Helping your student succeed in college: Balancing challenge and support

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In 1968 Nevitt Sanford published the book, “Where Colleges Fail: A study of Student and Person.” His work was the launching point of a conceptual model that I have long relied upon in thinking about how students transition, grow, and develop while in college. In today’s blog, I want to explain the model and describe how it can be used to help you and your student.

Simply put, Sanford argued that students (and everyone else incidentally) grow and develop when there is some balance between the challenges we face in our life and the supports we draw upon to help us manage them. If the challenges outweigh the supports, we may feel stressed and overwhelmed leading to burnout or shutdown. If supports outweigh challenges, we may feel comfortable but not stretched. On the other hand, if we face challenges outside of our comfort zone, and receive sufficient and helpful support, we are more likely to grow, develop, and expand our capacities and capabilities. Of course this is our goal, so there may be appropriate times to seek support and others to seek challenge.

A couple of observations: First, transitional points in our lives such as losing a job, ending an important relationship, making a geographic move, or…..going away to college tend to be naturally fraught with high levels of challenge. These key touchstone turning points in our lives may lead us into a sense of a loss of control and feelings of uncertainty or even outright panic. In kids, we may call it “homesick;” in adolescents we may call it, “acting out;” and in adults it has been called a, “nervous breakdown.” You get the idea.

Second, while transitional challenges are strikingly evident as they occur, supports often need to be acquired or sought out intentionally.

Finally, navigating these high challenge, transitional times of our lives always takes time. A wise friend of mine used to say, “fake it until you make it.” I think he was talking about the lag between being jettisoned from our comfortable life as knew it into a period of transition and the point when we actually become acclimated to our new circumstances, happy, and capable in terms of the challenges it presents. It just takes time. However, in addition to time, the ability to seek helpful support as needed can make all the difference.

For the student transitioning to college, the most important question relates to how to intentionally seek healthy support until he or she feels “at home” again. In prior blogs I have identified a number of immersive experiences a student can engage in college in order to develop new authentic and supportive relationships (e.g. student organization leadership, social fraternity or sorority membership, participation in athletics, band, theatre, or others) while connecting to their new college. Students can also utilize campus resources by visiting with a counselor, faculty member, or student services staff. Periodic trips home, hosting friends from high school in their dorm, and engaging activities they enjoy can play a role as well.

In terms of your student’s transition to college, you can coach your student on navigating this natural but often challenging process. Normalize it for them – we all go through these times. Assess what you think might be helpful to them. Suggest how they might acquire additional support. Make sure they understand that it will take time – there is no quick answer. Of course, you cannot solve this for them – they must solve it for themselves…with support from others. Welcome to the human condition and thanks for hiking with us today.

Next week I will post our most recent newsletter in lieu of a blog entry. That sets the stage for the lead up to Halloween and the beginning of our series of ghost stories from Ohio’s colleges. Don’t miss it.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

Anatomy of a College Curriculum: Free Electives

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In this blog series we have already examined both the Core Curriculum and Major requirements a student must complete in order to graduate. This time, we will look at “Free Electives,” which are the number of remaining credit hours required for a degree (degree = 120 credit hours) that have not been used up in satisfying Core and Major requirements.

Generally speaking, the more Free Elective credit hours available, the better. They are like currency that can be spent on achieving a “Minor,” or focused area of study in an area different from the student’s Major. A Minor typically requires 15-21 credit hours. They may also be used to help a student earn a second or “ Double Major,” or Certificate. Finally, Free Electives can be spent on individual courses that the student chooses to take for fun, interest, or professional development purposes.

Students can maximize their number of Free Electives by selecting Core courses that simultaneously satisfy Major requirements (e.g. a Major course in Economics may also satisfy a Core Social Science requirement, etc.). A student’s advisor can help them maximize these “Double Dip” opportunities as well as plan for how to calculate and spend their remaining Elective credit hours.

Some Majors require only 36-48 credit hours leaving plenty of room for Free Electives while others require 50-75 leaving little room. The student’s goal beyond their Core and Major requirements is to “spend” their Electives to their greatest advantage. Some may wish to add a credential or explore an interesting new area of study by adding a Minor or Certificate. Others may pick and choose individual courses for any of a variety of reasons. Since students cannot control their Core or Major requirements (except for maximizing “Double Dip” opportunities), we recommend that they be more planful and strategic in the use of their precious Free Electives.

