Sunday, December 6, 2009

The top 20 most expensive college dormitories

One of the more interesting battlegrounds of the escalating college amenities war involves the continuing construction of glitzier upscale dormitories. It’s really no surprise. Today’s college student needs more dorm room to accommodate the variety of electronics necessary to support his or her lifestyle, and the more pampered prefer singles, hopefully with fully tricked out private baths. And many colleges, particularly those not engaged in the US News and World Report prestige war, are increasingly willing to provide whatever is necessary to attract students to their campuses and keep them there.

But lifestyle accommodations come at a cost. For the 2009-2010 school year, room and board increased 5.4 percent at public colleges and 4.2 percent at private colleges to an average price of $8193 and $9363 respectively for a standard double room. When available, private rooms come in somewhat higher.To get an idea of how much these costs can figure into the total price of a college education, Campus Grotto compiled a list of this year’s most expensive* college dorms:

1. Eugene Lang College, NY: $15,990
2. Cooper Union, NY: $15,275
3. Suffolk University, MA: $14,544
4. UC Berkeley, CA: $14,384
5. New York Institute of Technology, NY: $14,290
6. Fordham University (Lincoln Center), NY: $13,830
7. Fordham University (Rose Hill), NY: $13,716
8. UC Santa Cruz, CA: $13,641
9. Manhattanville College, NY: $13,500
10. Chapman University, CA: $13,384
11. Sarah Lawrence College, NY: $13,370
12. UCLA, CA: $13,314
13. Olin College of Engineering, NY: $13,230
14. New York University, NY: $13,226
15. St. Johns University of Queens, NY: $13,140
16. American University, DC: $12,930
17. Marymount Manhattan, NY: $12,874
18. Drexel University, PA: $12,681
19. Pomona College, CA: $12,651
20. Vanderbilt University, TN: $12,650

* Double occupancy freshman dorms

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Colleges create new majors in video game design and development

Not so many years ago, majoring in game design at the University of Pennsylvania meant skipping class and staying up all night playing pinball at the "Dirty Drug" on the corner of 34th and Walnut Streets. At some point, Pong and Pac-Man introduced the digital age, and students found new, technology-based ways to waste time.

Flash forward a few years, and games have suddenly joined other mainstream media worthy of academic study. Today it’s all about the industry, as perfectly respectable post-secondary institutions are rushing to offer majors in video game design and building breathtaking facilities to support student interest in the field.

This fall, UC Irvine announced the establishment of the Center for Computer Games & Virtual Worlds. Construction is nearing completion on a 4,000 square-foot, 20-room “Cyber-Interaction Observatory” for faculty research that includes plans for floor-to-ceiling projection screens, 3-D stereoscopic displays, and gesture-based interfaces. Expanding on the Game Culture and Technology Lab founded in 2001, UCI will offer a 4-year undergraduate program in “game science” joining radio, TV, and film as legitimate media-based academic majors or concentrations.

But it isn’t just about fun and games. Advocates for video design and development are quick to point out that applications go far beyond game-playing or entertainment. Virtual worlds and simulators are used for everything from stroke rehabilitation to combat exercises. In fact, the entertainment industry frequently leads the way for computer applications in health, communications, and defense.

On the east coast, High Point University recently opened the Nido R. Qubein School of Communication which offers a similar major in Games and Interactive Media supported by an amazing lab also featuring floor-to-ceiling screens and up-to-date video equipment used to provide students with hands-on experience in virtually every video game currently on the market. Students in the program are not only encouraged to play to learn but also to hone skills as story-tellers, critics, artists, and potential entrepreneurs.

So far, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has not created a specific job category for game design and development. But students graduating with related majors are expected to find jobs in the rapidly expanding market for serious games development, especially those with specific expertise in design, animation, programming, audio engineering, or testing. The new majors at UCI and High Point join those already offered at the University of Southern California, UC Santa Cruz, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the Rochester Institute of Technology and several other colleges and universities bringing respect to a field formerly considered a simple waste of time.

For a complete list of all colleges currently offering majors in Game Design and Development, click here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Stanford students discover 'creepy' monument moved to less intrusive site

It’s not on the usual tour guide route. And if you’re interested, you will have to ask for directions and take a major detour across campus to a spot adjacent to the newly-constructed Hyatt Classic Residence senior housing complex facing the Stanford Mall on Sand Hill Road. But if you’re looking for the memorial tablet constructed to mark Leland Stanford Jr.’s original burial place, you’ll be disappointed. It’s gone. In its place, an unobtrusive metal sign advises the curious that the memorial tablet has been moved.

Following a story that appeared a couple of weeks ago in this column, several Stanford students set out to find Leland Stanford Jr.’s original burial place and the memorial tablet marking its location. “It took two tries,” said Stanford senior Justin Solomon. “The second time, we went with a flashlight. The tablet is really nowhere near the development or the burial site.”

For over 100 years, the marble memorial stood sentry over the spot where Leland Jr. was originally buried. Carved into its face are lines selected by Jane Stanford from a poem by Felicia Dorothea Hemans that read in part “Yes, it is haunted this quiet scene, fair as it looks and all softly green….” In response to questions concerning the poem, Stanford’s archeologist Laura Jones said, “There is something kind of creepy about it.”

