Expert View from: College vs. University

Many students in Singapore are baffled by usage of the terms “college” and “university” in America. They assume that a college is similar to a junior college in Singapore, and when pursuing a bachelor’s degree, they think only a university will provide them with the academic path they want.

In fact, the words “college” and “university” are often used interchangeably in the U.S. Both colleges and universities in America offer bachelor’s degrees, which usually take four years to complete. The term “college” is often applied to a smaller institution, or part of a larger institution, which focuses on undergraduates, with few or no graduate (postgraduate) programs. A “university” is usually larger, with more graduate degrees available. But there are exceptions to every rule. For example, Dartmouth College retains its “college” designation, even though it has world-famous graduate schools of business and medicine. A college may also be the undergraduate school housed within a large university: Columbia College is the academic home of all undergraduates at Columbia University.

It is important to note the difference between a college and a community college. A community college, also called a two-year college, provides only the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. Students graduate with an associate’s degree and then spend two more years in a four-year college or university to gain a bachelor’s degree.

Should you consider attending a smaller college?

Definitely. A small college can provide many advantages. If you are one of only 1,000 or 2,000 students, you will receive much more individualized attention than if you are one of 40,000. You will enjoy smaller class sizes – perhaps seminars of less than fifteen students, rather than large lecture halls of 200. You will get to know your professors on a personal basis. At small colleges, many professors are actively involved with the college community and may invite your class over for dinner. Although there may be fewer extracurricular offerings at a small college, your chances for participation and leadership roles will be much greater. For example, at a large university, you will have to try out and compete for a place in a drama production, a music ensemble, or a club sports team. But at a small college, if you turn up, you’re in! Many students worry that only universities can provide research opportunities. But in fact, at a college where there are no graduate students, all the research positions go to undergraduates.

In summary, when choosing a university, don’t overlook a wonderful option: a college!

Revised SAT Feature on the Latest Singapore American Newsletter

We penned our thoughts and advice about the upcoming Revised SAT in the August 2015 Singapore American Newsletter. The feature was written before additional details on the test were released by College Board, so references to grade level in the feature may be a bit confusing (For example, for pretty much all of the International Schools in Singapore operating on the August - June academic year, the Class of 2015 has already graduated this past June). Our previous post is a bit more current, but the advice in the feature still stands:

From the Latest Study in America Newsletter: The Redesigned SAT

There has been no shortage of ink spilled about the new SAT, or the rSAT (“revised SAT” in College Board parlance).  For the last month or so we’ve been picking over the 4 full-length mock rSAT tests released by the College Board to get a feel for the new format.  Concurrently, our development team at Testtakers USA has been hard at work for some time on new materials and we’ll be more prepared than anyone else when the rSAT is first administered in May 2016. 

...We’d recommend most students graduating in 2016 or 2017 take the current SAT on or before December 2015 – leaving the January 2016 test date in reserve.

On first blush, the test does seem “harder”.  Math is a bit more advanced with no calculator allowed in one of the sections.  Arcane vocab is gone with a focus instead of more understanding of common words used in context and “evidence-based reading” – meaning answering inferential questions on the meaning of passages.  The grammar portion shifts to a format that we shall call “inspired by the ACT English Section” with the MCQ questions in the context of longer passages rather than stand-alone sentences.  The guessing penalty is eliminated and the number of multiple choices is reduced to four from five.  Two changes that mirror the ACT rather closely…  We’ve found that as a result of fewer choices on the reading it doesn’t really make it easier as there aren’t as many irrelevant answer choices such as we see on the present test.  The essay is much more challenging, bordering on literary criticism, and longer at 50 minutes.  Though the essay will not be required, most universities will want to see it.  There will be some “science” questions but similar to the ACT, they really just test your ability to understand a chart or graph.

For many students the new format will be a bit daunting at first, especially those who have been silly enough to do SAT prep for years based on the old format.  However, let’s remember that the test is meant to be used by universities as a predictor of academic success so if all of a sudden every kid did “worse” on the rSAT then the test wouldn’t be doing its job very well.  While the rSAT may look harder, if it is to satisfy its claim of being an useful test then the scoring range or curve has to match what we have with the old test.  Kids who do well in school and would do well on the current SAT will do just fine on the rSAT (or the ACT for that matter).  Students who struggle with MCQ tests will do poorly; middling students will perform…middlingly.  Rafa Nadal is strongest on clay courts, but he is no slouch on grass or hard court.  Similarly, students who do well on one (SAT, rSAT, or the ACT) will do well on all and taking all three represents a waste of time and money.

So, the million dollar question is which one to take.  Given that the rSAT is still a bit of a unknown and you get better gains preparing for the SAT over the ACT, we’d recommend most students graduating in 2016 or 2017 take the current SAT on or before December 2015 – leaving the January 2016 test date in reserve.  If you don’t do great the rSAT will be there for you as well as the ACT if needed.

Feature in Cache Journal: Rank and File: Ditch the Misleading League Tables When Choosing A University

Program Director Jeremy Craig penned a feature in the first issue of Cache Journal regarding how one should consider university rankings when deciding on schools. As the title suggests, rankings should be taken with a grain of salt: