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Q: Over the summer, we took our daughter to visit a number of colleges. We saw a lot of impressive things: beautiful buildings, nice dorms, modern labs, and so forth. But the cost! We have heard our friends telling us how much college is costing them, but we never actually realized it until now. The cost of going to college is more than many people even make in a year! Why is it so expensive?
A: It costs a lot to run a college. What students pay covers some, but not all of the cost. There are the faculty salaries (plus benefits like health insurance), generous administrators’ salaries (the college president, vice presidents, provosts, vice-provosts, deans, associate deans, assistant deans, and so forth), and staff salaries (the department managers, administrative assistants, librarians, admissions staff, student services directors, and so on). What about infrastructure? Buildings have to be maintained by the buildings and grounds crew, heat and electricity must be provided, buildings painted when needed to keep a fresh look. Libraries must stay current by ordering the latest books and renewing subscriptions to journals. Maybe the Classics Department doesn’t have to order many new items from year to year, but the Biology and Chemistry Departments need new equipment all the time.
You get the picture. A school’s budget is enormous.
The cost of attending college has risen much higher than the cost of living. What could account for that? Those of us who went to college some time back remember that dorms were kind of crummy (some still are), but we put up with because it was college. The cafeteria food wasn’t great (remember “mystery meat”?), but hey, it was college. These days, everything has to be state-of-the-art to entice the applicants: dorms rooms that are more like hotel suites, varied cuisines displayed alluringly at dining hall food stations and top-notch equipment in the student recreation center.
And today’s colleges advertise—a lot. There was little of that 30 or 40 years ago. Back then, if you were interested in a college, you wrote to them and they mailed you a catalog that listed all the courses offered and if you were lucky, there were two or three photographs included. Today colleges have websites, glossy recruitment brochures and videos—all produced at high cost. They also pay the College Board for names to add to its mailing and e-mailing lists. True, a number of high-profile colleges do not advertise—because they do not need to. But they are in a tiny, elite minority. Most colleges are in a competitive scrum to fill their seats.
I am just raising issues for you to consider. But this does not help you with planning for your own family’s expenditures. So here is some practical advice:
Think seriously about public colleges and universities. Their tuition, and therefore overall cost, is usually at least $10,000 less than private colleges of comparative size and value.
Your best value will be your own state university. Save the pricey schools for professional or graduate school.
Remember that the projected cost you see is the “sticker price”—what is charged before financial aid and scholarships are offered. If your daughter is a good student, more financial incentives might be forthcoming from a school that is eager to have her enroll. Make sure to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) on time to improve your chances of getting some financial aid. You can learn more about completing the FAFSA at www.understandingfafsa.org.
Lots of us worked our way through college and we did fine. See if you can find schools offering “work-study” arrangements.
These ideas may help you and your family contain the high costs of college. Today’s market pressures are making many schools adopt a business model for their operations. You too can use this strategy. You are consumers looking for high quality and solid value and schools that want your money need to be accountable for their costs.
Students who are new to New York City public schools, or who are re-entering city schools after a time away, can enroll in school at temporary registration centers set up across the city beginning Sept. 1.
The centers are open Monday–Friday, 8 am–3 pm through Sept. 18, with the exception of Sept. 7, Labor Day, and Sept. 14-15 for Rosh Hashanah. Family Welcome Centers will be closed until Sept. 21.
All high school students as well as elementary and middle school students who do not have a zoned school must go to a registration center to enroll in school.
Elementary and middle schools students who have a zoned school, including special education students who have a current New York City–issued IEP (individualized education plan), should wait until the first day of school, Sept. 9, to register directly at their zoned school. Regardless of whether or not you have a zoned school, new students with IEPs from outside of New York City should go to a registration center.
Our advice: Do your research before you get to the registration center. Read our school profiles on Insideschools and look at Insidestats. If you have doubts about your zoned elementary or middle school, know that there are alternatives. Search for "unzoned" schools, including charter schools, or look at the DOE's elementary and middle school directories online.