In 2000, the tablet disappeared to make way for the university’s Sand Hill Road development. Evidently, a monument proclaiming that the area was “haunted ground” did not suit developers hoping to attract upscale senior citizens. To avoid disturbing the community, Stanford University quietly relocated the tablet some distance away from the site of the small mausoleum that held Leland Jr.’s remains from 1884 until they were exhumed and moved to the much grander family mausoleum in 1893.

While a series of metal signs explains the relocation, the tablet no longer marks what Jane Stanford hoped would be a permanent memorial to her son. Stanford’s real “haunted ground” is actually down the street somewhere in the vicinity of the Hyatt-managed senior citizen complex.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Get Inside the Admissions Office with Unigo and WSJ On Campus

Unigo and WSJ On Campus would like to invite anyone interested in the college admissions process to an “exclusive, live and interactive” webcast—Inside the Admissions Office, tonight at 7 p.m. EST. Cosponsored by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), the webcast will feature heads of admission from Bryn Mawr, Grinnell, Marquette, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, UVM, Wesleyan, and Williams, who promise to draw back the curtains on the college admissions process and reveal what students need to know to get into top-choice schools.

Inside the Admissions Office, broadcast at, will be moderated by Jordan Goldman, founder and CEO of Unigo. Topics will include:
  • What a dean of admissions looks for when reviewing a college application
  • The importance of grades, test scores, interviews, essays and more
  • How applicants can overcome their weaknesses and make the most of their strengths to make applications stand out
  • The role parents should play in the process
  • The people behind the titles

If you have questions you’d like answered by the deans of admissions, send an email to If your question is selected you could win an iPod Nano (see official rules).

Following the event, IECA will be posting the podcast on their website (, so those who cannot watch live will be able to see the entire broadcast. Again, the webcast will take place tonight at 7 p.m. EST (4 p.m. PST) at

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Talbots offers generous scholarship for women returning to college

It gives us great pleasure to help the Talbots Scholarship Foundation get word out about the 2010 Talbots Women’s Scholarship Fund and Nancy Talbot Scholarship Award. Targeted to women returning to full or part time undergraduate studies at two- or four-year colleges, universities, or vocational schools, this program is designed to “empower women to enrich themselves through learning and achieve a college education later in life."

The Talbot’s Women’s Scholarship Fund will award $180,000 in college scholarships for the 2010 academic year, including ten $15,000 scholarships and one $30,000 scholarship to an extraordinary finalist demonstrating “courage, conviction and an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit.”To qualify, applicants must be:

  • women who earned a high school diploma or their GED on or before September 2000;

  • enrolled or planning to enroll in a full or part time undergraduate course of study at an accredited two-, three-, or four-year college, university or vocational-technical school in the US or Canada;

  • attending the full 2010-11 academic year and receiving a degree no earlier than May 2011; and

  • must have at least two semesters (24 credit hours or more) remaining to complete an undergraduate degree as of the beginning of the 2010 fall academic term.

All applications must be submitted electronically by January 2, 2010, and only the first 5,000 eligible applications will be considered. Scholarship finalists will be selected based on a number of criteria including academic record, demonstrated leadership and participation in community activities, honors, work experience, and a statement of educational and career goals. Registration and more information may be found on the Scholarship America website.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ten reasons college freshmen look forward to coming home for Thanksgiving

Many of those high school students who were stressing over essays and application deadlines this time last year are getting ready to celebrate their first Thanksgiving as college freshmen. While Mom’s home cooking and a miraculously clean bathroom rank high on the list of reasons why freshmen look forward to Thanksgiving break, it might surprise some college applicants how much life changes and why home looks pretty good after a couple of months in a dorm.

For a little insight into the undergraduate living experience, here are 10 reasons college freshmen look forward to coming home for Thanksgiving:

10. At home, mashed potatoes and stuffing are not served with an ice cream scoop.
9. No one asks to borrow your favorite sweater, calculus book, a video, or iPod.
8. For at least four days, there is no need to wear flip flops in the shower or worry about who’s using your soap.
7. Laundry facilities may be available other than between 3 and 4 AM; quarters or other forms of payment are not required.
6. Access to a car may be within the realm of possibility.
5. A Student ID isn’t necessary to get in the house or access your bedroom.
4. No one in your family is likely to bang on your door after midnight and want to "talk."
3. Earplugs are not necessary to block out your roommate’s music, snoring, and/or video games.
2. You know it’s your hair in the drain.
1. And for better or worse, Thanksgiving dinner is not served on a tray.

Welcome home to all those fortunate enough to get there!

Photo from jelene's photostream on Flickr

Monday, November 23, 2009

Charta Squad rap video 'Relax' goes viral

BROOKLYN—When Art Samuels, Director of College Guidance and Culture at Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Charter High School (WCHS), originally posted a link to the SAT rap music video “Relax” on the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) E-List little did he expect to create an international sensation. “This is a stressful time of year for counselors,” explained Samuels. “I just thought the video could lighten things up a little.” And it did.

Since the communication went out to college admissions professionals, the Charta Squad SAT video has been enjoyed by over 14,000 visitors to YouTube—and the number is growing hourly as word spreads through the blogosphere as well as on college admissions websites such as Cappex, College Confidential, and the UVA Admissions Blog. Even The Chronicle of Higher Education included mention of the SAT rap video in a weekly news wrap-up. “The internet is an amazing thing,” commented Athena Apostolou, "Relax" co-producer and editor.

