The goal of education is not to be taught everything, but to develop the skills to learn anything.
By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University
One usually thinks of colleges selecting students. Yet, if students are to make the most of their college careers, they and their families must select the college with the “best fit” — because the choice of a college is a life-long commitment.
Whether waiting for the admissions letter, deciding which offer of admission to accept, or preparing for college visits, you likely are preparing for one of the biggest decisions in your life, or your son or daughter’s life. College is not only a major investment of money, it requires a significant investment of time, energy, intellect, and imagination. One should enter this relationship with a great deal of information and high expectations.
And, while many students “start over” by transferring from their original institution to another, this can be a difficult and expensive proposition.
To determine the best fit between a student and a college, it is essential for the student to understand who he or she is, what he or she stands for, what they like to do, and the kind of environment in which they seem to flourish. This leads to questions about the size of the institution and the size of classes. Some people learn well in a lecture class of 1,200; others do not. Some colleges have classes with 6 to 10 students, while others average 50 to 60. A related question concerns the availability of faculty. What is the philosophy and reward system of a campus? Does the administration encourage faculty to be available to students, to get to know students by their first name, or does the reward system favor research, publications and federal grants, leaving undergraduate student teaching to graduate teaching assistants?
What is the profile of the student body? How homogeneous or heterogeneous is it? Is there a diversity of ethnicities, nationalities, and socio-economic status, or is the student body predominantly Caucasian, suburban, and affluent? Does another group prevail? Do you care? Remember, college years will provide opportunities for life-long friendships and connections. Make sure you maximize your opportunities, and the fit.
How broad and extensive is the curriculum of the institution? Do you know what you want to study? Does the institution provide options for you if you change your mind? Are alumni involved in undergraduate life? Do they provide internships and career networking? This is an important consideration. You want to make the most of your opportunities to study subjects you never considered, and at the same time know that there is a network of alumni who will be there for you, and you for them, in the future.
Are there signs of school pride? Do people wear the sweatshirt of the college and attend cultural and athletic events?
What is the true cost, or net price, of the college? It is not enough to compare the stated tuition amount, or to compare the size of the scholarship from one institution to another. Look at the net price. I can cite examples of three institutions offering scholarships of $10,000, $4,000, and $1,000, all resulting in the same net price.
Take a “test drive.” Visit the campus and stay overnight in the residence hall, if at all possible. Go to a class. Get a sense of the personality of the campus, and its character. You will be investing four years or more, and should do your best to assess the “feel” of the place.
Check the opportunities for involvement in activities. Do you have to be a veteran reporter to get an entry level position on the newspaper? Do you have to wait until your junior year to become involved in the debate team? Do you have to be a recruited athlete to play on the varsity? Find out how easy or hard it is to participate in the activities and sports that you value the most.
Is there reliable information about the “best” faculty? One of the ways to choose elective courses is to pick the teacher, not the subject. But first we have to have information about who are the stimulating, interesting, and caring faculty.
Does the institution have a global emphasis? Graduates these days, and in the future, are most likely to have multiple careers and work in a profession which is significantly affected by the fact that we live in an increasingly interdependent world. Will the college prepare you for this world?
Finally, remember the goal of a college education is not for you to be taught everything, but for you to develop the knowledge, skills, abilities, and values that will help you learn anything.
The Boulevard, February, 2006
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