Over the next few weeks I will offer a few more blog entries related to student success and then we will hike into our annual “Haunted Colleges in Ohio” series. These are my most popular entries – go figure. This year I have some great tales of fright from Ohio’s colleges to offer, so prepare to strap in for the ride.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

Anatomy of a College Curriculum: The Major

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In our last blog, we looked at how a college curriculum is organized and then looked more closely at the Core Curriculum (General Education) Requirements. In this discussion, we will look more closely at the Major.

In addition to completing a college’s Core Curriculum, college students select a “Major” area of study. Major requirements may vary significantly from Major area to Major area, or between colleges in the same Major area. For example, an Accounting Major will typically be much more extensive (require more credit hours) than a History Major. So, it would be much easier for a History major to add a Minor or Double Major as compared to an Accounting major. Additionally, the requirements for a History or Accounting major may differ markedly between colleges. The tradeoff – the more significant the Major requirements, the fewer electives are available for students to Double Major or select a Minor.

As a general rule of thumb, Professional Majors such as Business, Nursing, or Engineering tend to require more credit hours than those in other disciplines. The reason for this is that Professional Majors are often informed by specialty accreditor requirements, state licensure requirements, or other professional standards that extend required coursework. Students majoring in Art-related disciplines (e.g. Music, Dance, Illustration, Graphic Design, etc.) should carefully explore Major credit hours as these may vary greatly between colleges even given identical Majors.

The Major curriculum is typically composed of (1) Major courses (courses IN the Major area of study); Correlatives (courses outside the Major area of study, but required by the Major), and; (3) Major “Pick From” lists of courses from which students may choose a prescribed number of courses. These courses may be in the Major area of study or outside it and typically allow students to specialize a bit.

So, for example, a student majoring in Accounting would be required to complete a set of Major Accounting courses such as Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Personal Taxation, Auditing, and others. Additionally they might be required to take Correlatives (additional courses outside of Accounting) such as a course in Management, Statistics, Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, or others. Finally, they may be required to select a small number of elective courses from a longer list. These options allow students to tailor their Accounting Major to respond to more specific career objectives. Options might include Entrepreneurial Accounting, Introduction to QuickBooks, Non-Profit Accounting, etc.

Each Major is structured differently and differences exist in the same Major at different colleges as well. This is one reason why, at CBA, we recommend that students and their families meet with a faculty member in each Major they are considering at each college they are considering. In that meeting, the student can ask the faculty member to explain the organization of the Major courses. It sounds technical, but once you hear a faculty member explain their Major course sequence at three different colleges, it will become more clear which college has a thoughtfully designed Major with many options and those that are more rigid and/or guided by tradition.

Next time, we will look at Free Electives and how a student can use these to his or her advantage.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

Anatomy of a College Curriculum: The Core Curriculum

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In most colleges, degree requirements (the course progression leading to a degree) follow a set pattern or design. In this blog series, I am going to dive into the anatomy of college curriculum and then we will look at how students can best maximize their outcomes at any college.

With only a few exceptions, Ohio’s colleges and universities have all migrated to a semester system. So, the academic year is broken into a fall semester and a spring semester, each comprising around 16-17 weeks. In a typical semester, students would take 15 credit hours (around 5 classes) with 120 credit hours required for completion of the degree. Thus a degree can be completed in approximately 4 years not including summers. Most individual courses award 3-credit hours, with some lab and other extended courses awarding 4-5 credit hours.

First, let’s look at the structural components of a college degree. They are as follows:

  1. Core Curriculum (approximately 1/3 of total credit hours)
  2. Major Courses (1/3 to 2/3 of total credit hours)
  3. Free Electives (0 to 1/3 of total credit hours)

Over the next few blog entries, we will look more closely at each structural component of a college degree. Let’s start with the Core Curriculum.

The Core Curriculum

“Core” or “General Education” Requirements comprise approximately 1/3 of a student’s total credit hours but this may vary by college. The goal of the core curriculum is to support the student’s intellectual growth as an “educated” person and citizen as well as to align the student with the core values and heritage of the specific college. Courses in the core curriculum are typically found in the Humanities, Arts, Sciences and Social Sciences – these are the fundamental disciplines, many dating back to Roman and Greek times (e.g. languages, philosophy, theology, literature, biology, etc.). Beyond content, they also focus on developing a student’s writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills.