Shot in WCHS classrooms and hallways, the 4-minute video is based on 18 minutes of footage that was neither scripted nor rehearsed. “It sort of wrote itself,” according to Ms. Apostolou, who teaches art to students at WCHS. “We did it because we could really imagine how much the kids would enjoy it. What students wouldn’t want to see their teachers dancing around and singing?” Science teacher John Sullivan—who along with Art Samuels wrote the lyrics—added, “It was a ‘fun’ thing meant to demystify the SAT’s and get the kids to ‘relax.’”

In the past week, Samuels has been contacted by hundreds of counselors from all over the country requesting permission to use the video or adapt it for their students. One email came from China asking for a written copy of the lyrics. “The kids never let it die,” according to Samuels. “I’m known around school as the ‘guy in the video.’” Even Samuels’s dentist got in on the act, “He asked for my autograph.”

Based on the overwhelming response, Samuels definitely thinks the Charta Squad will come together for a sequel. "We accomplished our goals which were to get kids excited about the SAT, have fun, and take away stress."

“At the end of the day, it’s all for the students,” concluded Ms. Apostolou. "That’s why we’re in the profession—to help our kids succeed.”

Photo from Lisa Liang's photostream on Flickr

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Students in the top 20% of their class can earn automatic admission to the University of Houston

Students can fast track college admissions by taking advantage of the University of Houston’s fantastic automatic admission program (scroll down to the bottom of the admissions webpage for specifics). It works like this: any student in the top 20% of their high school class, who has completed 15 academic credit hours and submits an application by February 1st, is automatically admitted to Houston’s next incoming freshman class. A student in the top 50% of their class will also be automatically admitted as long as they submit standardized test scores of at least 1000 (CR and Math) for the SAT or 21 (composite) for the ACT. No essays are required, and Houston responds within 7 to 10 days from the date the application is submitted. After that, you’re free to buy the t-shirt—provided you’ve met the requirements!

No, this isn’t just for Texas residents. The Houston automatic admissions policy extends to any high school student in any high school in the country. For students in high schools that do not rank, Houston will consider each applicant individually. Every effort will be made to fast track the application through the system and give a student the same prompt feedback. Students applying for the University of Houston music program need to audition, and future architects must submit a portfolio. Engineering students need at least Pre-Calculus and Physics, and along with Bauer Business School applicants, should have a combined SAT of 1050 for automatic admission. But those are the only special exceptions.

The University of Houston is the third largest university in Texas. With 40 cutting-edge research centers, Houston offers 109 majors in fields ranging from Hotel and Restaurant Management to Supply Chain and Logistics Technology. And, the Department of Chemical Engineering recently announced the addition of a Petroleum Engineering major to its undergraduate program, which is great news for anyone looking to make serious money immediately after graduation.The University of Houston is not alone in offering automatic admissions. To learn more about other guaranteed or automatic undergraduate admissions programs check out Louisiana State University (LSU) or the University of Oregon.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Brooklyn's Williamsburg Charter School raps SAT advice in music video 'Relax'

The college office and teachers of the Williamsburg Charter High School*, in Brooklyn, New York, have produced the best SAT video ever! Titled Relax, by the Charta Squad, four minutes of solid SAT advice are packed into a truly inspired rap worthy of a public service award from the Grammies or MTV. And to think families pay thousands of dollars for this kind of SAT insider information!

“Relax!,” is the underlying message the Charta Squad rappers beat out to a music video choreographed in familiar classrooms and hallways. Set two alarm clocks, eat a good breakfast, sharpen the pencils, and pack a watch, some water, calculator, and a snack. There’s even a shout out to analogies for old school viewers. “I got my SAT pants on. Got my SAT dance on.” But don’t forget to, “Relax, relax, relax.”

An SAT tutor sums it up, “This is easily the most brilliant thing I’ve seen regarding the SAT in freaking years.” And the stars of our show are the teachers, counselors, and security staff of the Williamsburg Charter High School.

MTV are you listening? Get the word out. "Relax" deserves a national audience.

*WCHS is part of the Believe High Schools Network

Photo from Lisa Liang's photostream.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

3.4 GPA earns automatic admission to the University of Oregon

Why a duck? Because to become a University of Oregon "Duck," any high school applicant may receive automatic undergraduate admission by simply achieving a 3.4 GPA—regardless of grade scale or weighting policy or whatever. If your transcript contains both weighted and unweighted GPA’s, UO will take the higher to qualify for automatic admission—they want to accept great students. Go Ducks!

Not even the Marx Brothers in their famous Cocoanuts routine could complain about this opportunity for solid B students to gain admission to a wonderful school in a beautiful part of the country. And evidently, so many have discovered this secret that University of Oregon officials had to lift the automatic-admit GPA from 3.25 to 3.4 for the 2009-2010 admissions cycle. Since about 70% of this year’s freshman class was admitted under this policy (including lots of Californians shut out of their system), little room was left for the UO admissions committee to make selections from among the rest of the applicants. This potentially created problems filling specialized positions in the Marching Duck Band or the mighty Duck football team. And, these aren’t just Oregonians. About one-third to 40% comes from out of state to enjoy the college town atmosphere offered in Eugene OR and the 295-acre UO campus lined with 2000 varieties of trees.

