December 5, 2012, 4:33pm, Topics: learning style, college admissions, college websites, college visit, rankings, objectives
By Dr. Robert Massa
Dr. Massa is the vice president for communications at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. He is a former dean of admissions and enrollment at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a former vice president for enrollment and college relations at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.
When I speak with high school students and when I read press reports of the angst surrounding college admission, I sigh with an insider’s knowledge. I have worked in and around college admissions for almost 40 years. Parents and students need not be overly nervous about the college admission process unless the student decides to apply to a college for the wrong reason — because it’s “hard to get in,” or because everyone will be impressed.
What constitutes a more appropriate reason to apply?
Applicants may well achieve some degree of serenity by asking themselves — or permitting their families or teachers or friends to ask them — a question that is so obvious yet often overlooked: What is your learning style?
While there are several good inventories online that can help students understand how they learn best (see, for example, www.learning-styles-online.com/), high school students can also fashion such a questionnaire for themselves. What they discover in the process can then inform them as they set about identifying colleges and universities that might best match their learning needs..
Here are some good starter questions to prime that pump:
How Do You Learn Best?
Are you an independent learner or do you need direction? Do you prefer to work alone or in teams? Who was your favorite teacher and why? Do you feel you learn best in big settings, like lecture halls, or smaller venues, like seminar rooms?
How Do You Interact With Others?
Are you an initiator or a follower? What causes stress in your life and what results in enjoyment and productivity? Are you open and tolerant of differences, or do you prefer to be with people like you?
What Are Your General Objectives?
You don’t have to know what you want to major in, or even what you want to do after college. But you should know what you enjoy learning about.
Answers to these three simple questions will help you understand yourself, and represent the first step in selecting the right college application set.
Once you understand yourself, it is important to find out how colleges approach teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.
So how do you cut through the college marketing clutter to discover this important characteristic?
Avoid ‘Shortcut Sources’
Never rely exclusively on one source, particularly shortcut sources such as rankings, guidebooks, and popular college review Web sites.
Drill Down Into the College Web Site
Glean all of the information you can from the main levels of the college’s Web site, but to really discover a college’s personality, drill down to the academic and social departmental level. Learn what the faculty members are doing in their classes and what projects they assign to students. And learn about how students run their own organizations by visiting the actual Web sites of those organizations.
Contact the College
After searching the college’s Web site, e-mail some faculty members and students who are doing things that interest you. Also use e-mail to contact your regional (or academic major area) admissions representative and introduce yourself by asking a well-researched question.
Follow Along Online
Follow events on campus and what students and prospective students are saying about the college, its programs and its people by reading the student newspaper online and experiencing the college through Facebook.
Visit the Campus
Once you have done your homework, visit. Stay overnight, talk with students about their experiences, speak with faculty about what they expect from their students and how they involve students in their work, and of course, speak with your admissions counselor.
The college selection process does not have to be stressful if you focus on what is really important, embarking on a fearless path of self-discovery and a probing assessment of institutional characteristics. Once you have done this well, your application set will not only make sense, but you will find that your choices in April are broader and more acceptable than you would ever have imagined.