Within each college, the Core Curriculum is a political enterprise as its content determines jobs, resource allocation, and the actualization of values within the college. For example, most Catholic colleges require two courses in Philosophy and two courses in Theology due to their unique mission as a Catholic college, whereas a public university may require no Theology and Philosophy would only be an elective among many other Humanities offerings. Few families look closely at the Core Curriculum as they consider colleges, choosing instead to focus only on major offerings. At CBA, we believe it is important to take a look at the Core as well. A large required Core Curriculum reduces free electives and may limit the size of professional degree offerings (e.g. Engineering, Business, Nursing, Social Work, Education, etc.).

The Core Curriculum is typically organized into categories. So, students may be required to take one course in the natural sciences, two courses in the humanities, one physical education course, one course in history, one course in Math, two courses in the social sciences, etc. Within each category the student may be able to choose from many options. Some of those options may be able to simultaneously satisfy a major requirement. For example, an Engineering major may be required to take Calculus in his or her first semester. This course would typically satisfy both the Core Math requirement as well as an Engineering major requirement. Students should work to maximize these “double dip” opportunities as each time they select a Core course that simultaneously satisfies a major requirement, they open up an additional Free Elective that can later be used to pick up a Minor or Certificate.

Is your head hurting yet? I think that is enough on the Core Curriculum. Next time, we will look at the courses required by the Major area of study.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

 

Academic advice from a college professor

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This fall our son, Keenan, is off to college at the University of Akron. He is our youngest and the last to leave our family home. As many of you have experienced, this is a bittersweet time and one that forces some level of reflection on the past and consideration for the future. As an ex-college professor, I decided to take pen in hand and capture a few things that I wish I had known and practiced as a college student – things that would have made me more academically successful, less stressed, and happier. A gift to my son of sorts, I plan to pass on my ramblings on our way to college. I have been around college students most of my adult life, so I know the chances of him adopting my recommendations and slim, but maybe he will consider just a few. If you would like a copy of my 2-page set of academic coaching points, just e-mail me at DrJay@collegeboundadvantage and I will send you a copy. What follows first, are a few principles that I think are relevant to the discussion and then a few of the “Academic Success Habits” I find most compelling.

Principles

I believe academic success is born out of a set of habits. Habits allow certain behaviors to operate unconsciously and consistently. Think about when you learned to drive a car. Remember what it was like at first? How is it different now? Students can be intentional about developing habits that will support (versus diminish) their prospects for success. The Academic Success Habits that will follow can be practiced and habitualized.

Not all students self-advocate naturally. They have to develop the ability to ask for what they need, approach authority figures for help, and reach out for support when needed. Parents can help students with this by visiting faculty, academic support services, Math Labs, Writing Centers, etc. and asking (subtely in front of their student), how a student could access their services or support if needed and how they can help. They will remember.

A Few Habits for you to Consider Developing

Identify a place or two on campus to study and go there every day. Build study into your calendar.

Read the syllabus for each class when received and place all due dates of assignments/exams into your calendar so you will always have a central reference.

Work on each class a short time each day. This will keep everything fresh, allow for pacing of work, and prevent the loss of details and content.

The No-Brainers: Attend class and complete and turn-in homework assignments (including reading) on time. Homework is designed to help you learn, so make sure you understand it. If you read or skim chapters in advance, faculty lectures will make better sense and will be retained much more easily.

If you are struggling with a class, get help early. Talk to your faculty, attend Math or Writing Lab sessions, ask the Academic Services office for Peer Tutoring, or enlist the help of  a friend who was successful in the class.

If you are cratering in a class and don’t believe you can course correct, drop the class with a “W” before the final drop date (usually about 6-7 weeks into the semester). A “W” will appear on your transcript, but will not impact your GPA and you can re-take the course later. Even if you earn an “F” in a class, the course can be retaken at the same college and the new grade will replace the prior “F” for GPA calculation purposes, although the “F” will remain on your transcript. One caveat – dropping classes may impact financial aid, so check in with your financial aid representative as you consider a drop. Also some policies may differ between colleges.

Develop a strategy for each type of class. A successful strategy for a Math class is different from a strategy for a content (memory) class or a writing class. Team Projects also require that you develop a strategy. E-mail me for my entire document that offers ideas for these strategies.