There are other guaranteed admission policies in effect across the country, but most have restrictions that make them less universally applicable. A more controversial policy in Texas requires the University of Texas to take the top 10% of graduating seniors in any Texas high school. The University of North Dakota posts a chart indicating requirements for automatic admission, and the University of Houston guarantees admission to anyone in the top 20% of their high school class. Other less choosy schools post automatic admissions standards for prospective students to meet. But few are as successful as the University of Oregon in actually improving admissions statistics through this relatively painless admissions policy. In fact, the average GPA for the class of 2013 is 3.68, and that’s with using the lower standard for guaranteed admission.

There are a few strings that come with the Duck offer. Students must graduate from a regionally accredited high school and have 16 college preparatory units with grades of C- or better. They must also submit a completed application by January 15, 2010 (this application will be used to consider applicants for the Clark Honors College). Earlier applications get first choice on housing. BTW, to reach Oregon admissions, you dial 1-800-BE A DUCK. Gotta love it!Why a duck? No, viaduct.

Why a chicken? No, that’s the University of Delaware.

Photo provided by KYZ

Monday, November 16, 2009

LSU offers guaranteed admission for B/C students

Hold that Tiger! Louisiana State University, located in historic Baton Rouge, offers an incomparable guaranteed admission program for the B/C student ready for the challenges of a big-school experience in a classic southern community. Here’s the deal--to claim automatic admission a student must have:

  • A GPA of 3.0 or higher (weighted or unweighted)

  • ACT/SAT scores of 22/1030 (minimum Eng/CR 18/450 and M 19/460)

  • 18 core high school credit units (Note that American Sign Language may count toward the 2 units required of foreign language)

For as long as space remains in the class, the admissions office will provide a decision within 48 hours of application. No strings. No binding clauses. Just a refreshingly uncomplicated admissions process designed to attract a wide variety of students. And the best part of all is the availability of all kinds of scholarship money thanks to the unfailing generosity of generations of loyal LSU alums. Out-of-state students with SAT’s totaling 1250 and 3.0 GPA qualify for full exemption from nonresident fees; nonresidents with SAT’s totaling 1330 and 3.0 GPA qualify for full exemption from all tuition and fees. And, those are just a few of the scholarship opportunities available at LSU!

The LSU campus is alive with school spirit and friendly faces. On a random day on campus, at least two out of three students and school employees are decked out in school colors and Tiger paraphernalia. Anyone familiar with the college sports scene will recognize the LSU Tigers as perennial national contenders. And, what other school has a live tiger habitat located right beside an over-sized football stadium that positively rocks the Richter scale on Saturdays during the fall months? Team mascot Mike VI rules his den!

In addition to sports, LSU has plenty to offer in the way of academics and student life. Students major in everything from Cajun French to Petroleum Engineering. And, each year, LSU conducts more than 2,500 sponsored research projects funded by more than $140 million in external grants from an amazing assortment of funding sources including NIH, NASA, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, to name a few. The large but easy-to-navigate campus is beautifully landscaped with towering live oaks insured for millions gracing quads and walkways.

Make no mistake. This is a big school. The largest classroom holds 1000 students and clickers are among the tools routinely used by professors to keep up with the numbers. For the right student, however, the welcome and value are there.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Colleges offering a taste of the good life

When I went away to college, I frankly gave very little thought to the quality of the amenities package I could expect as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. I knew the water in the pool at the Weightman Gym was reputed to be very cold, but what fool would be sampling the waters if you could pass the mandatory swim test? Hot tub? I don’t think so. Climbing wall—well maybe, if you count getting over the brick and mortar façade that surrounded the women’s dorm. Computer access? Yes, but the darn thing took up an entire city block. Parking? Not likely unless you paid off one of the proprietors of the many mob-own lots that surrounded campus. Then again, who would think of bringing a car to Philadelphia? I certainly didn’t.

But times have changed. The twenty-first century college student expects a certain quality of life. Running late to class? Can’t find a parking spot? Don’t stress: the University of Southern California (USC) offers daily valet service. You can toss the keys to an attendant Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Or, you can make a parking reservation online for expedited service. Columbia University and Cal State Sacramento also offer some combination of valet and “premium” parking for students. New York City, I understand, but what’s the parking issue at Cal State? Then there’s Florida International University, where you can leave your car with the valet and order up a wash and wax while taking your accounting midterm or attending an anthropology lecture.

High Point University in North Carolina also offers a valet service, but ups the ante with the availability of a concierge desk, free treats from a roaming ice cream truck, and a hot tub conveniently located in the center of campus. The High Point concierge handles maintenance requests, gives restaurant recommendations, sends out dry cleaning, and provides automated wake-up calls effectively doing away with one particular excuse for missing class. It's all part of President Nido Qubein's plan to acclimate students to the good life. And judging from the happy students and pristine campus, he might be onto something.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Save money by using AMTRAK to visit colleges

High school juniors and seniors considering fall campus visits may want to take advantage of special Amtrak buy-one-get-one half price train fares. Partnering with Campus Visit Magazine, Amtrak is now offering reduced-price train tickets for students and their families traveling to college campuses. It works this way: the student buys a full-price adult fare ticket and their parent or guardian travels for half-price through December 16, 2009. It's like BOGO for train tickets instead of shoes. To obtain this discount, you need to know the following:

  • The offer is only good for high school juniors or seniors traveling with a parent or guardian.
    Tickets must be booked at least 3 days in advance--no exceptions.

