In Search of Quality: Narrowing Down College Choices
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Paying top dollar for college doesn't guarantee you'll get the highest quality education, Butler University Provost Dr. Jamie Comstock, says.
“How the university delivers the education is a better indicator of quality than price,” she said.
With money and your future in the balance, how do you choose the university that will work best for you and give you what you want for your investment?
Comstock suggests that prospective students narrow down their choice of schools by asking the following questions, in this order, about each prospect. A school stays in your ever-narrowing “funnel” of choices only if you keep answering “Yes.”
1) Will I get in? Schools publish the average test scores, GPAs and class rankings of incoming classes. But don't let those published averages keep you from applying to a school that you think is a good fit for you. The best admission offices consider the whole student, not just their “numbers,” when making admission decisions.
2) Will I fit in? Does the school offer programs of study that match my interests? Do those programs have a strong reputation? Does the school offer opportunities for involvement in social and co-curricular activities I like, such as student government, athletics and recreation, Greek life, music, service projects, etc.?
3) Will I finish? Completing a degree is the most important reason you're investing in college. The college you choose should have good retention and graduation rates for students like you. Retention rate is the number of freshmen who continue on at the school as sophomores; graduation rate is the percentage of students who graduate within six years.
Knowing a school's retention and graduation rates for students like you is crucial, Comstock said; it tells you if a school effectively addresses your particular learning and social needs. For example, are you a student-athlete, a minority student, the first person in your family to attend college? Do you want extra academic challenge in classes, or more individual attention from instructors?
4) Will I find new strengths? Does the school stand out from its competitors in offering me opportunities to develop these four critical “Cs”?
Competencies: In my chosen profession, but also in writing, speaking, critical thinking and analytical reasoning.
Confidence: Self-confidence in my own abilities, as well as the ability to gain the confidence of others.
Character: Principles that can ground my life and enable me to work through ethical dilemmas.
Commitment: The motivation to serve others by using skills gained in college to serve a greater good. “Study abroad and classes with service-learning components give you a chance to see life situations that are different from your own and to understand how you can use your talents to improve the lives of others,” Comstock said.
5) Will I truly learn something? You will if the school focuses on and invests in teaching. Strong teaching offers a balance between theory and practice in what you're learning. Faculty should have high levels of academic preparation in their field, as well as some real-life experience applying their knowledge.
Strong teachers are highly credible, but also approachable when students need support. “If you aren't comfortable talking to teachers, all their expertise won't help you much,” Comstock said.
If, in your freshman year, you realize that a school is not a good fit for you, it's not fatal to switch to a more compatible school, Comstock said. But some of what you've already gained in college could get lost in the switch.
“Some credits might not transfer,” she said. “Since you won't be entering your new school with other first-time students, it will be harder to be engaged in the second school.” Less active involvement has been tied to lower academic performance and student satisfaction.
“College should be fun, a time to live on the edge, but you don't want to fall off,” Comstock said. “You want to get in, fit in, and finish college with a degree and new abilities that open doors for you.”
Jamie Comstock, Ph.D., leads Butler University's 331-member faculty as provost and vice president for academic affairs; she is also a professor of communication. In her 25-year career in higher education, she has won numerous awards for teaching and faculty mentoring. She has published research on teacher-student relationships, quality academic programs and strategic planning in higher education. After 12 years in higher education administration, she considers the university her laboratory for studying the open communication and collaborative relationships that lead to effective leadership.
To schedule an interview with Dr. Comstock, contact Mary Ellen Stephenson at (317) 940-6944 or email@example.com.
To find other Butler University experts, visit http://www.butler.edu/experts/.
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