Forget the Ivy League: Try One of These Little-Known Educational Gems

If you think an Ivy League school is the only way to go, think again. Sure, you get a first-rate education, but Ivy League schools are expensive and difficult to get into. For many, even those with high ACT scores and excellent academic records, an Ivy League school degree is unobtainable. Fortunately, the United States is full of academic institutions that not only offer a superior education, but also fit the individual needs of students better than many of their more stalwart counterparts. These little-known educational gems are more affordable and provide an education that, in some respects, leaves the Ivy League schools far behind.

Different Doesn’t Mean Easy

Reed College in Oregon is a liberal arts college that boasts an impressive list of alumni, including Apple’s Steve Jobs, poets Gary Snyder, Mary Barnard and Philip Whalen, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger and chef James Beard. The emphasis is less on grades and more on academic excellence. Reed sets a high standard for its students, where students are often required to read 300 pages and write a 20-page paper in a single night. Professors treat students as peers. Reed College is an ideal match for students who are ready to push themselves to learn and experience one of the most rigorous academic programs in the United States, Ivy League schools included.

Similar to Reed College, St. John’s College is a co-ed liberal arts school with campuses in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. St John’s has one of the most unique degree programs in the United States. Textbooks and lectures are non-existent. Instead, students read from, study and discuss the “great books,” including the works of Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Galileo and Plato. The curriculum is rigorous. In addition to the required reading list, students must learn Greek and French. Graduates consistently win awards at the same rate as those who graduate from Ivy League schools.

Design Your Own Educational Experience

Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, is a public liberal arts and sciences college that gives students plenty of academic freedom. There are no pre-programmed majors. Students design their own areas of study. Grades are not used. Students receive narrative evaluations instead, filled with meaningful and useful feedback. Students are also encouraged to provide feedback for their instructors after each quarter.

The motto of Sarah Lawrence College is, “You are different. So are we.” There are no majors at Sarah Lawrence. Students choose their own “concentration,” by selecting classes in four primary areas of study that include history, natural sciences, mathematics, humanities and creative arts. Classes are seminars, which have 15 or fewer students, and are supplemented with individualized assignments that field each student’s individual needs and interests. Written evaluations take the place of grades and no tests are administered. Students who are self-starters excel in the school’s independent study atmosphere.

Looking for a less stressful college experience? You might want to try Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Founded by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford scholar Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Naropa is a non-sectarian university that combines contemplative study programs with artistic and traditional Western scholastic disciplines. In other words, you can take psychology classes that incorporate meditation for a Zen-like experience.

Business and environmentalism meet at the Maharishi University of Management. Located in Fairfield, Iowa, the Maharishi University of Management (MUM) offers M.B.A. programs on a sustainable environmental campus. Meals are vegetarian and the campus is drug and alcohol-free. Small classrooms, individual attention and daily meditation provide students with the tools to succeed.

Allegheny College in scenic Meadville, Pennsylvania, is a small, private liberal arts college. What makes it unique is that it requires student to declare a minor, as well as a major, and minors must be in a different division than the student’s major, ensuring a graduate who is well rounded academically. The 2012 U.S. News and World Report called Allegheny an “up and coming” and “innovative” Tier 1 liberal arts school.

Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, offers a curriculum like no other. Students and professors team together to design a program of study that fits the individual needs and talents of each student. First year students take courses in five “schools of thought” that include the School of Cognitive Science, the School of Critical Social Inquiry, School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, School for Interdisciplinary Arts and School of Natural Sciences. Second year students study a subject in depth and third year students complete a large-scale project. No grades are given.

New Ways to Help Low-Income Students Succeed

One of the most important solutions to lowering poverty levels in the United States is through education. Lower-income students have always been at a disadvantage when it comes to getting a high-quality elementary and high school education. Even high achievers have faced significant challenges when enrolling in college. Enrollment rates showed a gradual increase through the year 2007, however.

Modest gains in low-income student college enrollment rates eroded during the economic downturn that began in late 2007 and continue to stagnate. According to the latest National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, just over 50 percent of recent low-income and minority high school graduates are enrolled in a 2-year or 4-year college. In 2007, the rate was 58.4 percent. At the same time, middle-income and high-income student enrollment rates have risen. But there is a disparity in that group as well. Students from middle-income families had enrollment rates of 64.7 percent, but 80.7 percent of high-income students were enrolled in college.