  • Up to 2 additional children (ages 2-15) may accompany the family for half-off a full-fare ticket.

  • Some black out dates apply (Sept. 4 & 7, Nov. 24-25 & 28-30).

  • This discount does not apply to Acela trains.

If this works for you, then

  • Go to and fill out a short form about your trip.

  • Press the submit button to get your special Amtrak promotion code--WRITE IT DOWN.

  • If you haven't already done so, register for the Amtrak Guest Rewards program (you'll earn 1,000 bonus points).

  • Book your ticket by phone: 800-USA-RAIL or 800-872-7245, using your special promotion code.

  • Pick up your tickets from an agent (you can't use the kiosk) and be prepared to show identification.

  • Enjoy your trip!

Many campuses are within reasonable walking distance from major train stations. For example, both Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania are easily reached from the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Other campuses may require connecting to a subway. Regardless, you don't necessarily need a car to visit colleges. And with these fares, Amtrak is making your trip even more affordable.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

One last campus ghost story: The University of Toronto

Canadian colleges, such as the University of Toronto, are increasingly popular destinations for American high school students. Our friends to the north are quick to point out that students studying in Canada have much in common with their counterparts in the U.S. and going over the border doesn’t necessarily mean giving up Halloween or other ghoulish campus traditions found nearer to home. With soaring Gothic spires and a history rich in colorful characters, the University of Toronto welcomes adventurous American students and can provide more than enough in the way of scary stories to satisfy even the most active imaginations.

One such tale documents the doomed lives and loves of a couple of 19th century stonemasons. It’s an all-too-familiar story: love goes wrong and the wronged take revenge. Hired in 1857 to complete decorative stonework for Toronto’s University College, Ivan Reznikoff mysteriously disappeared after discovering his fiancé’s infidelity with Paul Diabolos, the project foreman. Legend suggests that Reznikoff challenged Diabolos with a stonemason’s axe to avenge his honor but lost out to a quicker knife wielded by the cunning Diabolos, who later disposed of the body in an unfinished stairwell. To add insult to injury, Diabolos is said to have carved the face of Reznikoff into one of the monstrous gargoyles seen today by the southwest corner of University College.

Dishonored, murdered, and mocked, Reznikoff haunts the University of Toronto campus seeking students to listen to his sad story. A deep gash in one of the University’s doors gives proof that a fight occurred. And, the accidental discovery, in 1890, of a skeleton wearing a stone-mason’s belt hidden deep within a ventilation shaft of University College certainly appears to confirm the ghost’s story. Students are warned that Reznikoff tends to appear as a tall man clad in black with “lank hair” spilling out from under a pointed hat who accosts those who have indulged in a bit too much partying.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Even more campus ghost stories: College of William & Mary, GMU, and Georgetown University

Ghost stories come out of the woodwork this time of year, and colleges within driving distance of DC have more than their fair share.

College of William and Mary, Williamsburg VA
As the nation’s second oldest college, William and Mary claims the oldest academic building still in use on any campus in the US—the Sir Christopher Wren Building. Constructed between 1695 and 1700, Wren functioned as a hospital for French and American troops during the Revolutionary War and is said to be the site of at least one local haunting. Footsteps heard on the upper floors are thought to be those of a French soldier who died in the upstairs wards. Others believe the footsteps could only belong to Sir Christopher as he continues to admire the building he designed.

Located northeast of the Wren Building is the President’s House. The oldest official residence for a college president, the building housed many interesting personalities and boasts a colorful history since construction began in 1732. During the Civil War, the house served as the Federal Headquarters for the area and was used as a prison for captured southern soldiers. It is believed that the spirits of Confederate Army ghosts are still trying to escape from the house and play tricks on unwitting visitors.

George Mason University, Fairfax VA
Folklorist Margaret Yocom, associate professor of English, is George Mason’s official “ghost keeper.” Over the years, Dr. Yocom has collected stories for the Northern Virginia Folklife Archive, a number of which document ghostly sightings including a bizarre spirit who haunts the women’s crew team on the Occoquan River and a few strange occurrences at a local restaurant popular with Mason students.

One particularly gruesome story suggests that a small gazebo bordering Mason Pond on the Fairfax campus is frequented by the spirit of a young man who drowned one night under mysterious circumstances. The next morning, his body was allegedly found sitting in the gazebo by two women who happened to be visiting the area. Ever since, the man’s figure has been spotted standing at the edge of Mason Pond or sitting in the gazebo. His spirit beckons young women to join him but instantly disappears when approached.

Georgetown University, Washington DC
With Victorian spires dominating the local skyline, Georgetown’s Healy Hall sets the scene for a variety of campus pranks involving stolen clock hands as well as wild stories of student exploits within the labyrinthine tunnels that wind beneath the building. Constructed during the presidency of Father Patrick Healy, between 1877 and 1879, the former dormitory cost the University an enormous sum of money. The impossible debt eventually caused Healy’s retirement and death and could explain the restless nature of spirits haunting the large stone ediface.

