July 2012 E-Newsletter

posted Jul 2, 2012, 9:29 AM by Glenda Durano   [ updated Jul 2, 2012, 9:34 AM ]


            After you’ve visited five or six universities, your mind starts to turn to mush.  (Can you imagine how I feel visiting twenty to forty schools every year?!)  They all start to look a like—bragging about their blue light security system, all-you-can-eat swipes, free sporting events, campus cash, and state-of-the-art gymnasiums.  The best way to discover whether or not a “YOU”niversity is right for “U” is to know what you are looking for.  And that’s exactly where most students fail!  Today, I’m going to address ONE “major” aspect of college—academics—and some things you might want to consider when determining if a school is right for “U.”  Remember, however, as any college student will tell you, college is about A LOT MORE than academics!

Ideally, a student should have an idea of what he wants to study prior to college, although some statistics state that the average coed changes majors four times!  (Hence, our sluggish national four-year public university graduation rate of just over 32% and our barely better four-year private university graduation statistic of 54%.)    If you do have an idea of what you want to study, you should check out the opportunities and the quality of education within that specific department as well as the school itself.  How do you do that?  Not by reading the PR on the website or thumbing through the glossy brochures—that’s for sure!  The best way to determine the quality and “fit” of a school is to visit it! Certainly, a college road trip costs, but spending $1000 on a road trip is a worthwhile investment when you consider that 53% of incoming college freshmen either drop out or transfer to another university.  Think of the road trip as “insurance.”  Moreover, a college road trip gives you the chance to “try on” the school.  Yes, the school will put its best foot forward during your visit, but always take some time to just hang out in the student union, and if at all possible, sit in on a class.  Interview a professor.  Spend the night in a dorm.  Get an authentic feel for the campus.  If visiting your dream school is cost prohibitive, visit a school similar to the one you are considering (in size and focus) closer to home.  Remember, every campus has it’s own personality.

But what do you do if you don’t know what you want to study?  Many students enter college as “undeclared” majors. If that’s the case, remember that college is NOT 13th grade!  College is an option—a wonderful place where students can explore their passions and transition into adulthood. However, if you have no clue at all what you want to do, you might be more successful taking a gap year or working while you try to figure that out.  One of the most unfortunate things about New Mexico’s Lottery Scholarship is that, in order to receive that $6,000 annual reward, students MUST enroll in college immediately after high school. (And, by the way, in state students still have to pay a bare minimum of $10,000 in fees, books, room, board, transportation, and miscellaneous costs at a New Mexico state school—less about $5,000 if the student lives at home.) What students don’t know is that MANY out of state schools  (especially private ones) will give them much more than $6,000 if they demonstrate their passion within high school…or even the year after…so a student really shouldn’t feel pressured to go immediately into college. Of course, out of state schools’ price tags may be higher than New Mexico schools so that also has to be considered, but some universities offer tremendous discounts for out of state students who have demonstrated depth of commitment in one or two areas.

How do you evaluate whether a college or a particular department is “good?”  Look at the facilities and inquire about future improvements.  Ask about first-year seminars, core curriculum, and hands-on opportunities.  Evaluate the size of classes in light of how you learn.  Consider capstone projects, experiential learning, and internships. Ask about professors and research.  On that topic, if a professor is known for his research, realize that he probably won’t be teaching!  Likewise, if an undergraduate student thinks that he is going to work in the lab with a Nobel-prize winning scientist, he might want to think again.  Sure, it’s possible…but not probable, especially if the university has a high number of graduate students.

And that brings us to another concern about academic quality…graduate students versus undergraduates.  How much of the school’s resources support undergraduate opportunities? If a school has an abundance of grad students, chances for undergraduate research may be limited.  And speaking of ratios, watch out for those unrealistically low student to faculty ratios.  Those numbers can be twisted when schools include part time and adjunct professors, teaching assistants, researchers and staff in their “faculty” and negate students who are studying abroad or are part time.  A better number to consider is the average class size—in core classes and in majors.

Finally, how can a student evaluate the rigor of university-level classes?  How can he determine whether or not a college is “too difficult” for that particular student?  Are some schools harder than others?  Within every university there is a huge diversity of professors, teaching styles, and grading curves.  That being said, a student can get an idea of the academic intensity by asking two things:  “What’s the average GPA at the end of the freshman year?” and “What’s the average GPA (and test score) of the incoming freshman class?”  Or…you might want to consider attending an unstructured post-secondary institution that offers narrative evaluations instead of grades…and yes, there are some!

Before I encourage a student to apply to any school, I evaluate that student’s GPA and test scores in light of the previous year’s applicant pool.  I advise my students, whenever possible, to apply to schools in which they are in the top of the applicant pool academically—not only so they will be able to “do well” in school, but also so they won’t have to study significantly more than their classmates.  As I said before, college is about a lot more than school. However, college is primarily an ACADEMIC endeavor that prepares students for adulthood and careers (or at least it should be).  The quality and style of a school’s academic offerings should be foremost in any student’s mind.

If you have a student who is seeking guidance as to what field to study or which school to choose, please contact College Advising and Planning Services.  Discounts are available to all students who sign up prior to August 1st.  Rising seniors, it’s not too late to gain objective, professional guidance.  Rising juniors, save yourself some stress by starting now with College Advising and Planning Services. Comprehensive packages cost about the same or less that private music lessons, and you’ll receive a minimum of 50 hours of research and customized guidance!

For professional, customized college planning assistance, contact College Advising and Planning Services at (505) 918-7669.  We’ll be happy to arrange a free, 20-minute meeting or phone consultation to see if we can meet your needs. Services are not limited to the Albuquerque area!

As always, please forward this newsletter to other friends who might be interested in college planning information.  Do remember to check out the “upcoming deadlines” section of the website for a monthly calendar of what you should be doing this month to stay on track with the college planning process.

Additionally, you can “like” our FACEBOOK page (College Advising and Planning) where I post interesting articles and videos about college planning.