Why Low Income Students Struggle

Children living in low-income areas have an uphill battle. Most do not have the resources and support that encourages young minds to develop. Early childhood exposure to books promotes literacy; strengthens communication skills; builds vocabulary and encourages creativity. Middle-income neighborhoods average 13 books per child, but the number in low-income areas is one book for every 300 children. Children from the lower economic brackets hear an average of 30 million fewer words by age 4 than those in higher economic brackets.

Many low-income students come from other countries and learn English as a second language. Known as English Language Learners (ELL), two-thirds come from low-income families and many have parents who did not graduate from high school. ELL students are less likely to meet or exceed proficiency levels in school as their more affluent peers.

Poverty brings about its own set of complications. Children often live in single-parent homes and are forced to change schools often. Health problems and illnesses are more prevalent in low-income families because of a lack of health insurance and sufficient medical attention. Children in low-income families also tend to lack food and proper nutrition.

Schools are another problem in most low-income areas. Many are severely under funded and lack resources found in schools in more affluent regions. Schools in the lower socioeconomic brackets typically suffer from a migration of qualified teachers. Schools with high numbers of teaching vacancies are forced to hire teachers with less experience, knowledge and training. According to the NCES, high school dropout rates are significantly higher in low-income families than higher economic brackets.

A disturbing study done by the Southern Education Foundation, published in October of 2013, found that the numbers of low-income students were rising across the United States. Analyzing 2011 statistics, the study found that nearly half, or 48 percent, of all students in public schools are now considered low-income. For the first time in 40 years, low-income students outnumber those from higher economic brackets in the South and West regions of the country.

What’s Being Done?

Title 1, Part A (Title 1) is a federal program that provides assistance to local educational facilities that have high numbers of low-income families. Based on specific formulas, eligible schools receive grant money to provide financial resources to children who are struggling to keep up. In 2009 to 2010 school year, more than 56,000 schools in the United States participated in the program.

Other government programs, such as the National School Lunch Programs, provide basic necessities that children need to grow healthy bodies and minds. The program offers free or reduced-priced nutritious meals that are available throughout the year, even when school is not in session.

At the local level, programs are sprouting up to assist children in low-income areas. Many cities have nonprofit tutoring programs that help students close the educational gaps at little or no cost to parents. The Boston Public School district began an initiative in 2004 to develop programs that enhanced and expanded preschool education using improved curriculums and added resources. An evaluation found that not only did the program have a positive effect on children from low-income families, but it also closed more than half of the educational gap between those students and their more affluent peers.

Because many parents in low-income brackets were not raised in an environment that encouraged learning, they don’t have the skills to help their own children. One program, Harlem Children’s Zone, seeks to change that. Manager Geoffrey Canada teaches pregnant mothers how to encourage children to develop their minds. Canada says that community resources such as school libraries, summer enrichment programs, after school programs and exposure to books are essential resources in giving low-income children a foundation on which to grow.

New York City’s successful high school choice initiative gives students the freedom to decide where they go to school. The district developed a number of smaller schools that students can opt into. The smaller schools foster stability and sustain an environment that encourages learning. Low-income students who participate have an increased graduation rate of 7 percent.

There is a growing tend to place heavier emphasis on helping pre-kindergarten children. Many lower-income children are already behind those with higher incomes when they enter kindergarten. If they don’t receive help, the gap widens. States are increasingly funding pre-kindergarten programs that address the needs of underprivileged children.

Closing the Educational Gap With Moshe Ohayon and Educational Justice

Moshe Ohayon of Louisville, Kentucky, is the founder of Louisville Tutoring Agency (LTA) and the nonprofit organization Educational Justice. Working in partnership with LTA, Educational Justice has made it its goal is to give every student the chance to excel academically, regardless of economic status.

Winner of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s 2013 Pyramid Award of Excellence in the Art of Vision, Educational Justice not only provides academic and test prep programs throughout the Louisville area to underserved students at no cost, but it also fosters a sense of community by connecting top-performing, civic-minded high school students with lower-income area middle schools for regular tutoring and mentoring. Older students tutor their younger pupils, filling in learning and conceptual gaps and passing on their honed scholastic skills in an effort to give struggling middle schoolers a chance at a successful academic future.