Officially, the 5th floor of Healy Hall does not and never did exist. The Gothic design of the building inspires much speculation about secret sealed-off floors and ghostly inhabitants. One story suggests that a young Jesuit student accidently opened the Gates of the Underworld while reading forbidden chants in a book about exorcism within a secret room that is now among those sealed-off to students. Another story documents the gruesome death of a priest crushed while working on the clock in the building’s spire whose groans may be heard by students walking the campus at night.

Since the filming of “The Exorcist” on campus, Georgetown students celebrate Halloween with a screening of the movie either on Copely lawn or in Gaston Hall. At midnight, students gather in the shadow of Healy Hall—at the gates of the Jesuit cemetery—and literally howl at the moon.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More campus ghost stories: OSU and Stanford University

Virtually every college has a least one alleged haunt frequented by a known ghost or spirit. There are resident ghosts, suicidal ghosts, lovers’ ghosts, and a few Greek ghosts. They may be found in libraries, residence halls, bell towers, and the remotest corners of any given campus. Some stories are legends, but most are told from personal experience as undergraduates are well known to possess an excess of imagination.

Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus OH
OSU boasts a campus rich in legend, folklore and a few really good ghost stories. Chief among the spirits are a mysterious lady of the lake, the professor whose cremated remains are walled up in a lecture hall, and the bizarre appearance of President Rutherford B. Hayes. But the most frequently-told story involves the first president of Ohio State University, Edward J. Orton, and the hall that bears his name.

One of the oldest buildings on the OSU campus, Orton Hall was constructed in 1893—two years after President Orton suffered a paralyzing stroke. The building appears as a gloomy Romanesque castle laboring under a façade of 40 different kinds of Ohio building stones painstakingly layered as they are found in the layers of the earth. The hall is topped by a bell tower, dedicated nearly 15 years after Orton’s death, containing 25,000 lbs. of bells tolling in the key of D flat. Encircling the tower are 24 columns decorated with monstrous-looking gargoyles which are actually reconstructions of prehistoric animals found in Ohio. The building houses OSU’s Geology Department as well as a Geology Museum which is often overlooked by visitors but which contains 10,000 specimens donated by President Orton.

In his last years, Orton spent considerable time reading by lamp light in the top of the bell tower, and there are obvious scorch marks on the inside ceiling of the tower room left by his lamp. Legend says visitors can see the light of his lamp flickering through the vertical slats surrounding the tower, as his ghost still reads in his favorite spot high above the geological collection he amassed during his lifetime. A guardian of the building, Orton is also reputed to chill the air and make noises in attempts to quiet disrespectful students.

There are a number of other really scary OSU ghost stories. You can find a few in the most recent edition of the Buckeye Loop.

Stanford University, Stanford CA
A seldom-told tale suggests the founding of Stanford University may have been the result of communications from the “other” world. Shortly after the tragic death of their only child, Leland Junior, Jane and Leland Stanford traveled to New York and Paris for a series of séances. According to Maud Lord Drake, who attended one of the séances, the idea for creating a university came directly from Leland Junior in a spirit communication channeled through her to his parents. Responding to published accounts of the event, Leland Stanford denied that this ever happened and insisted the idea for Stanford University came to him in a dream.

However true either story may be, it’s clear that Jane Stanford suffered her son’s death greatly and continued trying over the years to make contact with him via the “netherworld.” A grieving mother on a mission, Mrs. Stanford threw herself into the construction of the university that was to honor her lost son’s memory and supervised every detail down to designing the stained glass window found in Memorial Church illustrating Leland’s rise to heaven in the arms of angels.

Sometime in 1893, Mrs. Stanford had her son exhumed and moved from his original resting place to a grand marble and granite mausoleum, guarded by four sphinxes. Both parents would join him there in death. Mrs. Stanford also supervised construction of an ornate university museum, designed in the neoclassical style which she located not far from the mausoleum. The museum (now the Cantor Center for the Arts) houses a vast collection of family artifacts including objects collected by Leland Junior during his world travels. Both museum and mausoleum symbolize Mrs. Stanford’s continued mourning, bearing striking resemblance to temples. Both are said to be haunted by her restless spirit, no doubt deeply disturbed by repeated earthquake damage and neglect over the years. Sightings of the great lady have been reported by visitors to the area, lending additional meaning to the poem she engraved on tablets carved from Leland Junior’s original crypt formed into a pyramid shaped marker standing sentry to his first burial place:





Wednesday, October 14, 2009

E-Book offers insider strategies for saving money

The brilliant folks at Cappex recently announced publication of a new e-book entitled, 20 Insider Strategies to Save Money on College NOW, available FREE of charge on the website. The concept is simple: most students and their parents don’t know how to take full advantage of all the money-saving tools available to them and many miss out on financial aid simply because they don’t understand the process. To level the playing field, the book offers insider tips, strategies, tools, secrets, and other ways to help families in the never-ending quest to pay less for college.If nothing else, the book's easy-to-understand guide to financial aid terminology is worth printing out and saving. From there, readers will learn the importance of choosing the right college list, how and when to apply for financial aid or merit scholarships, and what factors should go into making smart decisions about where to attend college. The book is simple, direct, and extremely helpful.“This e-book is ideal for anyone seeking help paying for college. It sheds light on the top approaches,” suggests Chris Long, President of “Among the approaches are a revealing look at merit scholarships, special strategies for saving on public and private colleges, and getting money that you don’t have to pay back.”

