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Important things to consider as you visit colleges

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.

Important things to consider as you visit colleges: Residential Learning and Theme Communities

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A number of colleges in Ohio offer Residential Learning Communities. Each community is organized around a theme which may be either academic or special interest. Students sharing the particular interest are grouped together in a residence hall, assigned upperclass students and a faculty or staff representative who provides on going programming and other activities typically designed around the theme. For example, an Arts Residential Learning Community might provide individual student studio space, arrange field trips to local gallery exhibits, or connect students taking the same classes into study groups. An “Outdoor Adventure” Residential Learning Community might coordinate backpacking, rock climbing, and kayak weekend trips while bringing in well known outdoor speakers.

Statistical evidence shows that students living in residential communities make smoother and more successful academic and social transitions when entering college. They also thrive academically, interact more frequently with faculty and develop a strong sense of communal belonging, which results in a deep-seated connection to the University as a whole.

Not only that, but the cost is typically the same as for a traditional residence hall room. What’s not to like!

Most of Ohio’s public universities offer students a variety of communities to choose from and a number of private colleges do as well. If you want to find out if a college you are considering offers Residential Learning Communities, just search under “residential learning community + college name” to find out. Check out Bowling Green State University’s page as an example. Check out the video while you are there: https://www.bgsu.edu/residence-life/learning-and-theme-communities.html

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: What are the attributes of a strong major?

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As we travel to colleges across Ohio, we always ask, “what do you consider to be your college’s strongest (signature) majors and why?” Admissions counselors are quick to list their “strongest” majors – never a problem. They know that many students visit their campus because of those majors! It’s the “why” part that can be a bit more challenging. In our experience, a “strong major” seems to be a “know it when you see it” sort of phenomenon, at least it is if you listen to admissions counselors.

Over time, and with the help of faculty in these “strong” majors, we have developed some criteria that we believe reasonably correlate well with a major that can be considered to be, “strong.” Strong majors will exhibit most or at least some combination of the following criteria:

1. Strong majors have more rather than fewer faculty and they will have sufficient faculty to cover the most significant sub-disciplines in the major. For example, a strong Chemistry major will have, at a minimum, faculty with specialized expertise in Physical Chemistry, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and Analytical Chemistry. They will also be proud of their faculty and tell stories about what they are working on or interested in.

2. Strong majors exhibit strong resourcing – that is, the institution is proud enough of them to invest in them! Look for new or well-maintained buildings, named schools, floors, or dedicated classrooms tied to specific majors. Look for well-equipped labs, “endowed chairs,” modern equipment relevant to the major, up-to-date technology and software, and/or strong support services.

3. Strong majors have a sizeable presence on campus – that is…plenty of students. Strong majors attract, retain, and graduate students and those students will be excited and proud of their major. Of course, some majors are large everywhere (e.g. Business Administration, Nursing, Psychology, etc.) so size alone is no guarantee of a strong major.

4. Strong majors will have one or more active student organizations. So a strong history major may have an active History Club. These organizations bring together students around their major area of interest and often extend that interest beyond the classroom into the community or beyond.

5. Strong majors will offer major-related study abroad opportunities to students. For example, a Finance Major may sponsor faculty led trips to major financial center cities so students can extend their learning outside of class while connecting with each other and professionals as well.

6. Strong majors measure things that are important and can tell you about their metrics. Nursing programs measure their NCLEX pass rates; Engineering Programs can tell you about their specialty accreditations; English programs may measure % of graduates admitted to graduate school or certified to teach, etc. Many majors measure job placement rates, etc.

7. Strong majors connect students beyond the college. Perhaps they have an external advisory committee that helps ensure that the curriculum is relevant and helps students acquire internships or coops. Perhaps there are active efforts to connect students to field experiences or place them after graduation. Perhaps there are resources to support students in their efforts to identify and achieve admission to graduate schools.

At CBA, we recommend that once your student has identified one or more majors of interest and a few colleges of interest that students and parent’s request to meet with a faculty member from each of those majors and ask a few questions aligned with the criteria above. Then compare what you learned across colleges. We bet that after a few of these visits you may just become a connoisseur of “strong majors” yourself!

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: Understanding Major course requirements may make all the difference!

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At CBA, we spend considerable time helping families consider how potential college choices differ in terms of the courses they require in a Major of interest.  So, for example, in terms of courses required, a Biology major at one college may be required to take a significantly different set of courses (both in the major and in the core curriculum) from the same major at another college.

For example, a Geology major at the University of Akron is required to complete a four course, 14 credit hour, foreign language sequence (Wow!!!), two semesters of Calculus, and three semesters of Chemistry. At Ohio University a Geology major needs only one foreign language course, one semester of Calculus, and two semesters of Chemistry. That is a significant difference!!

Ohio’s Catholic colleges typically require two courses in Theology and two courses in Philosophy in their Core Curriculum whereas at most non-Catholic colleges there is no Theology requirement and Philosophy is available as a Humanities option. While four courses in some combination of Theology and Philosophy may  not sound like much, it does constitute 10% of a student’s total required credit hours for graduation (out of 120).

At Cedarville University, all students are required to complete a minor in Bible comprised of 5 courses or 15 credit hours (13% of the total credit hours for graduation).

Similarly, majors in general fields or that have overlapping content may have very different requirements. For example, there are significantly different math, science, and engineering course requirements among the following majors: Management Information Systems, Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Software Engineering. Additionally, each of these majors will differ between colleges.

You can be assured that each college mentioned above can articulate a cogent argument for the structure of their curriculum. These arguments are often made in terms of the college’s mission or core values. We are not questioning that. We are just suggesting that prospective students and parents should make it point to “look under the hood” when comparing colleges and majors. A review and comparison of required courses (both in the major and core curriculum) for each major of interest is a great way to begin understanding how institutions differ from each other. It may even be the difference in your final choice!!

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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