Students must be present to register, and you will need to bring some documents including proof of address, a birth certificate, passport or record of baptism, immunization records and the student's latest school transcript or report card. Visit the DOE's New Students page for more details on how to register and a full list of which documents you will need to bring.
Also, bring something to read or entertain a younger child. The registration centers can get very crowded and you may have a couple of hours' wait time.
The centers are designed for new students and students who aren't yet assigned to a school, but in the past, the enrollment staff has been able to help some students who needed to transfer to a different school or who were applying to attend a school outside of their zone (known as a placement exception request.)
See the DOE's website for more information. If you have additional questions, you can call 718-935-3500.
Here's a list of the centers:
Walton Educational Campus
2780 Reservoir Avenue
Herbert H. Lehman High School
3000 E. Tremont Avenue
Edward R. Murrow High School
1600 Avenue L
Boys and Girls High School
1700 Fulton Street (enter at Schenectady Avenue)
Brooklyn Technical High School
29 Fort Greene Place (enter at South Elliot Place)
The High School of Fashion Industries
225 W. 24th Street (enter at West 25th Street)
Long Island City High School
Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School
165-65 84th Avenue
The Michael J. Petrides School
715 Ocean Terrace (Building A)
Q: After I graduated from high school in 2006, I went to community college. But I wasn't prepared mentally or physically; I quit going to classes, gave up, and failed out. Now I am 24 and feel ready to take getting a degree seriously. I live in a town where there aren't any counselors who will give genuine advice because I am low-income. I am interested in psychology. I've always felt like I was made for helping people, and being a therapist is the career meant for me. Am I too old to get this degree, and how do I begin this long journey? Please help me—and be honest.
A: Honestly, it's not too late! Although it does not seem young to you, 24 is delightfully young and full of promise. But even if you were 34, 44, 54—I'd say the same thing: it is never too late to learn. Actually, you are in a good spot—since you have experienced the real world for a few years, you are mature enough to realize that education is a serious thing. On the whole, professors themselves find that older students are more dedicated, insightful, and full of purpose than many 18 or 19 year olds.
As September looms and school waitlists clear (or don't), many Brooklyn families with rising pre-kindergartners approach a time of reckoning. Maybe you’ve been holding out for a popular neighborhood program but the waitlist hasn’t budged, maybe you just moved to a new area, or maybe something about the program your child was assigned to doesn’t feel quite right.
Have hope, Brooklynites: Established programs have expanded in the borough, while many religious schools, child care centers and free-standing pre-k centers are offering pre-k for the first time and still have open seats. Information on some of these programs is scarce, but we’ve done our best to recommend available pre-k's for your 4-year-old based on insights from our school reviews, Department of Education data and interviews.
Below you’ll find our best bets of available programs organized by district to help you get started, but don’t be shy: It’s always a good idea to call a program and visit yourself. When it comes to your child, you’re the expert. Need more information about districts? Click on our district maps on the homepage.
There are still pre-kindergarten seats available for the fall—not just in public schools but also in religious schools, child care centers and community organizations.
Some of the most popular programs are seriously oversubscribed, and there is a shortage of seats in some neighborhoods (such as the Upper West Side and Bayside, Queens.) Still, it doesn't hurt to put your name on a waitlist at a popular program while you check out others. Families who applied in the second round of pre-k admissions must decide by Aug. 21 whether to accept their offer.
The good news: Some well-established programs have expanded—and still have room. Many religious schools and child care agencies are offering public pre-k for the first time and haven't filled their seats.
Information is scarce on a lot of these programs, but we've done our best to identify a few we can recommend based on the data available. Be sure to visit: It's a bad sign if a program is unwilling to let you see the classrooms. Watch our video on "What to look for in a pre-kindergarten" and read our tips.
Applying to high school in New York City can be a full-time job for 8th-graders and their families. Students who don't have an adult to help them have an even harder time navigating the system—and making the most of their options. Now, in two city neighborhoods, an innovative Department of Education program trains students to help each other through the process.
