Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Factors to consider when choosing a college

There are many factors to consider when choosing a college. Each, in a broad sense, has a personal implication for your college choice and decision making. That's why it is important to consider each of these, but to rank order the ones that are most important to you. By focusing on what is important to you, you'll be able to better sort the colleges you are interested in. This way you'll have a sound basis for applying to a college instead of a random thought or because someone thought it would be a good idea for you or a right fit for you. How can anyone know what is your right fit if they don't know what is important to you relative to all factors affecting the college choice decision process.

The factors to consider are:

Programs of study: this is the first area and should always receive the highest consideration. After all, this is why you are going to college. Also to consider are special programs of interest (i.e. honors programs, study abroad, ROTC, internships) that are academic in nature.

Type of college: colleges come in several flavors (i.e. research institutions, learning institutions, undergraduate only, community college, public vs. private vs. for profit, religiously affiliated, single gender). You should explore each option that is of interest to you and rule out those that don't fit your desires.

Selectivity: this is a measure of how hard it is to get into a college. Do your grades and test scores match up with the current student body? If your academic background, minus any extraordinary circumstances, does not put you ahead of 50% of the student body, you are likely looking at a college that is out of your reach.

Location: this is in terms of proximity to home and climatic. Do you want to be far away or close to home? Near the beach, in a city, in the country, or somewhere in between? The choice has an affect on what you will be doing in your spare time, how you'll get to classes, and how often you can come home or parents and friends can visit.

Size of campus: do you want large or small classes? Lots of students with lots to do, or more focused study and intimate relationships with students across campus? Size does matter in terms of what is offered in and out of the classroom.

Campus Life: what other activities are important to you (i.e. sports, clubs, Greek life, campus based or off campus based social life)? The choices are almost unending.

Support Services: what kind of help do you think you'll need? From tutoring to health to transportation to career guidance. All of these are services that the college offers to help you be successful academically, socially and after college.

Cost: what can you and your family reasonably afford? Will you qualify for financial aid? Do have the grades or skills to earn a scholarship? Don't forget other costs such as books, food, travel to and from home to college, fees, and other expenditures. (paying for college will be covered at a later time in future entries)

Friday, January 27, 2006

What do you want from your college experience?

College is a time for education, and education comes in many forms. The classroom is only part of the education process. Certainly I would make the decision to choose a college based on the academic programs offered (it makes no sense to attend a college that doesn’t offer the formal education you are looking for).

Colleges love to tout that higher education is something on a higher plane than a mere means to an end in the career preparation pathway. However, let’s face it, we all went to college or are going to college for that aspect first. The facts are clear that someone with a college education is much more marketable in the job world, and will earn substantially more that those without a college degree.

That being said, it makes sense to make program of study the most important factor in deciding on which college to attend.

However, there are other areas related and not to consider in what you want from your college experience. College is a time of opportunity to explore new ideas, to challenge your status quo, and to expand upon your base of knowledge and who you are now. This comes from exposure to things outside your current realm. Higher education campuses bring people and students together from varied backgrounds and provide the atmosphere to explore these new backgrounds.

The point is to focus on the academic objective, but to also consider the other factors that will open up windows for exploration. Consider some of the following when making your decision about where to go to college:

Beyond The Program Of Study:

    1. Does the college offer internships (great way to get real world experience to go along with the degree to make you more marketable to employers)?
    2. What is the career placement program like (does the college have active partners that higher their graduates)?
    3. What is the alumni network like (some colleges have vast networks that higher graduates or give them a leg up just because of the common bond of having graduated from the same college)?
    4. How will the education as an undergraduate be viewed by potential graduate programs (a masters degree is becoming more and more crucial for career success)?
    5. Are there real opportunities for undergraduates to engage in meaningful experiences with faculty outside the classroom to advance their career knowledge and marketability (i.e. projects, practicum, research, publishing opportunities)?

