering whether the value of a college degree has changed over time, the researchers found that Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree; that’s up from: 89 percent five years earlier, 85 percent a decade earlier, and 64 percent in the early 1980s.  Here's a graphical representation of the increasing earnings improvement between those with a college degree and without:

So when considering the question of why college costs so much, I started to wonder if we're just using the wrong time scale.  I decided to look up the average nightly rate at a Marriott hotel in the U.S., which I found to be $137.34/night.  What does Marriott throw in with that room? A bed, some towels, shampoo, and soap? Maybe a gym, and if you’re really lucky, free coffee in your room?

Compare that to the nightly cost at Millsaps College.  Millsaps’ sticker price is $45,860/year for tuition, fees, and room and board, but if that includes 32 weeks of classes, or 224 days… that’s $204.73/night.  Most students receive significant scholarships, so using the discounted cost for the average Millsaps student, $23,000, the average price out of pocket is $96.70/night. And what do our students get with that?  Besides their classes and a degree at the end of four years, that price includes an unlimited meal plan, a recreation center, career counseling & internships, concerts, lectures, travel opportunities, lifelong networking with professors and alumni, and (perhaps most importantly) faculty members who care about our students and want to serve as mentors to propel to success in their careers and their lives!

So, perhaps we shouldn't ask why college costs so much, but why does the Marriott overcharge us!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What happens AFTER we receive your application???

Today, I’d like to take you INSIDE the admission office at Millsaps College. 

You and your student have done your part – dutifully completed your application, spell-checked their essay, diligently followed up to ensure that ACT or SAT scores have been sent from the testing agency, and asked the high school counselor to send us a transcript – so then what happens?

Ten years ago, you would have seen a photo of endless shelves of manila folders, sorted and stacked alphabetically, containing all the pieces of paper pertaining to a given applicant.  These days, colleges receive most application materials electronically, and we use database management software to collate, organize, and review those materials.  Think of it – if each applicant sent only ten pages of documents, that’s nearly 30,000 pieces of paper for one year’s worth of applications to Millsaps.  With electronic records, we’re saving a LOT of trees!

Besides the application forms your student filled out online, and the scores sent from ACT or SAT, we also ask high school guidance counselors to submit their documents electronically.  Services like SendEDU provide fast, free and secure upload of school transcripts directly into our database, dramatically shortening processing time, and reducing errors and misplaced information.

A dedicated team of professional staff members – Peggy, Christian, Abbey, and Tammy –  sort and catalogue your materials, scan any documents received on paper, and work to ensure that all your stuff is matched with your correct files.  We also use the software to allow you to check your status and review which materials we received.  We also send regular reminders to applicants who’ve started but not yet finished their application process.

Once the operations team has catalogued all your documents and your application file is complete, our counseling team can view the complete records in a virtual file bin, ready for their review.  Our counselors work with students from specific geographic territories so they can get to know the high schools, their grading scales, and their staff and students. (Click HERE to see which counselor covers your area)  The counselors review the transcripts with a fine-toothed comb, plus all the materials provided in an applicant file, to look holistically at an applicant’s likelihood to succeed academically and contribute positively to our community. 
Just as there are no bad colleges, there are no bad applicants, just better fits between students and institutions.  The application and admission process is about assessing the match for a particular student at a particular school.  When the counselor makes his or her recommendation, some students are admitted and others reviewed by the full admission committee, or deferred until additional information is received.  Sometimes, waiting until a student can submit senior year fall term grades can be very helpful in tipping the scales in their favor.

Remember, we’re the office of admission, NOT the office of rejection, so we’re trying to give you every possible consideration to offer you a place at Millsaps College.

Monday, September 15, 2014

10 Tips to Make the Most of Your College Visit

There are no bad colleges or universities in the U.S., only bad fits between students and institutions.  One of the best ways to find a great college that fits your student's interests, needs, and goals is to pay a visit to a campus. 

Campus tour during Curiosity & Catfish event at Millsaps College

 Here are a few tips to help you plan a great college visit trip:

  1. Start local, and start early. When your student is a sophomore or junior, visit a few colleges near your home, even if they’re not on your student's list of colleges.  Visit a big university and a small college; see a rural campus and a school located in a city.  A few "practice" visits allow you as a family to see a diverse set of schools and become comfortable with the visit experience. You'll hear a lot of facts and figures, some of which you may be familiar with, but others might demand a follow-up question to explain what those numbers mean.  Listen to the questions asked by other families who are visiting.  Let your child get comfortable taking ownership of questions about the application process, academics, and extracurricular activities.  As the search process becomes more serious, all of you will be more prepared when you visit colleges where you have a deeper interest.

  2. Explore college websites.  Most colleges have lots of information about visiting posted on their websites under "Admission" or "Prospective Student" pages.  You can often find directions, travel advice, information about lodging, and the tour and information session schedules.

  3. Arrive prepared to ask questions.  Most of the basic facts about a college will be listed online, in brochures available in the admission office, or relayed during the information session.  If you can familiarize yourself with some basic information before your one-on-one time with the admission staff, you can ask questions with some depth.  Hopefully, the answers will provide a level of understanding that you couldn’t get from the web or in print.

  4. Make your visit official.  While it’s best to plan ahead, even if you stop by a college unannounced, you should go to the admission office and let them know you’re there.  Even if you’ve missed the scheduled session and tour, they’ll likely have a map or a self-guided tour to help you navigate the campus, and an admission officer might be able to say hello and answer a few questions. Plus, many colleges track who has visited the campus as a marker of demonstrated interest in the school, which might be a tie breaker or get your student on (or off) the wait list if their application is borderline admissible.

  5. Thank your tour guide. More than likely, the student who showed you around isn’t paid for their time, and volunteers because they really love their college.  Show him or her some gratitude and let them know if they did a good job.  I promise they will appreciate the feedback.

  6. Treat your visit like an interview; even when it’s not, it actually might be.  Some schools offer formal interviews during a campus visit (or even off-campus), but every interaction you and your child has with a school official is likely being recorded, and could be factored into their admission decision.  Dress for success, act appropriately, and stay engaged – you can send that text message from the car after your visit!

  7. Customize your visit.  The visit experience will serve as a proxy for the experience your student will have after they enroll, so make the most of it! Ask if your student can sit in on a freshman class, meet a professor, or attend a meeting of a club or team they might really want to join later.  If a school treats you like a number when they’re trying to recruit you, conclusions can be drawn about how actual enrolled students feel.  Make sure you can get what you need out of the visit.

  8. Expand your visit off campus.  Particularly for a campus in a residential or urban area, ask about where students go off-campus, and include some time to see the sights.  If they say that students easily get internships nearby, but the business district is far away or not easily accessible, make a mental note.  If you hear about a fun college-town atmosphere, ask for specific spots to check out!

  9. Meet some students, and not just your tour guide (who generally receive significant training on what to say).  If you have the opportunity, meet a bunch of students in the dining hall or outside the bookstore, and ask them how their real-life experience compares to what you heard during the tour and info-session.  But remember, one apathetic student might not be a representative sample either, so talk to a few groups or individuals.

  10. Get an insider’s view.  Most colleges hold large open house events, which can be great opportunities to visit on a weekend and get lots of information from a cross section of administrators, faculty, and students.  But don’t let these big events replace an opportunity to let your child experience a typical day as a student on that campus, when classes are in session.   You might also want to experience campus during the busiest times of the day, and in the evening (a future blog post will include tips on how to assess safety and security on campus).  Particularly before finalizing a decision between a short-list of a few schools, your son or daughter will benefit from visiting on a weekday and going to classes, eating in the dining hall, and just hanging out with real students.  The school on their short-list may look very similar on paper, so your student might need to use their gut, and their visit experience, to make a final choice.

Of course, you’re always invited to visit Millsaps College, and I think you’ll have a great experience.  Use this link to review our visit recommendations and call Stacie for help customizing your day at the most prestigious liberal arts college in the Gulf South… and let me know if we do a good job of following our own advice!