Category Archives: Looking for the right college for you

Real Experience

When we wrote On the Quad, we had many students in mind including first generation students  (students who are first in their families to go to college).  We did this for many reasons, but chief among them was that Heidi and I had many experiences advising real students from all kinds of backgrounds; we noticed that some students “understood the system” due to family lore, sibling’s tales, or other legacy ways.  Consequently, our book starts at the beginning, thinking about what kinds of institutions of higher education exist and then discussing how to consider which one might be a good fit for you (the reader).

It is hard for any one of us to know the experiences of others.  But, sometimes we do get to hear their stories.  In this story here from NPR’s “Been There:  Lessons from a Shared Experience,” we hear two first generation college students — one who has recently graduated from his university and the other who has just transferred from a community college to a 4-year university — talk about negotiating college life.

They don’t necessarily discuss the ins-and-outs of what college is, how to fill out a FAFSA, or how to study.  What they do talk about include how to fit in with other students who are different from them — often the differences manifest in economic ways (What if you can’t afford to go hang out with friends at a club because the cover charge is just too high?).

It’s a great chance for anyone — first generation or not — to gain a peek into what the person next to you in your math class might be struggling with.  Take a minute and listen.

How to Research College

High School students, it is the start of a new year and you have many exciting activities you are participating in and looking forward too! We know your schedule is as busy as it has ever been, however, we want to remind you to plan college visits throughout the year as well. Sophomores – it is not to early to start college research; juniors – it is important to make the visits and tours a priority; seniors – even after submitting applications, if you applied to a location you have not visited, do your best to get there!

Starting your research and visits early gives you time to process numerous things:

  • What majors am I interested in?
  • What are the newest majors on this campus, and why? (These often say something about the job market – but that does not mean you must be interested in it!)
  • What type of campus setting is most attractive to me?
  • Which of my current activities do I want to continue during college, and what opportunities do I have to continue them here?
  • What types of living environments does the college offer? Do they meet my expectations?
  • For which grants and/or scholarships might I qualify?
  • What is the sticker price of this institution, and what does that really mean?

If you are thinking, “well, I plan to go to community college first and then transfer – this research is not important to me right now.” I politely ask you to reconsider. Although spending 2-3 years at community college before transferring to a Bachelor’s granting institution is an effective way to save money on tuition, it is just as important to research your community college options as well. Some have transfer admission guarantees with regional or state universities, but do they offer the prerequisite courses you need for the major you plan to pursue? Additionally, do not forget to learn all you can about the financial aid process as aid eligibility begins when you start college, even if you do not use it that year, and it has an expiration date.

We know you are busy and we know this sounds like a lot of work, thus, use the first four chapters of ‘On the Quad’ to help walk you through this process (the book is only $.99, totally worth it!). Do not delay, do your research; deciding where you will spend your college years is a big decision!

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.

Motivation & Organization

Happy New Year students! There are many things going on for you all! Here is a quick run-down of important tasks for the start of the new year – which of them apply to you?

*  All college students for the 2016-2017 academic year: it’s FAFSA time! Do not delay, do it today (or as soon as you have received your and your parent’s 2015 tax information)! Get it done before March 1!

* Returning college students: reflect on successes and challenges of last term and make a plan for success this term. See your advisor(s) immediately for time sensitive questions.

* College seniors who are working on a thesis or capstone project: outline the steps to complete this task. Set deadlines, document the activities you need to do to meet the deadlines. Plan meetings with your faculty sponsor/advisor and make sure they happen – do not let them cancel on you more than once, these final weeks will fly by. Your thesis/capstone is a great opportunity to let your light shine – this is your independent study, your passion – thrive!

* High school seniors: finish up your campus tours of places to which you applied but had not yet visited. Utilize our On the Quad campus tour worksheet to maximize the information you receive on those visits.

* High school juniors: if you haven’t already, begin making your list of colleges you are interested in researching. Utilize our On the Quad self-assessment worksheet to reflect on why you want to go to college and what expectations you have for yourself the school you attend.

* All students: begin your search for a summer internship! Now is the time to research options, polish your resume and write a good cover letter. Bring your second or third drafts to your career center for fine tuning. In this process you will discover there are interesting opportunities you have already missed – plan on them for next year!

Maximize your new year motivation and make it a great term!