Founded in 2006 by the former CEO of FastWeb, Cappex offers college search tools designed to promote easy access to profiles and reviews of more than 3000 college and universities. A key support for the service is, which provides Cappex with comprehensive details on about $11 billion in merit scholarships. Both websites are definitely worth investigating, as they offer an incredible wealth of information in addition to the search tools which form the basis of both services. Note that everything is free and that privacy is fully protected for those who choose to register on either website.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Campus ghost stories: Washington & Lee University and Flagler College

Ghosts and goblins and apparitions of all sorts haunt the hallowed halls and dormitories of colleges and universities across the country. In honor of the approaching Halloween season, I’ve gathered a few scary stories including some legends, superstitions, and folklore to share over the next several weeks…or…as the spirit moves me.

Washington and Lee University (W&L), Lexington VA
Buried in a wooden box encased in concrete next to W&L’s Lee Chapel, General Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveller lives on in the form of a friendly spirit watching over the campus. Not long after the Civil War, Traveller accompanied Lee to what was then Washington College, as the General took over the presidency of the rural Virginia school. Lee took great pride in his large “Confederate” gray horse and built an impressive stable connected to the president’s house. A celebrity in his own right, Traveller eventually achieved fame as the author of a ghost-written volume documenting the Civil War through a horse’s eyes, and admirers came from all over the south to pluck hairs from his tail to keep as souvenirs of the general and his famous steed.

At the time of Lee’s death, Traveller was led behind the caisson bearing Lee’s casket. As an unofficial mascot, the horse wandered the campus at will, grazing on lawns and interacting with students. After his death, Traveller’s remains suffered a series of indignities until they finally found a resting place next to Lee Chapel. According to tradition, the doors to Traveller’s stable must remain open to allow his spirit to continue wandering the campus. Bad luck is sure to follow those foolish enough to close them, or so a former university president discovered. Students leave apples and sugar cubes outside the doors of the stable or on Traveller’s grave for good luck. Sometimes pennies are inexplicably left as well.You can visit Traveller’s grave while on tour of the W&L campus. Be sure to bring apples—Traveller’s apple of choice is the Granny Smith.

Flagler College, St. Augustine FL
Central to the Flagler campus, Ponce de Leon Hall is the scene of many college ghost stories. Once the famous Ponce de Leon/Alcazar Hotel, constructed in the 1880’s by Henry Flagler, the hall is used as a freshman girls’ dormitory and dining hall. Its fabulous Spanish Renaissance architecture and Victorian interior including Tiffany stained glass windows inspire active imaginations and much student speculation.

Several of the most frequently told stories involve Flagler’s funeral which took place in the massive front foyer of the hotel. According to one tale, hotel windows were accidently closed during the funeral and Flagler’s trapped spirit found a home in a particular floor tile located to the left of the doors and toward the rear of the hall. Another variation suggests that Flagler’s coffin was dropped while being carried across the grand foyer leaving an illusion of his face and a skull on the tile. Either way, tour groups are encouraged to locate the tile and are reminded that Flagler’s spirit lives on in the building. Other stories involving Flagler’s wife and mistress complete the lore of the Ponce de Leon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Consider Baltimore as your college destination

According to the Baltimore Collegetown Network (BCN), the City of Baltimore is a fantastic place to go to college. With 16 post-secondary institutions and more than 120,000 students, Baltimore is basking in the success of a multi-billion dollar renaissance begun in the late 1970’s with the construction of Harborplace, the National Aquarium, the Raven’s football stadium, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Go O's!

Located along an arm of the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore—or Charm City—offers a lively arts scene, big time sports, large-scale business, thriving research organizations, and a variety of colleges and universities deserving of close investigation by students seeking easy access to the amenities of a busy east coast city with the advantages of a small town community. As a key resource, BCN wants to make it easy for visitors to discover what’s special about Baltimore and upgrade the city’s image as a college destination.

On its award-winning website, the Baltimore Collegetown Network provides a nifty planning device designed to facilitate college touring. Each of the 16 participating colleges and universities is profiled with links to college web pages outlining everything from admissions information and academics to parent resources and special events. In addition to basic college planning tools, the site offers a number of supplementary services including a listing of area internships, a roommate board, ticket discounts to area attractions, community volunteer opportunities, and a ride board. A variety of publications, including a glossy guide to Baltimore and its colleges and universities, is also offered free of charge on the website.

Through partnerships and marketing initiatives, BCN works to enhance the academic and social lives of Baltimore’s students as well as to increase professional development at the colleges located in and around the city. As part of its mission, BCN funds and operates the free Collegetown Shuttle which runs 7 days per week ferrying students to stops at 6 BCN member colleges and popular destinations like the Inner Harbor, Penn Station, and the Towson Town Center. BCN partner institutions open their libraries and classrooms to students in the network through such programs as the Baltimore Academic Libraries Consortium and the Baltimore Student Exchange Program. Twelve of the BCN colleges and universities allow students to cross-register for courses at other member institutions for up to two classes per year. Among the schools participating in the exchange are Goucher College, Loyola of Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Towson University, UMBC, and the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Check out the crab cakes or visit the Inner Harbor, but be sure to take the time learn what Baltimore has to offer as a college destination. If you haven’t visited for awhile, you may be surprised at what you find!BCN colleges and universities include:

College of Notre Dame of Maryland
Community College of Baltimore County
Coppin State University
Goucher College
Johns Hopkins University
Loyola College in Maryland
Maryland Institute College of Art
McDaniel College
Morgan State University
Peabody Institute
Stevenson University
Towson University
University of Baltimore
University of Maryland, Baltimore

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

College Prowler is now FREE!

