Monthly Archives: March 2016

Emotional Decision Making

When it comes to going to college, and being in college, decision making is always important, and thus, the theme occupies a bit of space on our blog. Here are a few more thoughts…

Last October, during a seminar with new students, a small group was working on developing a thesis statement for the chapter they had read. The book was about higher education, and focused on the undergraduate experience and college administration. The thesis statement they came to was: Emotionally Charged Decision Making. Take a moment and reflect on what that statement means to you. (pause: contemplate) Now, think about a recent decision you have made, big or small, was it emotionally charged? If you decided to eat something when you were not hungry, or bought something that was not a necessity, it was probably an emotional decision.

High school students and parents, who are researching institutions of higher education, are you feeling emotional connections with a few colleges? Are those feelings driving your decision on which place(s) to accept admission? Of course they are! In the book the students (mentioned above) were reading, a story of a high school senior deciding to go to the college she was emotionally attached to was shared. This student had received a significant scholarship to a different institution, but instead chose to attend a university with a $20,000 annual tuition and fees price, and no scholarship offer. She graduated with significant debt and took a job that barely covered her monthly financial aid repayment.

During this admission decision time frame, make sure to research institutional graduation and job placement rates, the process for transferring into another major, support services provided within the academic department, student housing, and the campus in general (health, wellness, recreational). A student is not going to need all those things the first five minutes of her/his first day, but you want to be aware of available options.

An emotional connection to a college is not a bad thing, just make sure it is not interfering with a wise decision.

Letter of Recommendation

Students, when it comes to asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation, there are some key things to think about. Cindi has previously written about this topic (in one of these blogs), today I am sharing thoughts on this subject.
Current first year college students are now applying to get into the all-campus honors program at our university and one of the requirements is to have a letter of recommendation from a professor, not from a lecturer, graduate student or a teaching assistant, but from an Assistant, Associate or full Professor (those are professor rankings/titles). I realize this can be an intimidating request, so here are a few suggestions that might help if you are in a similar situation and possibly feeling uncomfortable.
1. TAKE INITIATIVE: Go to the professor’s office hours to ask for the letter of recommendation face-to-face. However, email the professor before showing up, letting her/him know of your intentions. By emailing in advance, s/he may have a moment to recall who you are. In the email, state which course you took/are taking with her/him, reference an assignment you have done or a point you verbalized in class, or a specific topic you have written about, so s/he can recall you more quickly. You can also inform the professor of the organization you are applying to/scholarship you are applying for, and the reason you have been invited to apply. Conclude with a reminder that you will be coming to office hours on … date and time.
2. TAKE ACTION: Show-up at the office hours you stated you were attending to talk about the recommendation. Share with the professor why you are applying for the program/internship/scholarship. Share specific ways you connect to the mission and goals, and what being part of the organization would mean to you. This way, even if the professor does not know you very well, s/he now has a few details s/he can include in the recommendation. By sharing about yourself and the reason for the recommendation request first, the next parts may be easier and seem more genuine.
3. CREATE AN ALLY: Even if, before this moment, you did not have a personal relationship with the faculty member, establish some common ground by talking about a highlight from her/his course. Share something from class that was challenging for you and what you learned from that experience. Ask the professor about her/his experience teaching your class, or an appropriate question that gives her/him an opportunity to participate in this interaction – just make sure you do so naturally! (You can ask about artwork or diagrams hanging on the walls, a picture on the desk, or award/recognition showcased, if talking about the class is not simple.)
4. CONCLUDE: Tell the professor why you are seeking her/his letter of support. It is okay to be honest: “I realize we do not have a very close relationship, but this application requests a professor’s letter of recommendation, not a lecturer or graduate student, and you are my favorite professor.” Or: the professor I learned the most from, or: the professor who has challenged my thinking, or: the professor who has most inspired me – whichever phrase you choose, be honest! Provide the professor with a few things you would like her/him to consider saying about you, such as: attended every course, participated in discussion, did extra credit, came to office hours, etc., or how you meet, or exceed, the qualities and character traits desired of the applicants. If you are really on top of your game, provide her/him a copy of the application and a draft of your responses to the application questions (if applicable).
This entire interaction will probably take no more than 10 minutes, unless the two of your really get to chatting! This is a great task for confidence building. You can do it – and most of all, please do it without arrogance!

Invitation Options

Last week, the program in which I work, University Honors, 1500+ first year students were sent an invitation to apply to program. That list of 1500 are all students who have a GPA of 3.5 or higher, after their first term at the university. Congrats to these students for having great first-term grades as during that time they were handling the transition to college life and college academics.
On Tuesday, I hosted an information session regarding the invitation. After the session was over, there was a student who asked for a few minutes of my time. She was concerned that although she received the invitation, she was not confident she was really Honors ready as she is struggling with one of he classes this term. What would you do if you were in her situation?
Invitations. How many invitations do you receive on a weekly basis? Think about your email inbox. Do you receive invitations to go to events, to shop with a discount, to join an organization, to make a contribution to a charity, to apply for a credit card? The list of invitations is lengthy. What decision making skills do you employ when deciding which action to take? Some decisions are simple: “I do not have a $100 for that concert ticket.” so that email can be immediately deleted. Others decisions are not as swift. “Do I have time to join this club? I really like the activities they do, and it would look good on my resume.”
When making the ‘big’ decisions, take your time. Make a list of pros and cons, ask your friends, ask people you trust, talk to people in the organization about their experiences, talk to people outside the organization about their opinions. In the case of the student in this story, she was concerned about asking for a letter of recommendation, her upcoming grades, time management and recent family struggles. I reiterated to her, that receiving the invitation was an honor in itself, and for her to be considering those other things also meant she is a proactive thinker! Moving forward with the application process might not be in her best interest, and that is okay. College is one of the best times to engage with your decision making skills.
The next time you look at your inbox, give a brief thought to how you are making decisions: quickly, slowly, thoughtfully, knowingly… and, do delete that credit card application without even opening it!