Social Climate:

    1. Do you want to participate in certain activities (i.e. Greek life, sports—NCAA and intramurals, clubs, student newspaper, student government) that provide opportunities for leadership development; these formal activities can provide valuable areas of informal education and development?
    2. Do you want to live in a residence hall?
    3. Is the campus mostly commuter?
    4. What is the socio-economic nature of the student body?

Work: will you need a part time job? Location of the college is a key factor.

Campus Activities:
are you someone who wants a lot of school spirit, or are you more apt to find your own things to do?

Study Abroad:
Do you want the ability to explore the world? Colleges offer many opportunities to look beyond the borders of this country and receive credit for the experience.

Honors College: Many campuses offer specialized sub-colleges within the greater network of the campus where you can broaden your horizons by interacting with others who have the same desires. Honors colleges are one area, but there are also specialized living areas within residence halls, focus groups formed around topics of interest or career paths, and organizations for volunteering. There are hundreds of other things to consider as well. College is a time for exploration, and adventurous students can expedite their maturation process by getting involved and trying new things. Picking a college that is similar in culture and limited in scope to what you have done up to this point will significantly reduce your chances for growth and development.

Now is the time to take a risk and push your envelope. Too many college students don’t take advantage of this time to find out who they really are and what they can become.

Make this time be everything you want it to be by deciding on a college that will offer you the most opportunity to become fully educated. Not just in the classroom, but the whole person.

Lost opportunities cannot be recovered. When I was a director of admissions I told students that you really only have one chance to do college the right way. Don’t lose that chance.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

College and Higher Education News of the Day Thursday January 26, 2006

SAVING FOR COLLEGE

This should be filed under "it is never too early to start". There are many ways to save for college (i.e. home equity loans, putting a set amount away each month, pre-paid tuition plans), and you should consult with a financial analyst to make the best and safest decision for you (I am not a financial planner or analyst). But you need to think about it before your kids start thinking about college.

From todays Inside Higher Education comes this blurb:

"A study by Academic Management Services has found that most parents do not start looking for ways to pay for their children's higher education until the children reach high school. The study also found that more parents rank location as the top factor in picking a college than rank cost as the top factor."

While I agree that COST should not be the main factor (given that a college education is affordableforo almost everyone, the return on the investment is high, and there are many available sources of funding from federal and state aid to bank loans and scholarships), not planning for it is a recipe fordisasterr.

No one wants to tell their kids no, but the reality is that late planning for how to pay for college may result in the first time in many parents lives that they simply will need to limit the choices their children have on where they can go to college.

Plan early. As the old adage goes, "no one plans to fail, they just failed to plan".

GOOD NEWS ABOUT COLLEGE FRESHMEN

After yesterday's horrible news, today is looking up! USA TODAY reports that today's entering freshmen are far more likely to participate in communityvoluntarismm and havealtruisticc intentions than students of the past. More than two-thirds of the first time in college students this year were active in their communities performing all levels of service. Certainly the devastating hurricane season had something to do with this, but not the majority of the reason. You can read the story by going to this link.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

More College and Higher Education News Wednesday January 25, 2006

Sexual harassment: probably today's second biggest story. It appears that the news that students are having harassment issues, most delivered verbally, is an issue. Read the article and you decide how much of an issue it really is. Best advice, prepare your kids for other kids, group behavior and what to expect in the world. Does it make it right, no. How do we prevent it from happening? Educate our sons and daughters about respecting others and themselves, to not tolerate it when it happens to them, and to take a stand when it happens to others.

Some positive news: Apple Computers is making headlines as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education and other sources, with a new service that will allow colleges to provide lecture materials and other information to students via their iPods. This is a great idea as today's student lives outside a world that college campuses are accustomed to. Unfortunately, that is probably why this will take a long time to catch on with the faculty. Students will grab onto it immediately (think: I can miss class and still get the lecture). Someone, somewhere in academia will claim that this is the end of the classroom as we know it, just like when e-classes came out. What colleges and higher education in general don't understand is that the world is different then they see it. The student consumer craves this modern approach, and until colleges "tune in" to what students really want and are all about, the college experience will be less than it can be for those that are paying the bills.

College and Higher Education News Wednesday January 25, 2006

By far today’s hottest story will be about college campus safety. USA Today has created the buzz with a lead story about freshmen deaths.

This story has been picked up by The Chronicle of Higher Education (the best source for information about the world of higher education), Inside Higher Education and others. I’m sure it will be on all the TV broadcast news programs as well.

Put your mind at ease. Comparatively speaking to the leading causes of death among people of similar age, college students do not die at any greater or less rate or from causes different than from the greater population.

The reason this is an issue, is that almost everyone believes that college campuses are immune to society. At every open house program I ever hosted, parents always asked about campus safety and expected the campus to be safer than the outside world. For the most part, college campuses are safer. Virtually all campuses have their own police force, outsiders are easily spotted, the campuses are well lit, there are escort services available, there are counseling centers staffed with professionals to help students in crisis, the residence hall staff are very well trained to step in when a crisis is happening and also to work with their residents to prevent such events, and students have a peer network of friends who look out for them and protect them. This network is a particularly close-knit group who react instead of passively sit by (unlike what you are led to believe in the article).

Then what’s the issue and why do kids die each year? First, this is an issue because we don’t expect it to happen. The last thing a parent expects to happen is that their child will die when they go away to college. But that is also true when a parent sends their child off on a ski trip, family vacation, to a friends house, drops them off at a party, or any other everyday occurrence. Yet, young adults within this age group (15 to 24) die everyday. This does not make it any less tragic. Secondly, this is an issue because the media wants to sell papers and get you to watch their TV news programs. This story plays on our fears as parents.

College campuses do a great job of protecting your children, providing safe environments and educating them about the dangers they face everyday. However, they cannot protect them from poor decision-making and all threats. It is an unreasonable expectation to think a college can do so.

The best advice is to know your son or daughter, educate them about sound decision making, have them read the article to understand that accidents can and do happen, but they can be prevented in most cases.

Ask any campus administrator or police officer and the underlying cause in almost all campus accidental deaths is alcohol and drug use. Educate your kids about alcohol and drug use, and don’t stick your head in the sand by saying your child doesn’t or won’t. The parents in the article may have had the same thoughts.

College and Higher Education News of the Day

Today begins a new feature where I’ll highlight the relevant news about college and higher education for parents, prospective students and current students. The sources of this information will be noted with links to the articles if you are interested in further information. I will often provide comment and summary of the issue.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Having a plan

As with anything that is challenging in life, you need a plan to successfully find the right college for you, get accepted and graduate.

The goal of any institution of higher education should be to enroll students with the focus of them becoming productive alumni. That is to say, graduates that are successful in their careers and life, and who give back to the college in a number of ways: (1) financially via donations, (2)with their time in volunteering, attending events, or simply keeping up with news about the college, or (3) by shouting from the rooftops to anyone who will listen about the great time they had at the college and that the college is the reason for their success (this last one being the best possible outcome).

unfortunately, many colleges simply play a numbers game when trying to attract students. They don't focus on the long term goal, but on short term success. This leads to unhappy students, poor customer service and frustrated families. The end result is that students transfer to other higher education institutions. This is happening in record numbers.

Transferring can be a good thing (1) if was your intent to do so from the start (i.e. earn an associates to save money and then transfer, build up your GPA to get accepted to a more prestigious college down the line, accumulate credits to get into a professional program like nursing), (2) along the way you discovered a major that really interested you and your current college doesn't offer it, or (3) you had a life changing event that precludes you from finishing at your current college.

Transferring is bad and costly due to lost time and effort when you make the WRONG choice to begin with, and once at the college find yourself hating the experience and everything about it.

To avoid this, you need a plan. One that will cut through the hype and the college's short term goals.

Here are the basics:

1. Explore what it is you want from college and the next four years or so of your life
2. Determine what factors, everything from environmental to athletics to career, that are important for a college to have in order for you to be happy
3. Have an idea of what you want to do later in life with your college education (it is okay to dream a little, particularly if you are starting early in the process--like freshmen year in high school)
4. Take a realistic view of your current strengths and weaknesses in terms of who you are and what you've accomplished (i.e. your GPA, test scores, extra-curricular activities)

In the next series of updates and blog entries I'll address each of these 4 "basics", before getting onto the actual process.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Why college admissions process is complicated

The college admissions process is complicated, daunting and overwhelming. Why? Mostly because of three reasons:

HYPE

Nearly everyday there are articles in newspapers, magazines and on TV talking about the need to “go to the right college”, that higher education equals a better life (i.e. better job, more money, pathway to success, happiness). The hype elevates at certain critical times of the year:

  1. When high schools return from summer break (the highest focus), which coincides with the publication of annual “going to college” features in virtually every news magazine ranging from Time and Newsweek to Atlantic Monthly, and, of course, the daddy of all higher education features, U.S. News and World Report. In addition, the annual publications by Princeton Review, Peterson’s Guide to Colleges, Best Colleges, etc.,
  2. Just before the holidays when early action and early decision deadlines loom,
  3. Spring time, when the most selective colleges (there are less than a 100 of these out of 3600+ colleges in the U.S.) release their acceptance letters.

PRESSURE

Pressure comes from a number of sources, but mostly from family and friends who are responding to the hype. They care about you, and they, hearing the hype, start asking you about your plans. The longer you don’t provide a definitive answer the more they keep the pressure up.

CHOICES

There was a time when most students only knew of a select number of colleges, and the strategy was to apply to a “reach university” (one you might get in, but was a little out of your league), “a college you had as your first choice” (all things considered, this was the college, if accepted to, you would attend), and “the safe college” (this being the one college you knew you’d be accepted to).

During the leaner years, when high school graduates were lower in number (by the end of this decade there will be more high school graduates than at any other time in the history of the U.S., surpassing the previous record years of the early 1960s) and less went directly to college (even as little as 20 years ago, less than 25% of graduating students went to college, now that percentage in nearly doubled), college admissions offices did little or no marketing.

Today, U.S. higher education spends billions on marketing, whose sole purpose is to inform you of their college and what it has to offer. Unfortunately, most higher educational institutions don't know the fundamentals of good marketing. So, you receive a lot of unsolicited mail, much of it looking the same as any of the other brochures you already looked at, with little differentiation between the colleges.

With the competition high for more and better quality students, in an unending game to increase third party rankings (i.e. US News and World Reports), college admissions offices are increasing their marketing efforts each year.

What you have is a cluttered marketplace, with too many choices, but little real info on how to tell them apart.

THE SOLUTION

I’ll address ways to ease the pressure, sift through the choices and reduce the pressure you are feeling in later editions of this blog.

However, the secret to success is to have a plan, take a realistic look at who you are and what you bring to a college, what you want from a college experience, and do a little homework.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

College411

College411

PURPOSE
This blog was created to serve students and families in their pursuit of a college education. It's genesis comes from the need to simplify the process of finding and applying to the right college for each student.
OUR MISSION
To provide no holds-barred insider information that you can use and need to find the right college and apply to gain admission.
FEATURES
We will focus on providing information, links to relevant articles (with comments from our professional eye and experience), advice and guidance.
THE FUTURE
We foresee this site becoming a focal point where students and families can provide their own comments to include their fears, successes, inside information, and insight that only you can provide by being actively involved with the college admissions process.
As trusted admissions professionals, we'll be providing additional services such as newsletter subscriptions, lists of things you should do to find that right college and gain admission, reminder calendars and other related services that you can subscribe to for either free or a fee.We'll also leverage our industry contacts to include contributions from other admissions professionals in featured "guest spots", advice from the desk of current directors of admissions, and related fields such as financial aid, housing, student life and academics.
WHAT WE WILL NOT BECOME
We will not be a place to compete with facebook, MySpace or other such blogs and websphere communities.
We will not become a place to find information about your favorite band (unless they are performing at a college), college athletics (unless it is relevant to the search for a college), or a place to cyber-duel with others (unless it adds to the debate on finding the right college).

Check back, contribute often, and share this with others who can use a clear voice of reason from professionals who care about you and your college decision making process.