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The Best Tips for Choosing a College

Families are bombarded these days with fancy brochures, slick web-sites, and savvy college representatives singing the praises of their institutions. How do you separate hype from reality and focus on what is really important in a college education? Seven recommendations for choosing colleges the right way follow.

1. Avoid Official Campus Tours and Class-room Visits, and Take Student Comments with a Grain of Salt
You want to be in charge of your own college investigation so there are common approaches to college visits to be avoided or placed in context. The official campus tour is just that, and is designed to manipulate your perception of the college. Skip it, and while you’re at it don’t bother to visit classes since colleges will steer you to those which shed the best light on them. Talk to students, faculty, and staff but keep in mind that they may be unrepresentative of the college as a whole.

2. Find out About Availability of Faculty Members
Look into the number of weekly faculty office hours set aside for students, and survey students on whether they have a faculty mentor. If you can’t meet with professors with regularity outside of the class-room, you are being robbed of the intimacy which is vital to an effective education.

3. Make Inquiries about the Advising System
Ask how often and comprehensively academic advisors discuss course options and academic concerns with their advisees. You don’t want to flounder as you search for the right major or combination of courses.

4. Scrutinize Student and Alumni Satisfaction Levels with Academics and the College Climate
Most institutions survey students and alumni about the quality of education and college life. Request this data including the NSSE(National Survey of Student Engagement:nsse.iub.edu/html/annual_results.cfm) or similar surveys. Moreover, ask about the CLA (Collegiate Learning Assessment: facwww.collegiatelearningassessment.org), which measures whether students’ analytical reasoning skills improve between their freshman and senior years.

5. Look into Campus Health Facilities
We all get sick so make inquiries about health facilities, including those addressing mental health issues. Ask how long it takes to get a routine medical appointment?

6. Examine How Satisfied Faculty Are
How collegial are faculty members and how committed are they to the institution’s missions and values? You can tap into this data through the HERI (Higher Education Research Institute: www.heri.ucla.edu) survey of faculty attitudes. A satisfied faculty will often bring positive energy into the classroom. Morever, scrutinize whether the college has a “learning and teaching center” to help young and seasoned faculty improve their teaching.

7. Request Graduate School and Job Placement Data
You’ll be amazed at how fast four years of college fly. The college should have data for post graduation placement in graduate and professional programs and jobs. Also examine how alumni are faring five, ten, and even twenty years beyond graduation.

Conclusion
If you are stonewalled on any of the inquiries just delineated, then the institution is overlooking a crucial component of the undergraduate experience or the well-being of its alumni. This is a bad sign and it’s time to move on. With strong teaching, advising, health support facilities, and job and graduate school placement, an institution is meeting its student obligations. Without them, your school experience may prove to be an unsatisfying one. Top Test Prep offers tutoring and expert test prep with admissions experts who help you gain admission to your top schools.

David Dickson is a counselor with Top Test Prep; visit Top Test Prep’s contact page and request more information today or call (800) 501-Prep.

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