Best wishes this fall. As the air cools and the leaves change color, I will be hoping that Keenan is finding success and joy in the college environment that I have loved most of my life. It is a blessing, but one that needs to be navigated carefully to fully enjoy the rewards it offers. It is also a transition that can be difficult to manage and overwhelming at times.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

How to help your student succeed in college: The path to identifying a major

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In my last blog we looked at how carefully designed, immersive, co-curricular experiences can build a strong support system around students that help them succeed. Now we will shift to the academic side of the house and consider how a student’s engagement with their major area of study can also elevate motivation and improve success.

Over the last 20 years, I have served as the academic advisor for over 400 college students. Many of these students worked with me for their entire four-year college career. Over those years I have been able to compile and test some key advising principles that today inform our processes at College Bound Advantage.

First, I have come to appreciate the importance of helping students identify and commit to a major aligned with their interests, strengths, and aspirations as soon as possible. Over the years, I developed a simple process for my “undecided” advisees that begins with exploring the student’s interests, favorite high school courses, academic performance and courses taken to date, strengths, and current thinking about career in order to create a “Map” of potential majors, minors, and careers to explore. We then identify courses and other experiences that can help them discern between options. Families not working with us might consider suggesting that their student request these services from their campus Career Center.

The commonly accepted notion that encourages students to begin college as completely “undecided” and wander around hoping that illumination will follow is, in my opinion, problematic or at least incomplete. In my experience, students find it hard to extract meaning and motivation from such aimless academic drifting and are much better served with a clear plan to explore options aligned with their interests and strengths. Additionally, most students don’t understand major options and need them clearly defined, translated into courses and careers, differentiated from other similar options and organized into a plan of exploration that they can get excited about.

Second, once exploration unfolds and the student identifies a major that they are excited about, another level of planning and exploration becomes possible. It is at this point that students can be encouraged to consider joining student or professional organizations aligned with their major; explore aligned study abroad opportunities; consider internships, coops, or service opportunities related to their major, or join related residential learning communities. These activities clarify choices, deepen commitment, create career pathways, and connect students to others with similar interests.

It has been my experience that once students ascribe meaning and purpose to their academic program, they enjoy increased motivation, improved retention, and strengthen their chances of graduation and success beyond college. The all-to-common alternative is characterized by uncertainty, periodic major changes, lack of motivation, anxiety about the future, reduced retention rates, and employment challenges following graduation.

Of course, even better than beginning this process in college is getting a head start while in high school. High school courses, dual enrollment options, career projects, and college visits can be used to help students accelerate this process and enter college much closer to a potential great-fit major and all the motivating and success-enhancing benefits that go along with it.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, once a student has found a major to get excited about and built their involvements, activities, internships, and career aspirations around it, they learn how powerful the simultaneous alignment of all these factors can be. They also learn that they can do it over and over throughout their life as they, and the world, change. They become more confident, capable of informed risk taking, and motivated. They are also much less likely to settle for careers and involvements that don’t enrich them because they know they can orchestrate change and they know what it feels like to be working toward something they are excited about.

So, if we can coach our students to get involved in one or more immersive co-curricular experiences that will help them solidify a support network and better identify with their college while supporting their journey to find a major that is aligned with their strengths, interests, and capabilities, then…we can sit back and enjoy watching them grow into responsible, happy, healthy adults. Now what’s wrong with that!

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

How to help your student succeed in college: Beyond Frog Camp

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In my last blog, we looked at the Frog Camp Experience at Texas Christian University (TCU). The program is designed to help students learn about TCU while deeply connecting with each other, several student leaders, and a member of the faculty or staff. The result is a substantial bump in first to second year retention and clear anecdotal evidence that students are motivated to succeed when they are intentionally connected to their college and a small, cohesive group of others.

Unfortunately, while programs like Frog Camp are strong in Texas (e.g. Fish Camp at Texas A&M, Mustang Corral at SMU, etc.) they have not migrated to Ohio colleges with the sole exception of “Camp Blue” at the University of Dayton. So, what are the options for students in their first year at other Ohio colleges?

First, let’s define the aspects of Frog Camp that provide the magic. In order for these benefits to accrue to students, the program or organization should provide the following: (1) an intentional and ongoing engagement with a small group of peer students, student leaders, and at least one member of the faculty or staff; (2) a set of designed, shared experiences that foster the development of authentic relationships and group cohesion; and (3) an experience that will help students identify with the college through its history, activities, and traditions. The result is that each student will have a strong, diverse, and capable support group and a deep identification with the college.