When the Educational Justice in was founded in 2010, the goal was to help a small number of bright but economically disadvantaged students excel by providing them with a supplemental education and setting them on the road to academic success. These students were given full scholarships at Ohayon’s Louisville Tutoring Agency, where they received the same high-quality tutoring and educational services as their more privileged, paying counterparts.

In just a few short years, Educational Justice has grown beyond his original goal, becoming an award-winning nonprofit organization that serves hundreds of students every year throughout the Greater Louisville. The volunteer staff of devoted, civic-minded educators at the helm of Educational Justice continue to widen their impact, driven by their dedication to end educational disparities and to inspire new generations of students.

Moshe Ohayon of Louisville: Tips for Relocating

Moving is stressful. Moshe Ohayon of Louisville, KY, relocated from Israel to the United States and moved to several different states before settling in Kentucky. With so much practice, Ohayon learned ways to streamline the moving process and lessen the stress.

Planning ahead is essential, whether you are moving to a new state or across town. As soon as you know your move-out date, contact the post office and utility companies. If you have a new address, transfer services if you can, or call to set up service at your new home. File all your important records, including health, children’s medical and vet vaccinations, in a safe place and keep them with you.

Frequent movers often discover that moving is a great excuse to get rid of accumulated items they no longer need. Consider having a garage sale or placing classified ads to sell usable items. Donate items to charitable organizations, such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Finally, toss or recycle anything that can’t be sold or donated. The goal is to not move anything you don’t absolutely have to.

Pack non-essentials first. For example, if you are moving in the summer, pack the winter clothes first and get them ready to move. If they won’t be used until after you move, pack holiday décor and table settings. As your moving date approaches, eat the food in your freezer and refrigerator. It’s not safe to move perishables.

No matter how much you plan, something unexpected usually happens. By taking control and planning ahead of time, you remove much of the stress.

How Volunteering Helps the Volunteer

Moshe Ohayon of Louisville, KY, was raised with the idea that helping others is as important as getting an education. It was while he was a student at Columbia University in New York, however, that he discovered that his true talent was teaching and that volunteer tutoring was a natural way to help those in need while doing what he loved.

As a busy entrepreneur, he still makes time to tutor students in underserved communities, closing educational gaps and giving his students a stronger preparation for college and successful careers. But it’s not just the students who gain. Altruistic activities offer a host of benefits to the volunteer, including a feeling of satisfaction, an opportunity to meet new people, and the chance to develop a new skill set. In addition, as Ohayon points out, volunteer efforts often benefit the entire community. In his case, for example, free tutoring services allow more and more students to perform well academically and to eventually leverage their educations to escape a life of poverty.

How do you find the volunteer opportunity that fits? Ask yourself a few basic questions: Do you have a passion for helping animals? Most local shelters and animal-rescue organizations need volunteers to help care for animals in their facilities. Do you love children? Many schools have programs where adult volunteers read or tutor children. What times do you have available? If you work full time during the day, volunteering at a school may not work. Would you rather work outdoors or in an indoor environment? Charities like Habitat for Humanity offer many outdoor volunteering opportunities.

Finding the volunteer project that works for you is a matter of finding your passion and making the time. The benefits are well worth it.

How Columbia University Retains Its Prestige

Columbia University in the City of New York is a private Ivy League school in Upper Manhattan. One of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the United States, the educational institution encompasses more than six city blocks, twenty schools and affiliates with a number of other institutions, including Juilliard, Teachers College and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The famous Butler Library is the largest in Columbia’s library system.

As an undergraduate student who lead campus tours for the Columbia’s admissions office, Moshe Ohayon of Louisville, Kentucky, knows that the distinguished school was founded by King George II of England in 1754. Columbia is the first college in New York, the fifth oldest in the country and one of eight Ivy League schools.

During their years at Columbia, students tend to discover quite a few little-known facts about their soon-to-be alma mater. For example, two Columbia University students invented the first trivia game: In 1960, Ed Goodgold and Dan Carlinsky devised and conducted trivia competitions between Columbia students and students from other schools. The pair went on to write a best-selling trivia book. Another fun fact is that two Columbia psychology grads tested famous baseball player Babe Ruth and found him to be operating at 90 percent efficiency, as opposed to 60 percent for normal people.