Modeled after a successful high school college access program, the Middle School Success Centers began as a pilot program on the Lower East Side and in Cypress Hills in late 2013, targeting neighborhoods where students could really use the help.
At IS 171 in Cypress Hills, counselors from the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation offer intensive high school choice counseling and training for youth leaders in one of the poorest communities in the city. The middle school youth leaders are trained in a summer program and commit to working with their fellow students during lunch hour and after school to help them understand the admissions process and make good choices on their high school applications. They apply for the job and are paid $50 per month.
The New York City Department of Education (DOE) just wrapped up their summer-time series of high school admissions workshops, including several that focused on the city's nine specialized high schools. Bronx Science, Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Tech, High School for American Studies, High School for Math, Science and Engineering, LaGuardia, Queens High School for the Sciences, Staten Island Tech, and Stuyvesant. Didn’t make it to a workshop? Don’t worry. You can find a recap of the July high school information sessions here, and there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about the specialized high schools in the fall at open houses and at the city- and borough-wide high school fairs.
Meanwhile here's a heads-up on what you can be doing this summer to prepare.
If you’re interested in attending one of the eight, test-in specialized high schools, you'll need to take the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test). You’ll also need to study for the SHSAT and if you haven’t done so already, summer is a great time to prep for the exam.
LaGuardia is the only specialized high school that does not require students to take the SHSAT. Instead, students are admitted based on an audition (and portfolio if applying to the art studio) as well as their middle school grades, state test scores and attendance records. Just like taking the SHSAT, students need to prepare for auditions. You can learn more about LaGuardia's audition process on the school's website. This year for the first time a dozen arts schools, including LaGuardia, have common audition components, so you don't have to prepare different auditions for each school. Check page 15 of the high school directory for the participating schools.
Still looking for a pre-k spot as the July 10 Round 2 deadline looms? Try our new mobile pre-kindergarten search on your phone or mobile device! Many public schools, pre-k centers and early education centers still have room for this year's crop of 4-year-olds.
Visit Insideschools.org on your phone and you'll be prompted to visit the mobile site for pre-kindergarten. Type in your address and up pops your zoned school and whether it offers pre-k. You'll also see every pre-k option near your home or work, if you type in that address. Click through to read our reviews of public schools that offer pre-k.
Even if you already received a pre-k offer, you can take advantage of Round 2 which is comprised mainly of new programs that were not listed in Round 1. Like the first round, you can apply online, over the phone by calling 311 or in person at a Family Welcome Center.
If you've just finished 7th grade, it's time to be thinking about high school!
In addition to a summer reading list for 8th grade, you've got another hefty tome to read over the summer: the 2016 high school directory. At 650 pages, this year's directory, is bigger than ever. It's also online.
Take the time to look through the opening pages which detail the timeline, different admissions methods, types of high schools and factors to consider as you select a high school. If you want more explanation, and an opportunity to ask questions from the folks who make the rules, the Department of Education is offering high school admissions workshops in every borough beginning next week. Enrollment officials will provide an introduction to the high school admissions process including the different the types of programs offered, and give tips on how to fill out your application.
At one particularly awful moment during my older son's awkward second year in middle school, the principal turned to me as I sat in her office:
"No one goes through middle school unscathed," she said, with empathy.
I tried to laugh, appreciating her sensitivity, but it didn't seem at all funny. In the space of a few months, my formerly angelic child had lost all of his so-called "friends," struck his gym teacher in the head with a ball (accidentally, he insisted, although the teacher begged to differ) and harbored a locker that smelled so foul it should have been condemned.
He'd discovered that cool (read: expensive) sneakers matter, and learned with dismay that most of the girls in his class seemed at least a foot taller. And of course, I wasn't allowed anywhere near the school; we had to designate a meeting place a few blocks away.
That's middle school for you. Middle school hurts, but middle school matters. I had gone to see the principal under the mistaken impression that we were going to have a conversation about math and science. (Tip: When choosing a middle school, find out what math and science courses they offer, including the 8th-grade algebra Regents, or your child could start high school behind in key areas.)