So, what are the options? If you and your student attended your college’s orientation, you had a first hand opportunity to observe a group of students who have been through such an experience – your orientation student advisors. They were housed together, trained together, educated on all aspects of their college, connected to faculty and staff, and provided opportunities to serve their community – they have the magic. But what about the new student orientees? Unfortunately just attending orientation does not satisfy the above criteria so, while it may have been a helpful experience, it was not a “Frog Camp.”

Well, enough of that. Let’s cut to the chase. Here are some ideas of the types of experiences I am talking about:

  1. Residential Learning Communities (see prior blog on this topic)
  2. Residential Advisors (RAs) – these residence hall advisors are trained and supported just like our orientation advisors
  3. Social Fraternities and Sororities
  4. Immersive leadership development programs that meet the criteria
  5. Optional pre-college trips, excursions, service projects, etc. that satisfy the criteria. Some colleges offer backpacking trips or assign groups to Habitat for Humanity Homes, or offer other travels together.
  6. Immersive Study Abroad trips that are designed in such a way as to meet the criteria
  7. Athletic teams (varsity or club sport) that meet the criteria. Some coaches who intentionally tend to culture can make these exceptional experiences…others…not so much. Intramural sports do not, in and of themselves, satisfy the criteria.
  8. Any student organization in which the student takes on a sigificant leadership role. Membership and involvement helps, but doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria.

So, encourage (and coach) your student to identify and engage possible “Frog Camp” experiences at their college. You will know when your student has completed a “Frog Camp Experience.” They will be happy, engaged, connected, empowered, motivated…..and wouldn’t dream of leaving until they walk across the stage with their friends and accept a diploma from the college they love.

Next time, we will look at the academic side of the house and how an equally powerful motivating force can emerge there.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas. Check us out at www.collegeboundadvantage.com .

How to help your student succeed in college: The secret I learned from Frog Camp

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I began my professional career in higher education at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Ft. Worth, Texas. The first project I worked on was the development of an incoming student retreat program that we ultimately named, “Frog Camp” (TCU’s mascot is the Horned Frog). The camp was a four-day, three-night retreat to a nearby camp. At the camp, students were grouped into “Frog Groups” of ten-twelve students and partnered with a member of TCU’s staff or faculty and two upper-class student leaders. Over the days ahead, students went through low and high element challenge courses together, learned about TCU’s history, traditions, and spirit, shared their hopes, challenges, and dreams with each other, and generally had a great time together. By the time they returned to TCU, they had a close group of friends, a strong connection with at least one member of the faculty or staff, a connection to two upper class student leaders, and an emerging identity as a “Horned Frog.” Frankly, we were surprised by the enthusiasm and energy accruing to the program and even more surprised by its impact on retention. In its fourth year, participation in Frog Camp was second only to fraternity/sorority life in its impact on whether students returned to TCU for their second year.

Consider this: at TCU, students involved in a fraternity or sorority had a first to second year retention of nearly 92%. Students attending Frog Camp and in a fraternity or sorority were retained at a rate of 94%. Students only attending Frog Camp were retained at 90% and students who did neither were retained at a rate of 68%. These results are compelling and suggest that students stay in college and graduate when they wouldn’t dare to leave college because their experience, friends, and involvements have become so important to them.

In my opinion, colleges all over the United States spend thousands asking departing students why they are leaving. While these students may be able to offer reasons, I believe that they are, in most cases, leaving because nothing happened to them while they were there that made it unthinkable that they would ever leave.

My Frog Camp experience has forever colored my thinking about retention and it illustrates the immediate importance of helping your student identify and execute means to get involved and connected as quickly as possible through immersive experiences that connect them to others and their college.

Join us next time as we look a little more deeply at the profound impact of campus involvement on student success and identify some options to help your student get connected.

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas.