After graduation Ohayon joined a long list of impressive graduates, including Barack Obama, Chelsea Clinton, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Warren Buffet. Columbia University is a racially diverse school with an impressive 93 percent graduation rate. With first-rate professors and a local atmosphere like no other, Columbia University is an experience students and graduates never forget.

Entrepreneurs Overcome Adversity

Not everyone has what it takes to launch and run a prosperous business. Successful entrepreneurs typically possess a specific skill set and share common characteristics that allow them to bounce back from adversity and move forward. Starting a business is a risk, even for the most capable, but some people handle the inevitable problems that creep up in positive ways.

One of the most important aspects of starting and running a successful business is doing something that you love. Moshe Ohayon is a case in point. As a college student pursuing a degree in physics, he became a tutor and discovered he had a natural teaching ability. After college, he founded the Louisville Tutoring Agency, a thriving business that encompasses his love of teaching.

The ability to plan every aspect of a business is another key characteristic. Planning not only means writing a business plan, but also realizing that obstacles will stand in your way and developing scenarios ahead of time. Entrepreneurs who have taken the time to analyze and research every aspect of their business have the tools in place to think and act quickly as problems arise.

Wise money management is another essential trait of the successful business owner. Knowing where each and every penny goes, implementing money-saving measures and spending wisely are essential to start, build and grow a business.

Entrepreneurs who run lucrative businesses never lose sight of what’s really important. Knowing your customers and giving them more than they expect is the surest route to success.

How to Get the Most Out of Study Time

Most students believe that they have the study routine down pat by the time they reach college. Those same students often find themselves overwhelmed when they discover that college requires a lot more work than high school with seemingly less time. Educational professionals like Moshe Ohayon of Louisville, KY, founder of the Louisville Tutoring Agency, recommend a different approach to get more out of study time, retain what you learn, improve your grades and do better on exams.

Note-taking during lectures is a significant part of the learning experience.. Taking notes is only the first step, however. Remembering the information is what learning is all about. Studies have shown that the retention rate is 60 percent higher when students review their notes within 24 hours of taking them.

Setting aside time to study each day and setting realistic goals is as essential as avoiding last-minute cramming. To prevent becoming overwhelmed, take ten-minute breaks every 30 to 60 minutes. Study when you do your best work. For example, if you are a morning person, study in the mornings. Also, be sure to take advantage of your strengths and use self-discipline when necessary. Fully participate in your classes by asking questions and engaging in group activities. Read more than the required texts to learn as much as you can about your subject.

It is recommended to cut out caffeine drinks after 5 p.m. and getting six to eight hours of sleep a night whenever possible. Also, don’t forget that eating a well-balanced diet and exercising daily helps you relieve stress and stay healthy, which can definitely help you meet the challenges of school life.

Tips For Financing Your Education

Working with students from all economic backgrounds, Ohayon knows that, for many families, paying for college is may seem like a daunting or even insurmountable hurdle. Fortunately, however, there are a number of ways to fund an education, even when you’re financially limited.

One of the problems experts see as they work with students is a lack of knowledge about the kinds of financial assistance available. Many students would qualify for a scholarship of one kind or another. Scholarships, which are financial awards given to students to further their educations, differ significantly from loans, as they have no repayment requirement. Scholarships may be based on merit, career choice or financial need. Merit-based scholarships often depend not only on GPA but also on standardized test scores. Therefore, it’s a good idea to start preparing for tests like the ACT or SAT as early as eighth or ninth grade.

Grants are similar to scholarships. They do not have to be repaid but are more restricted. They are generally need-based and are often only be applicable to certain education-related expenses.

Student loans are also available from the federal government and other private sources. Loans do require repayment, but payments are not due while the student is in school. Typically, student loans are more flexible than private loans.

A lesser-known college financing option is a 529 savings plan. The plan allows users to invest in a variety of funds. Parents who invest in a child’s secondary education using the 529 qualify for tax deductions in most states.

Many experts recommend beginning a savings plan of some kind immediately, even if college is just around the corner. It’s also not too late to pursue scholarships and grants. Although it’s always better to start saving early and apply for scholarships ahead of time, there may be money available even at the last minute.