Ten Things You Must Avoid in Picking a College
College as I knew it is dying. Schools all over the country face threats of declining enrollments, government intrusion, and loss of vision. College as it should be is thriving and will remain a critical part of the passage from childhood to adulthood for many Americans.
This can be confusing for parents who have children getting ready for school. I have such a child and I have the same questions: Does my daughter need college still? Is it worth the investment?
Not every student needs college, but my daughter does. First, she wants a job where college is still expected of the first hires. Second, she has an academic orientation that will make college an excellent place for her to transition to maturity fully. Finally, Jane wants to go to college and we can afford it (thanks to my job).
As she looks at schools, I am trying to avoid the “rip offs” who do not understand the changing nature of education and find the good schools that can help Jane thrive. It will be her choice, of course, but here is what I tell her to avoid:
Don’t go to a college that lets you pick all your courses.
If what is called the “core” or “general education” has many options for you, then you know the “core” or “general education” does not really exist. The school has pushed it into a low priority. Just as in your major, the school should have a plan for your general education … this plan is not going to give you many electives.
Don’t go to a college where everyone or nearly everyone hates your values.
Undergraduate years in the United States do two tasks: job preparation and leadership training. You can learn to do your job from anyone and by the time you go to graduate school, an anti-Christian school can be acceptable (if you must).
There are no good examples historically or Biblically of Christians who chose to be discipled by non-Christians. Historically, leadership training consisted of discipleship and a mentor who was the kind of person you wished to become.
Don’t go to a college where the administrators make a great deal more than the professors.
You can find out what administrators (such as I am!) make on-line. If there is a giant gap between what the professors who will teach you and the administrators (who mostly will not) make: why?
It says a great deal about the priorities of the school and, not in a good way, if the cuts fall primarily on the people teaching you. Ask for the percentage of your tuition dollar that goes to academics. You might be shocked to learn how low this can be at some places.
Don’t go to a school where you will have a significant percentage of part-time professors.
It is cheaper to hire part-time labor and many part-time professors are very good.
Every school should use some part-time faculty to bring voices from outside academia to the school. Sadly, most part-time faculty members are people who yearn for a full time job and cannot get one. Underpaid folk, often working at many schools at the same time, are generally unable to provide the mentoring needed.
If you are going to have over half your classes in freshman or sophomore year with part-time people, not enough of your tuition money is going to teaching.Don’t go to a college where any class is over thirty (especially online).
Information distribution can be done on-line without professors. Teaching can be done well online. There are even advantages to online education, but nothing about technology reduces the amount of time you need for mentoring or the need for a low student/faculty ratio.
Ask how many professors are designated to mentor you online. Some schools use online as a “cash cow” for their onsite programs. Don’t be the cash cow.
It goes without saying that a giant lecture class should never happen on the ground. Beware a school that has many lecture halls with hundreds of seats and a stage. You will end up needing opera glasses to see the professor.
Don’t go to a college where meeting with a professor once a week couldn’t be done if everybody did it.
Look around. Don’t go to a school that counts on most of their students not being actual students. If the school doesn’t have enough professors to sustain weekly advising meetings with you and your classmates . . . choose a different school.
Don’t go to a college that requires more than a new car payment worth of debt.
Borrowing money can be a good investment. You get the use of someone else’s resources right away and get time to give that immediate money back.
This can be good, but it can also be slavery.
Most Americans borrow money to buy a car without too much thought. If you can borrow about twenty thousand dollars to go to school and if you then do not buy a new car until you pay off this loan, I believe this to be a good investment.
Of course, the value of your degree will partly depend on the quality of the school and the major you choose. Here is a practical question: What percentage of the alumni gives back to the school?
That will tell you something about satisfaction. If the number is very low, ask why.
Don’t go to a college that spends less than half its budget on the things that interest you.
Do you wish to go to inter-collegiate athletics? If so, then don’t go to a school that lacks them. If not, why pay for them?
Do you want the school to help plan your social life? If so, then pick a school with a very strong student life program. If not, save the money and plan your own parties.
Don’t go to a college that has majors where graduates do not get jobs.
Ask the employment rate of recent graduates in the majors that interest you. If they don’t know, then you shouldn’t go. Don’t borrow money to find yourself unable to get a good job.
Don’t go to a college that mostly hires its own or a few other schools’ graduates.
There are Christian colleges that are so narrow in terms of their hiring that they cannot mentor you for the real world. Working with the graduates of the same teachers cannot give you the breadth of perspective you need.
Take a look on-line at where the faculty got their graduate degrees. Too many from the same few schools is a problem. It can even be a sign of fraud.
Not everyone needs to go to college and not everyone should. If you should, then picking the right school is vital. Don’t be afraid to ask your chosen school hard questions. If they resent it, then they are not the school for you.
Find professors and administrators who love their school and job and you will never be sorry.