Honors Education

Last week I attended the 50th annual National Collegiate Honors Council Conference. It was four days of learning, brainstorming, and discovering best practices for college/university honors programs. Despite working in an honors program, I had no idea how mainstream honors education is in the higher education system.

Honors, in college, is much different than being an honors student in high school. At the collegiate level, honors programs at not universally designed. Each institution designs a program to meet the needs of the students within the scope of the college/university. The scope comes from the institution’s mission statement, goals, and education (major) programs. Honors education incorporates a style of teaching which is often interdisciplinary in approach and a classroom atmosphere of engagement through discussion and interaction. Needless to say, it is much more than a high GPA.

High school students, as you are exploring colleges, inquire about honors opportunities. You may be surprised to find out you qualify for an honors program or honors designed education plan. Honors programs exist at small private colleges, liberal arts colleges, large institutions, reasearch I universities and at community colleges! Most honors programs, or honors colleges (yes – some institutions have entire honors colleges on campus), take a broad view on what qualifies a student for honors. The high school GPA will be evaluated, but exam scores (ACT/ SAT) might not. AP or IB courses may be accounted for, but not always (we do not use them for course replacement at the university in which I work). For certain, an honors program is looking for students who embrace being challenged, have academic hardiness, grit, determination and motivation. Those would be excellent items to highlight in an application essay!

If you are accepted into an honors program, and you choose to participate, know what you are getting in to. Understand the curriculum, the academic requirements, extra curricular activities, etc. These programs are an enhancement to your education, but they are not for everyone – make an educated decision for yourself (not your parents)!

From a liberal arts/humanities professor:

Professor Lynn Huber (of Elon University) has four recommendations for being “more than practical” when choosing a major and navigating your early college career. You’ll note she recommends pursuing your passion. Yours. Not your parents. Not your favorite high school teacher’s. Yours. To pursue it, you need to find it. Explore a variety of courses. Actually dig in, get connected, find out what your passion is. Then go after it.

She ends her piece with this paragraph:
“And I didn’t say don’t major in marketing, strategic communications or any other number of professional school majors. If you love it, you should be there. But if your passion is in another field, you’re selling yourself short by staying there. Start doing what you love now. It may be the most practical move you can make for the future.”

Elevator Pitch

Transfer students, at new bachelor’s granting institutions, this blog is especially for you. It has value for all readers, but I write it with you in mind.

Since you started at your new college have you been referring to yourself as a transfer student? For example, when introducing yourself in class, or to others, have you been including the statement “I’m a transfer?” Or, when you are asked a question about the current college, do you find yourself saying “I just transferred here.” Or might you be including a transfer disclaimer in comments you make? I noticed this habit with the class of transfer students I am co-teaching. After the third week of the term, I reminded them they all are transfer students and they do not need to identify as such, in our class or other places.

Identifying as a transfer student is not bad, but it does not need to be used in all settings. I suggest students use it as an advantage, strategically. Here is an example.

Recently, the students I work with listened to, and asked questions of a faculty panel who were addressing how undergraduates get involved with research. Notice I used the word ‘undergraduates’ – this can be a useful identifier at a large research institution that has thousands of graduate students on campus. At the conclusion of this class session, I asked these students to write an elevator pitch they could potentially use during faculty office hours (or a meeting over coffee – *cough, last week’s blog) in which they would be asking for advice on how to get involved in research. This assignment was met with looks of stress. What will I write about? a few asked, to which I replied, “write about your greatness.” Greatness? Yes, what is special, unique, interesting and great about you? What are your skills, experiences and talents? Here is a place were you can emphasize all the benefits of being a transfer student.

Transfer students often arrive to the bachelor granting institution….
* having done significant research on their major and the faculty teaching in the discipline.
* with a clear vision of their future career and its pathway.
* with more advanced life experiences.
* with a unique perspective on higher education and its value.
* with research topics in mind, or somewhat developed research ambitions.
* having done research on the campus and its resources, and a plan to take advantage of them.

Many transfer students have moments of feeling like they are at a disadvantage, but honestly, all students have those feelings. There are plenty of third and fourth year students who started at this school still wandering around a bit lost. The quickest way to find your place is by developing a relationship with faculty in your major, and the best way to do that is through face-to-face conversations and confidence in yourself. Utilize your transfer student benefits and develop your elevator pitch; articulate your greatness clearly and be proud of who you are!

Summer Research – Visits and Tours!

