Making Choices

By Adela Penagos, PhD, President

Spring is one of the most exciting times of the year.  This year, in New England, we are leaving the snow behind and begin facing the prospects of new life in Mother Nature.  Yet, for most of high school seniors it is a time filled with mixed emotions.  On the one hand, you are eager to learn where you have been accepted to college.  On the other hand, how do you make the right choice?

 My hope is that throughout your college preparation process, you and your college advisor or counselor have created a diversified list of potential options for the next four years of your life and that soon enough, you will delve into a world of possibilities.  Ideally, you will select a school where you will grow and will be transformed while embarking in one of the most exciting life journeys.

 Here some items worth considering as you get ready to make one of the most important decisions for you:

 1.     Quality of Instruction: 

You are going to college to learn inside and outside the classroom.  However, most of the time, you will be in class.  Make sure you are aware of your learning preferences and that the teaching styles available at the schools you are looking at mesh well with those preferences.  If you are participating in a Spring Visitation, Admit, Visitas, or Hosting Weekend or an Admitted Student Overnight or Open House, attend a class you might be interested in taking.  Also, consider instructor’s availability outside the classroom.  Furthermore, get a sense if you are going to learn from full-time faculty from the very beginning or will have graduate students teaching you for the first and second years. 

 2.     Alumni Network:

Loyal and contributing alumni are not only faithful to their alma mater, but are committed to help those who come after them.  Make sure that the college you envision attending connects you to alumni now.  Reach out to one or two in your area and ask them many questions before reaching your final decision.  Even when interviewed by alumni, it is wise to get additional alumni names to gain a fresh perspective and make the most informed decision about your future. 

 3.     Funding:

The more funding the college provides for various endeavors, the easier it will be for you to make the most of all opportunities at your disposal.  Many universities have summer internship, study abroad, research, emergency, and graduation ring funds.  Engaging in internships, study abroad, and research can be some of the most enriching experiences you have in the next four years and can open various doors to your professional future.

4.     Support Services:

         a.     Tutoring:

You don’t need to be in great dire need of help to take advantage of tutoring services.  In my experience, the most successful students I have taught, mentored, and advised signed up for tutoring from the minute they set foot on campus.  Hence, find out if the services are free, if there is a cap on the hours you can use, what is the tutor availability, and sign up for as many hours as you are allotted as soon as classes begin.

 b.     Residential Life:

Where you live during college will make or break your experience.  Make sure that you have a clear understanding of how the dorm, house, or college system works at all the places you are considering.  Learn about Resident Assistants, Community Coordinators, Proctors, Rectors, Hall Directors, or Resident Deans.  Once on campus, get involved in residential life leadership to develop valuable skills.

 c.     Academic Advising:

During your first year, one of your biggest allies can be your academic advisor.  While building this relationship will take effort in your part, you want to understand well if your advisor is an instructional or tenured faculty member, an administrator, or a volunteer.  Each advising model will provide different types of academic knowledge in part of the advisor and impact your advisor’s availability.  The quality of the guidance you will receive will be contingent upon the advising model.  Some models also have a peer-advising component.  Inquire with upperclassmen about the effectiveness of the advising system; their point of view will be extremely valuable when deciding if the college’s model would work for you.

 d.     Career Center:

Understand how much help and guidance is available to enable you secure internships paid and unpaid.  Note that some colleges encourage their students to get internships during the academic year while others discourage them.  Figure out what will work best for you according to your particular needs.  Also, ask important and thought provoking questions about the post-graduate support for the major you are currently considering.

5.     Financial Health:

You have invested a lot of time and resources preparing for college and do not want to be in a position where you are forced to do this again next March.  Hence, research the financial health of the institution you are considering.  Remember that the healthier the institution is in terms of its finances the more funding, services, and facilities available to you. 

You are a very unique person with many gifts.  My hope is that you choose a college that will be a home to you for the next four years, where you make friendships that will last a lifetime, and where you learn inside and outside the classroom as much as possible.  Choose wisely.