Top Ten Questions to Ask While Making Your College List, Part 2
And we’re back! If you didn’t catch the previous five questions, take a look here.
5. How ready are you for college?
One of the more frustrating things that I’ve seen in sort of college-speak is this idea that some students should not go to college because they are not ready, not mature enough. That’s possible but what becomes more frustrating is that they are given the advice to just hang out in community college until they figure it out. In California, that advice is the equivalent to saying you just won’t go to college. Ever. But I get it—Who wants to spend a grip of cash on something that you’re not super certain about? That’s where fit is really applicable and ensuring you are selecting schools that fit well enough to ensure better financial, academic, and social outcomes, with “social outcomes” including growing up. So think about this question more as: Are you ready to grow up on your own or do you need a bit more hand-holding?
When I ask this question—How ready are you for college?—I am first thinking about two people: student and parent. I am also thinking more about is your student okay with hopping across the country (or world) and fending for herself, relying on Skype and texting for daily communication, able to navigate in a new place and make new friends easily? Or does he need more family support, maybe every few weeks and enjoy the connections he made in high school and want to be close to friends too?
This really isn’t passing judgment. The kid who left his sock in his white load of laundry and now only has pink clothes certainly isn’t failing at college. Frankly, he’ll probably turn out to be CEO of Tide or Clorox because he learned a particular lesson in resiliency on his own. Point is, don’t undervalue the importance of supports and where a student is in terms of maturity and growth potential. And for parents, it’s important to discover when your student needs a red sock lesson and when you need to make surprise visits to the laundry room.
4. In college, what are you doing on Friday night?
Even the best students shouldn’t be academic students all the time. In part lending from the above, students are always learning including outside the classroom. And schools want to know that you are going to take advantage of those opportunities as well. When I think about my time in New York City at NYU, I think about a few things:
-I did my student teaching and observations at some of the most widely-known schools in the country, including LaGuardia High School for Music and Art and Performing Arts (the Fame school) and Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, and the High School for Environmental Studies (you can take the girl out of the Bay Area but you can’t take the Bay Area out of the girl). My classmates were placed in Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and Stuyvesant lending to exceptionally rich conversations about educational access in urban environments, even over coffee on a non-school day.
-I went to shows as often as I could, and everything from symphony performances at Julliard to Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden to Reel Big Fish at a spot in the Village that is a hair salon now. Student performances included everything from fashion shows held by roommate and photography shows and acting performances by my friends. And I always wore my flashiest when we spent the afternoon in the audiences of Ricki Lake, Montell Jordan, and Sally Jesse Raphael.
-I learned about norming gender and sexuality in the West Village, especially during the Halloween parade. And found my ethnic home in Crown Heights (and later discovered that was my actual birthplace) and in all parts of Brooklyn that knew about patties and coco bread. I had a Panamanian student who said I was the only Panamanian teacher she ever had so I shouldn’t let her down. I thought about that every time someone approached me on the train and asked for directions in Spanish and even today when people ask about my name: Just don’t let her down.
-I learned a thing or two about resiliency and efficiency by ordering at delis at lunchtime. Figure out it quickly or starve. And that five dollars could get me lunch (a slice and a drink) and a trip to a park to sit down and enjoy it.
Obviously I am pretty good at reminiscing and more so about reflecting. And in terms of learning, those Friday nights were just as critical as those Tuesday mornings.
3. Are you spending the entire time on that campus?
Someone once told me that his biggest regret about college was that he was trying to get far away from his family and went to a school pretty far away but did so much study abroad that it didn’t really matter where he went for the actual degree, he was pretty far almost the entire time anyway. So you can attend a school and not really attend the school.
I like to look at a lot of bang-for-your-buck schools and study abroad programs are just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of schools offer 3:2 or 4:1 programs where you can earn two degrees, sometimes at a different university. Some have programs within your four years in collaboration with nearby universities and offer really interesting degrees or opportunities. With this question, again consider the university to be a gateway rather than an endpoint and think creatively about what else the school is offering that sounds super appealing.
2. Do your values match the values of that institution?
This is kind of a tough one, mostly because most schools will say their mission is about some version of democracy, responsibility, and equity in some form. It is also difficult because we don’t usually sit down and think about our own values. In the manual, I asked people to think about that so it is worth revisiting here. In this process, how would you complete the sentence, I will be successful if…? What you come up with can be categorized into values.
One of the values that I came up with for my business is that my son would always be the priority, especially with time. When I was looking at kindergartens, the first priority was how much time, between travel and school schedules, would I have with my son. I ask that same question when I take on new clients. I have other values related to working with a certain number of underrepresented students each year and using sustainable products so I am always looking to make fits into my values.
Same goes for your college-choices.
The best tip I can give here is to think about colleges as somewhat malleable clay. Each college has some give and how you interact with it will certainly affect the outcomes. But you can work with some clay better than others and don’t negate the clay that just gives you a better feeling for no reason at all.
1. How does the school fit into your ten-year plan?
This returns us to thinking about college as a gateway rather than an endpoint. And remember, your student should absolutely go to graduate or professional school. So here are the things to look for:
A) What is the graduation rate?
B) What is the percentage of students who go on to graduate and professional school?
C) What programs does the school offer for placement in graduate and professional school?
Sometimes people ask me about a particular school. And I’ll look it up and see stats such as 40% of students graduate in six years, 5% go on to graduate school, and the school doesn’t offer any sort of attrition program. To be honest, these are most of the public universities in California right now. I don’t feel good about recommending these schools and I typically don’t. The response I get most of the time is “but it’s cheaper!” In most cases, it isn’t. But, more importantly, what are you getting with that “cheaper”? Maybe graduate in a decent amount of time and unlikely going further with it.
I used to get into these debates with a classmate who used to do her grocery shopping at the Dollar Store. She mocked me for shopping at Whole Foods and swore she was getting the same exact thing for a cheaper price. “That’s expired meat,” I would explain. “And are you really going to eat that many canned peas?” With as much love and respect for my state, we have to figure out water and school. Then we can have a real conversation about what students are really getting for that cheaper price.
It’s most important to think long-term, past getting admitted, even past graduation. Think about what you need to learn academically and emotionally. Take a good look at your finances and think investment rather than just the cost. And if you need more, contact me.
All the best in your college search.