Summer, summer, summer time! Summer is an exciting time for soon to be high school juniors and seniors, and their parents, to engage in research. Research you say? Yes, get with university lingo, and call your visits to college campuses research! This research should be fun. One element of this research is conducted by listening to admissions presentations and going on campus tours – a real living-learning laboratory!

Since I recently started working at a new university, I attended an admissions presentation and campus tour a few days ago. During the presentation, and while on the campus tour, the majority of the questions were asked by the parents. This did not surprise me, but I encourage you, student, to ask questions when you visit/tour. Only two students, out of about 40, asked questions during the one and half hour we were together.

In addition to reading Chapter Four of ‘On the Quad’ and using our free visit and tours worksheet available on this website, I challenge you to come up with a list of 3-5 questions you would ask if you already knew you were accepted to the institution. While enjoying the admissions presentation, put yourself in the mind frame of ‘I have been accepted here! They want me! Now, this is what I want to know about them, in order for me to say “yes” to spending the next 4-5 years of my life here!’

Colleges fill their admissions websites with the answers to the questions they get asked most frequently, so review the website before the visit, and focus on asking questions that are not found there. University students, staff and faculty are quick to share their personal experiences, so do not hesitate to ask questions that sound similar to this: “Based on your experiences at (name of institution), what would you recommend …?” You can even follow that question up with, “How would your best friend (or favorite professor) answer the same question?” If you are a bit shy, or nervous about asking questions, focus on the fact that 1) you will more than likely never see the people you are on the tour with ever again, and 2) no question is a dumb question – college is a new experience for you!

Enjoy your summer research! And, remember, ‘On the Quad’ has a whole chapter dedicated to this; don’t forget to take a few copies of the visit/tours worksheet with you!

Stay in the Present

College students – you’re nearing the end of the academic year. You have 3-6 weeks (approximately) until your term ends and things are busy. It’s Spring, the weather is nice, and you’re probably getting a little stir crazy sitting in a lecture hall, writing research papers, or spending time behind a microscope in a lab. I am here to remind you to stay in the present and focus! Instead of letting distractions get the best of you, stay on task and commit to giving these next few weeks your best. Now is the time to prove to yourself you have will-power and follow-through, do not procrastinate! Set your intention on academic achievement and stay focused!

High School seniors – it’s time to inform the college/university you plan to attend of your intent to enroll. (Remember, you can tell more than one college you plan to attend and still take a little more time to make your final decision – but do not miss the intent to enroll deadline!) As you’re narrowing your choices, it is very important to do detailed research on each institution you’re considering. Make sure to investigate your majors of interest, know if you are ‘in’ the major, will be a ‘pre-‘ major, or will be applying for a space in an ‘impacted’ major. If you’re receiving financial aid, in any form: grants, scholarships, or loans, make sure to get all your questions answered by a financial aid counselor. The financial aid resources in our book can be a great resource for those conversations. Doing intensive research now should be a great help in making your final decision!

There’s no time like the present – stay in it!


High School seniors – congratulations on your acceptance letters (emails)! We know waiting to hear from all the institutions to which you applied caused anxiety and stress, but you made it! Now you’re faced with the task of deciding which school, or schools, to say “yes, I plan to attend” and sign-up for orientation. Yes, you read correctly, it is okay to tell more than one college you plan to enroll in the Fall. For institutions that have orientation during the summer (June/July), this option provides you a final look at the school and truly get a feel for what it will be like to be a student there. There is a lot involved with orientation, and we’ll blog more about it as the time gets closer. For now, pay attention to the date you must inform the school of your decision and continue doing your happy dance – you’re going to college!

A special shout-out to Sophie, one of our readers, who was accepted to five, or was it six, colleges! She received scholarship offers at multiple institutions and made a wonderful decision to attend University of California, Irvine, where she was accepted into the nursing program!

College seniors – your “congratulations” is just a few weeks away! Keep giving 100% to your projects, papers and exams, they are your final preparation for life after college, i.e. WORK. Hopefully you are in the midst of interviews; the career center on our campus is currently hosting on-campus interviews with a variety of employers/industries. What is better than having the employer come to you (your campus) for a first interview? Visit your career center to polish your resume and start interviewing ASAP!

A second special shout-out to Rita, one of our readers, who is graduating with a business degree in just a few weeks and was recently offered a full-time job related to her major! Congratulations!

A final congratulations, to Wilson, who I mentioned in last week’s blog (below) – he was accepted into the study abroad program in Canada!