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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 03/18/2010

College visits: The ‘East Coast’ thing

By Valerie Strauss

I received the following e-mail from one of my favorite readers, Louis Wilen of Montgomery County, about my request for readers to write in about their college visits this spring. (You can learn all about College Tour ‘10 here.)

I also mentioned that I would be taking my daughter, a high school junior, to some East Coast schools. Here’s what he wrote, followed by my response.

From Lous Wilen:

What is with this "East Coast" college thing?

When I hear about where my kids’ friends have gone (or will be going) to college, it seems that 95% of them have chosen schools along the East Coast. It’s as if the rest of the country doesn’t even exist.

Do most people in Maryland actually believe that the only colleges that are affordable or worth considering can be found along the East Coast?

I’m a native of Maryland and I think that Maryland has many good colleges, but there are hundreds of other colleges that could be better values elsewhere, especially when scholarships come into consideration.

Also, many of the "East Coast" colleges are flying distance, not driving distance. As soon as you start considering colleges that are more than about 500 miles away, you’re talking about flying instead of driving. And flying 2,000 miles isn’t much more costly or time-consuming than flying 500 miles.

So is your spring break college tour just the beginning? Will you and Maddy be looking at colleges beyond the East Coast at some point? If you are limiting Maddy to just colleges along the East Coast, then please tell us why.

Warmest regards,

Louis Wilen

P.S. I have two in college now and one starting in the fall. Between my three kids, we’ve toured at least a dozen out-of-state colleges, so we’re fairly experienced in terms of college visits. And what a difference there is from one college to the next.

Dear Louis:

No, I am not, in fact, an East Coast snob, as you suggest. Really.

Nor do I suspect are the friends of your children who are from Maryland and seem to be going to college en masse along the East Coast.

You wrote: "I’m a native of Maryland and I think that Maryland has many good colleges, but there are hundreds of other colleges that could be better values elsewhere, especially when scholarships come into consideration.”

Indeed, you are correct. There are more than 2,500 four-year public and private colleges and universities in the country, and more than 1,600 public and private two-year institutions.

It would behoove many students to venture outside their state comfort zone and explore other parts of the country. I would go further and suggest that young people look at schools they previously have never heard of.

I think students should look at a great collection of schools that have banded together under the banner, Colleges That Change Lives, Inc. There are a lot of small schools in the organization that you may not know, but they are wonderful for some kids all the same. You can find them at http://www.ctcl.org/.

But here’s the thing: A lot of kids can’t, for financial, family or other reasons, or don’t really want to. As a result, it is not just Marylanders who want to stay relatively close to home.

The following statistics are from the U.S. Center for Education Statistics, the largest repository of education data anywhere:

*The majority of college freshmen attend colleges in the same state in which they graduate from high school.
*In 2006 (the latest year for which such information is now known), 75 percent of freshmen at four-year colleges and universities who had graduated from high school in the previous 12 months attended an in-state college. One fourth attended an out-of-state college. That was about the same percentage as in 1996 (75 percent attended in-state four-year colleges).

*There is a table with information about all states. It shows that only in a few states do the majority of students leave the state--and Maryland is one of them!

*In Maryland, the percentage of Maryland residents attending in-state schools as freshmen was 46.4 percent. Virginia’s rate for its residents attending Virginia schools was 73.1 percent. The District of Columbia: 28.5 percent.
*In the 50 states, the percentage ranged from 40 percent in New Jersey to 89 percent in Louisiana and 90 percent in Utah. There were 11 states in which the freshman in-state attendance percentage was 85 percent or more, and 12 states in which it was 60 percent or less.
*There were some regional patterns, with many of the southern states having relatively high freshman in-state attendance percentages:
--Eight of the 11 states with freshman in-state attendance percentages over 85 percent were southern states.
--Seven of the 13 jurisdictions with freshman in-state attendance percentages below 60 percent were Northeastern states.
*Other states with freshman in-state attendance percentages below 60 percent were Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming.
*Between 1996 and 2006, there was a relatively large increase in the freshman in-state attendance percentage in some states. In Alaska, it increased 15 percentage points (from 44 to 59 percent), and in Nevada, Florida and New Mexico, it increased more than 10 percentage points.

That’s probably more information than you might have wanted. But there it is.

And so you know:
I was born on the East Coast (in Miami) and choose to live on the East Coast (in Washington D.C.). But I’ve also lived in the West (Los Angeles) and the Midwest (Chicago), and I like those two regions just fine.

I’d be delighted if my daughter Maddy chose a school in one of them. In fact, I went to Northwestern University for a master's degree.

Maddy has already seen a few colleges (at her suggestion--not mine), and will surely see more. My husband and I--and, more to the point, her high school counselors--will make suggestions,and she'll figure out where she wants to visit. If she wants to go across the country, fine. If she wants to stay close, equally fine. If she won’t leave the East Coast, that’s okay with me.

What may turn out to be the best piece of advice I have been given about the college hunt was from my friend Pam (who is about to retire from The Post to take care of her grandson):

If you are lucky enough to give your child choices for college, don’t tell them where to go. Let them choose. If they hate it, you may never hear the end of it.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 18, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions, college visits  
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