Important things to consider as you visit colleges: The college visit

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At College Bound Advantage, we work to help students consider their strengths and interests and then link them to potential majors and student organizations/involvements for exploration. We then identify a set of Ohio colleges that specialize in those majors and offer those organizations/involvements. The last step is then to coach the family on how to orchestrate and effective visit so they can begin to discern between possible majors and co-curricular activities while learning about specific colleges. We recommend, when possible, visiting colleges before making application for admission. Here are a few of our common recommendations:

  1. Prior to your visit, contact a college through their Office of Admissions and ask to schedule a visit to campus. Ask to accomplish the following things while you are there:
    1. Take a student led campus tour and either visit with an Admissions Counselor or attend an information session. Colleges routinely lead tours and provide families information on their college and their programs and offerings
    2. Ask to meet with a faculty member in a few of the major areas you or your student are considering. Most colleges can arrange this during a normal semester. You might also see if you can visit with a student in those majors.
    3. Ask to meet with a representative from any other co-curricular interest area that is important to you. For example, you might want to visit with a club sport representative or sports coach, band representative, honors program representative, residential learning community representative, study abroad representative, etc.
  2. Before going to campus, write out a list of questions you would like to have answered while visiting the college.
  3. While on your visit, ask all your questions and enjoy your time on campus. Here are a few thoughts:
    1. Your tour and admissions visit will focus generally on the college – everything from buildings, food, application process, financial aid, co-curricular activities, residential living requirements, etc. This is where you can ask your general questions about the college.
    2. Your faculty visit is critical in helping you understand major options. Consider the following questions for each faculty member: Can you tell me more about this major and what your graduates are doing now? How many full-time faculty are dedicated to this major? What are you most proud of in terms of this major? What are the requirements for getting into the major? Are there student organizations connected to the major? Are there study abroad opportunities connected to the major? Is there a residential learning community that your majors join? Do your students do internships or coops and if so, how do they get them? How many students are in the major? These questions are informed by our prior discussion on the attributes of a “Strong Major.”
    3. When you meet with representatives from the co-curricular areas, focus on: how to join or qualify; how to balance involvement in the activity with academics; and the benefits and challenges of becoming a part of the activity or organization.
  4. One final thought – most families visit a campus more than once. Once you conduct your initial visit and actually apply for admission, you will often be invited to “open house” events focusing on the major area/s of study you indicated on your application. Some campuses may even invite you to spend the night with another student on campus so you can get a feel for things first hand. Many will tell you that a student should pick the college that “feels” like home. We argue that a better approach is one that is more informed and this kind of visit will help you get there!

Now get out there and visit some campuses!

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas.

Important things to consider as you visit colleges: Pure or research major versus an applied major

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In our work with students, we begin by exploring courses that they enjoyed or excelled at in high school, hobbies, interests, as well as college major and career aspirations. After a lengthy conversation, a general picture of a students potential academic strengths and interests begins to form. While preliminary, it does give us an opportunity to cast a broad  net in order to offer the student possible majors to explore and a map for how to accomplish that when they visit colleges. High school students seldom know what college major options are available, what each really entails, the courses that will be a part of that major, or how each major might translate into a possible career starting point.

One important distinction we make is the difference between a research or “pure discipline” major and an applied major. This distinction helps students begin to consider a broader set of options than they might other wise. The best way to make the distinction is with examples. Mechanical Engineering is, fundamentally, applied Physics. So a student interested in a Physics major (pure discipline) might also want to explore its practical application in Engineering (applied major). The fields of Journalism, Public Relations, and even Digital Media draw heavily on writing skills. So, students who enjoy English (pure discipline) might also want to consider these majors in other fields that draw heavily on related skills. Students with strengths in Art (pure discipline) may also want to consider Graphic Design, Marketing Communication, Digital Media, Interior Design, or Industrial Design – all applied majors.

A benefit of applied majors is that they offer a clear progression to career opportunities, internship options, and typically lead to larger starting salaries than their pure discipline major counterparts. There is also the opportunity to partner applied majors and minors with pure discipline majors and minors such that real synergies are realized. For example an Art major may be combined with a Graphic Design minor or vice versa. These types of combinations are powerfully motivating to students, offering both intellectual growth and practical application.

The campus visit is a great way to help students explore these options. As an ex-faculty member, I recommend that students meet with a faculty member from each major they are considering in order to learn about what they would be studying in the major and where the major might ultimately lead them. We believe that students benefit when they explore multiple related options and make decisions with their “eyes wide open.”

About the Author: After touring 60 of the best colleges in Ohio, Dr. Jay, a prior faculty member and dean, founded College Bound Advantage (CBA) – a Columbus, Ohio college consulting firm. CBA specializes in helping families optimize college selection around 18 “fit factors” and helping students clarify co-curricular and major options while exploring colleges that specialize in them.  College Bound Advantage serves all of Ohio including Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati metro areas.

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