I have some great news for fans of The College Prowler. For the first time ever, the entire collection of single-school guides is now available absolutely FREE of charge at Students, parents, and counselors can view all the most up-to-date information from all the Prowler guidebooks by entering the website and clicking on “All Schools” under “College Search” on the homepage. That’s more than 45,000 pages of content on more than 270 schools.

High school students naturally seem to gravitate to the slightly irreverent, but always entertaining college reviews contained in the handy little booklets produced by Prowler staff. Recruited from school newspapers and journalism or English departments, student reporters at each campus randomly survey between 75 and 150 of their peers to generate school-specific content including editorial reviews, direct quotes, and a few miscellaneous but helpful statistics. Letter grades (A through F) reflecting student opinion are generated in various information categories including academics, local atmosphere, campus housing and dining, athletics, weather, nightlife, and transportation—to name a few. Some of the reviews can be frank and a little unsettling especially when addressing issues such as substance abuse and sex on campus. Nevertheless, the information tends to be up-to-date, engaging, and to the point. And, readers have access to biographical information on the authors from each school—no more anonymous marketing statements originating directly from the dean’s office, as is often the case with other guides.

Until recently, the complete collection of College Prowler guides was offered online as a subscription for $39.95 per year. Although competition from other campus reviews and guides no doubt contributed to the change of heart, the value is still there. Along with school profiles, the Prowler website also offers college search tools which students should find useful. To make best use of these tools, students will need to register, but the information required is absolutely minimal and the Prowler folks promise not to fill mailboxes with spam generated by registering (like other college search engines).

Individual guidebooks as well as the complete compilation of school profiles may still be purchased on the Prowler website. Experienced high school students know that the little orange books are great for taking along on college visits and confronting tour guides with annoying questions. Prowler is working on expanding the list of schools to 300 by next April and is always recruiting new salaried reporters on campuses already covered to keep their reviews on the cutting edge.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

College tails

Pets in a college dorm are usually restricted to minor members of the fish family—something like Tyrone, my son’s sorry-looking betta, or an equally inoffensive ornamental goldfish. But even these come with a set of responsibilities like regular facilities cleaning and/or vacation pet sitting. And anything larger would appear to pose allergy and space issues not easily resolved in typical congregate housing arrangements.

So it came as a surprise when I learned while visiting Eckerd College, in St. Petersburg, Florida, pets are not only allowed, but welcomed in dorms. I’m told pet owners are happy with the policy, and others really enjoy the interaction. Eckerd has permitted pets in dorms for decades and has had as many as 40 dwelling in three residences. Pet housing is typically full, and students are clamoring for more. Obviously, there are rules, some of which have evolved as a result of specific incidents such as the one involving the over-sized boa, but complaints appear minimal and Eckerd isn't about to ask students to leave their furry friends at home.

But Eckerd isn’t alone in its pet policies. Schools worried about losing pet-loving students to off-campus apartments are increasingly loosening pet restrictions in university housing. In fact, the trend has resulted in a ranking of the top 10 pet-friendly colleges by, which considered the kinds of pets permitted and the type of housing and number of units included. Points were also awarded based on school size, how long the school has had the policy in place, as well as prevailing rules concerning deposits or weight/breed restrictions. Here are the results:

1. Eckerd College, FL: Students are allowed to have cats and dogs (under 40 lbs.), as well as snakes and fish in 4 pet-friendly, air-conditioned dorm “clusters.”
2. Stephens College, MO: All students are required to live on campus but may have dogs, cats, hamsters, or guinea pigs on a pet floor for which they must apply in advance.
3. Washington & Jefferson College, PA: Cats, dogs (less than 40 lbs.), small birds, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, turtles and fish are permitted as long as they have been owned by student families for at least a year and are registered as well as spayed or neutered.
4. Principia College, IL: Seven dorms and university apartments allow dogs, cats, rabbits, caged animals, and aquatic pets.
5. Cal Tech, CA: All dorms allow cats, as well as small caged and aquatic animals, but rabbits and dogs are not permitted.
6. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Students staying in the Ashton Woods apartments may keep up to two “companion animals” such as dogs, cats, rabbits and fish.
7. University of Idaho: Cats and birds are permitted in all of the university’s 4 apartment-style housing buildings; fish are allowed in all dorms.
8. MIT, MA: Cats are allowed in 4 of the university’s dorms as long as owners have the written consent of their roommates, is approved by the dorm’s “Pet Chair," has all shots, is neutered, and is registered with the campus housing office.
9. State University of New York at Canton: Mohawk Hall allows a maximum of 48 pets, not including dogs or snakes.
10. Lehigh University, PA: One dog or cat is allowed to live in each fraternity and sorority house on campus.