My niece from New Jersey is on a plane now flying south for a one day visit to a college that accepted her into its prestigious pharmacy program. She had been planning on attending a college closer to home but had last-minute doubts and decided to make this trip since she had not seen this one last school.
The reason for her rushed visit: Like thousands of students in metro Atlanta, she has to commit tomorrow to the college of her choice.
I would love to see her come South, although I have no idea whether the college is a match for her.
I feel for my brother who was scurrying yesterday to find low-cost flights to Charlotte, but I think it’s important to see a college at least once. Two years ago, my oldest son spent the last weekend of April ricocheting from a college in New York to one in Ohio, neither of which he had visited before applying but both of which had a lot of the elements he wanted in a college — at least on paper.
Those 11th-hour visits were pivotal; he felt an instant bond with the campus in Ohio, and it proved an ideal fit for him.
Here is some sound advice from experts on making that decision. Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University. Sue Wasiolek is dean of students at Duke. Anne Crossman is the author of “Study Smart, Study Less” (2011). The second edition of their book, “Getting the Best Out of College” (Random House), will be published soon.
By Tuesday, many high school seniors across the country must make the biggest decision of their life: which college to attend.
They (and their parents) will doubtless be wondering whether they will get their money’s worth and whether college is really worth it anymore, especially given the rising tuition and uncertain employment prospects.
After 50 years collectively working with undergraduates, we know too many students are failing to get their money’s worth, but not for the reasons you may think.
We believe the root problem is that many students make bad choices in college. Bad choices run the gamut from sins of commission (think pop-culture depictions of undergrad carousing) to sins of omission (such as avoiding inspiring classes for fear of too much coursework).
And note, we said in college, not of college.
Sure, choosing the right college is important. But we have known students who got a mediocre education at some of the most celebrated and prestigious schools in the world.
And we have known students who got a world-class education from an unheralded institution.
The former students coasted, thinking that the name on the diploma was all that mattered. The latter excelled, getting the best out of their college experience.
In our experience, students too often fail to be as intentional in the far more extensive — and far more consequential — set of choices they will make after they arrive on campus.
Should I take this course from this star professor even though he is infamous as a tough grader?
Should I go deeper in my studies or should I add another certificate credential to my résumé?
Should I attend that visiting lecture that sounds interesting but is totally unrelated to my coursework?
Should I pick a major that my parents think is more marketable but is of no interest to me?
A student determined to get his or her money’s worth will carefully weigh considerations such as:
● What kind of story or narrative am I telling with my transcript about my educational journey and how can I shape my course choices to influence conversations with future potential employers?
● How can I use my extracurriculars to develop myself as a person and build networks, and not merely to let off stress or have fun?
● How much time should I invest in the roommate relationship experience and how can I be proactive in our interactions early on to sidestep any sort of miscommunications that might lead to stressful confrontations later in the year?
● What relevance do my relationships back home have with my relationships on campus and how can I build both?
● Is it worth the effort to get to know a few professors before I graduate? (It is.) And how can I interact with them in a way that is professional and not annoying so that maybe I can earn a glowing recommendation down the road?
This is just a start, but too many students fail even to start well, let alone finish well.
We are confident that unless students take just as seriously the challenge of getting the best out of college as they took the challenge of getting into the best college, their tuition will not be worth the hefty price tag.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog