Choosing Best Fit!

Many students will have already heard from some of the schools they have applied to, and most of the others will be replying in March. You will need to decide on a final choice and send in an “intent to register” and a deposit by May 1st.  It is always surprising to me how much more you will learn about a school once you know that you are actually accepted at that school. I guess that it is difficult to really look into all that a school has to offer until it is ACTUALLY a reality. The trick now is to really learn about the school and to imagine what it will be like for you for four years. Now more than ever, you need to forget what everyone else thinks of a school, including various Ranking Organizations, and remember that the goal for you is to find the Best Fit school.
You would have made a list of schools to shoot for that was based on selectivity and chances to get in, but that list should never be considered a hierarchy of schools on preference, only on selectivity. It is now your task to understand which of these schools is now the BEST fit for YOU. With the students that I work with professionally, I work with them on creating a “Right Fit – Matrix”, basically, a spread sheet where you list various things that are important to you along the top row, and the list of schools that you got into on the first column, and then research and rate for yourself how each school reflects these things that are important to you. As opposed to being any formula, the Right Fit Matrix is there to help organize your research. Hopefully, through the process of your research, you will determine the best fit for you.
Remember, college is like a buffet. Huge buffets are not necessarily better, as we can only eat so much. Notable buffets are often over-rated and too expensive. And most of all, a buffet’s benefit is that you can choose what you want. Make sure that the buffet that you are choosing offers you exactly what you are looking for. The next step will be to prepare to actively devour that buffet next fall. Many of your peers will be so excited by the sheer volume of things on offer that they will passively await being served. I am hoping that you will not be shy to grab that plate and begin piling it on right away!!
Some elements to think about when considering your choices.
1. Name Recognition
Large universities tend to have greater name recognition than small colleges. For example, once you leave the US, you'll find more people who have heard of Stanford University than Pomona College. Both are extremely competitive top-notch schools, but Stanford will always win the name game.
There are several reasons why universities tend to have greater name recognition than small colleges:
•    Larger schools have more alumni in India because they went to Graduate School there. Remember that those are very different things. Make sure that the school that you choose values undergraduate education.
•    Larger schools are more likely to have NCAA Division I athletic teams.  Flip side of this is that many students are only attracted to the school because of the athletic teams.
•    At research-centered universities, the faculty often publish more and appear in the news more. Flip side of this is that they do not have as much interest in teaching undergraduate students.

2. Professional Programs
You're more likely to find robust undergraduate professional programs in areas like business and engineering at a large university. Smaller schools consider these to be more suitable for Graduate Study and therefore do not have as much of a focus or funding related to those fields. Notable exceptions would be schools like Babson or Bentley for business or Harvey Mudd, Rose Hulman or Franklin W. Olin for Engineering.

3. Class Size
At a liberal arts college, you're more likely to have small classes, even if the student / faculty ratio is higher than at a large research university. You’ll find far fewer giant freshmen lecture classes at a small college than a large university. In general, small colleges have a much more student-centered approach to education than large universities. NOTE: Student-Teacher Ratio is sometimes a scam in that some schools will count EVERY professor who is in anyway attached to the university when calculating that ratio ~ Class size is always a better metric to look at.

4. Classroom Discussion
This is connected to class size -- at a small college you'll usually find lots of opportunities to speak out, ask questions, and engage the professors and students in debate.
5. Access to the Faculty
At a liberal arts colleges and other smaller schools, teaching undergraduates is usually the top priority of the faculty. Tenure and promotion both depend upon quality teaching. At a large research university, research may rank higher than teaching. Also, at a school with master's and PhD programs, the faculty will have to devote a lot of time to graduate students and consequently have less time for undergraduates.

6. Graduate Instructors
Small liberal arts colleges usually don't have graduate programs, so you won't be taught by graduate students. At the same time, having a graduate student as an instructor isn't always a bad thing. Some graduate students are excellent teachers, and some tenured “research” professors are actually lousy.

7. Athletics
If you want huge tailgate parties and packed stadiums, you'll want to be at a large university with Division I teams. The Division III games of a small school are often fun social outings, but the experience is entirely different. If you're interested in playing on a team but don't want to make a career of it, a small school may provide more low-stress opportunities.

8. Leadership Opportunities
At a small college, you'll have a lot less competition getting leadership positions in student government and student organizations. You'll also find it easier to make a difference on campus. Individual students with a lot of initiative can really stand out at a small school in a way they won't at a huge university.

9. Advising and Guidance
At many large universities, advising is handled through a central advising office, and you may end up attending large group advising sessions. At small colleges, the advising is frequently handled by the professors. With small college advising, your advisor is more likely to know you well and provide meaningful, personalized guidance.

10. Anonymity
Do you like being hidden in the crowd? Do you like being a silent observer in the classroom? It's much more easy to be anonymous at a large university.

Matrix.jpg

Many schools fall within a gray area on the small/large spectrum. I have also dealt mostly with size in this write up as I find it a very key area to consider and feel that it overlaps with many of the other features that make college meaningful. But please make other criteria for your own Right Fit Matrix to determine what is important to you. I am, ironically, coaching two transfer students this year that I did not work with the first time around. One is in a remote place and finds it too “dead”. The other is in New York City and finds it too much of a distraction and reports that most of the students are not at all active on campus. She wants a more involved student body in a smaller and less urban environment. Look also at certain special features of the colleges that you are considering. Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivies, provides a nice balance of college and university features and has an innovative Quarter System called the D-Plan. The University of Georgia has an Honors program of 2,500 students that provides small, student-centered classes within a large state university. Some schools may have consortiums of several schools that offer opportunities for larger offerings. Some schools have COOP opportunities that allow one to work in one’s field of interest for a year during study. Keep an eye out for some of these offerings as you explore.
A Final Word
Many schools fall within a gray area on the small/large spectrum. I have also dealt mostly with size in this write up as I find it a very key area to consider and feel that it overlaps with many of the other features that make college meaningful. But please make other criteria for your own Right Fit Matrix to determine what is important to you. I am, ironically, coaching two transfer students this year that I did not work with the first time around. One is in a remote place and finds it too “dead”. The other is in New York City and finds it too much of a distraction and reports that most of the students are not at all active on campus. She wants a more involved student body in a smaller and less urban environment. Look also at certain special features of the colleges that you are considering. Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivies, provides a nice balance of college and university features and has an innovative Quarter System called the D-Plan. The University of Georgia has an Honors program of 2,500 students that provides small, student-centered classes within a large state university. Some schools may have consortiums of several schools that offer opportunities for larger offerings. Some schools have COOP opportunities that allow one to work in one’s field of interest for a year during study. Keep an eye out for some of these offerings as you explore.

The Final Choice

With letters of acceptance rolling in over next month, it is time to return to the beginning and find the Best Fit.

With letters of acceptance rolling in over next month, it is time to return to the beginning and find the Best Fit.

OMG, I haven’t done an internship yet!!

It’s almost March and more than the rising heat of the impending summer, I know the month by the inevitable questions that come in from concerned 11th grade students: “Is it important that I do an internship this summer?” I will patiently remind them that, as with all things in this process, it is only important that they “do” what they are truly interested in doing. “The Internship”, like community service, has long been thought of as one of those critical areas that students have relegated to the checklist that they think of as a requirement in a good application. As with all things that students do with the intention of just being a bullet point on their resume, getting a letter of recommendation for an internship becomes one of those goals for many students. Lets face it, we are all in love with pieces of paper (and parents keep piles of these certificates from their kids achievements over the years organized neatly in shoe boxes under beds). I always remind students that I can go down to the local notary here in Bangalore and get a certificate that says that I am the Prime Minister for Rs. 100. A piece of paper means nothing, and in fact, most admissions people don’t want extra letters of recommendation or certificates clogging up your already big application file. They want to hear from you! They want to know WHY this internship was important to you.

But everyone in my class is doing an internship!!

So is the internship really that important? Well, it depends. You need to ask yourself a few questions before deciding if and what you want to do. If you don’t, you are likely to find yourself in an Facebook Internship. That is not as good as it sounds. I call the Facebook Internship one in which you are actually going to some office for a week or two, but all that you do is update your status. But if you can find a meaningful internship, yes, it is a great experience to have. Also, since in the UK you do not have that much flexibility to change your major, they are very interested in seeing that you have explored the “real-world” application of what you want to study.

Before rushing into this, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want to get out of this internship? Have some specific goals or expectations for the internship. You may end up being wrong about these, but if you have some goals, you will be more focused on actually doing something, and it will provide a better conversation with your supervisor for the internship.

  • Why am I doing this? Maybe you want to get a sense of a particular career path that relates to an area of study that you are considering? Or maybe there are resources at a company that help you explore an area of research that relates to something that you are interested in.
    • What potential “product” or “outcome” could come out of this internship? Having something tangible that you can share with others is far better than a letter of recommendation. See if there is some kind of report that you can produce, or even a small contribution that you can call your own at the end of it.

    Your Supervisor is likely to be very nice, and very clueless!

    Well, he/she is clueless about what to do with you at least. It is the unpleasant side-effect of anti-child labor laws that most organizations will have very little idea of what you are capable of and they typically don’t have people come work in their company for such short periods of time. I think that the most important consideration to think about when approaching an internship is to determine your purpose and potential outcome. Think about the work that the company does, and about your own skills and goals that you defined in the above questions. In the first meeting with the supervisor, or in emails prior to meeting, you could share these thoughts and they may help him/her get a better idea of what you could do. If nothing else, it will show the supervisor that you are there to work. And this will help you avoid the second deadly, yet common internship ~ The Shadow Internship. That is when they put you onto the CEO or some other important person in the organization and say that you will “shadow”, or follow them around for a week. This could be interesting, but it is highly unlikely that you will contribute anything in that kind of internship. I also always suggest when you are looking at internships that you see whether you may be able to break it into two or three times during different vacations in your 11th and 12th grade. It is more likely that over time, you will get a better idea of where you can add value and in the second or third time may really be able to contribute something. I think that this also looks great to admissions, as it shows commitment in consistency of focus over time.

    Brainstorm on the possibilities!

    Right! So, your 16 or 17-years-old and have maybe one month to dedicate to an internship. I hate to break it to you, but most people are not beating the pavement looking for your exact demographic for work. The first place to look is with your own family and family friends. If you have done the discovery process above, it will be easier for others to hone in on opportunities. When you do connect to a possibility, suggest an introduction, but then take it on yourself. Use the introduction as an opportunity to “sell” yourself based on what you are looking for, your goals and expectations. I guarantee that it will impress that “family friend” and lead to a more meaningful role. There are also organizations that help students find internships, one such group that I had a girl attend really helped her explore her interest in Law.1 I had another student who built homes in South Africa and learned intensive second language courses.2 But these programs are not inexpensive. I would also suggest that you check with your seniors in school and counselor to see what previous students have done, as the companies that they have worked with may be more comfortable with hosting high school students. Also, don’t forego your own family business, if that is a possibility. It is easier to believe that your mom or dad allowed you greater access than it is to imagine Ernst and Young really let you get that involved!

    Finally, lets not forget that just the act of some good hard work is a commendable thing. In fact, for most students in the US and UK, internships are not that accessible either. Instead, delivering the newspaper, baby-sitting and mowing lawns will be on their resumes. Nothing wrong with understanding the value of money through the sweat of the brow! I had two brothers that I worked with in the past, their father owned the largest car dealerships in town. They were interested in studying business. He gave them jobs washing cars for the summer. Ask them now and they will tell you that it was a great experience. Ask them then and they moaned.

    Freakonomics Podcast: Is College Really Worth It? Part 2

    Here is Part 2 of Is College Really Worth It?

    Highlights:

    MURPHY: People are insisting on some measure to prove to them that their $100,000 investment or $40,000 investment is worth it. I can understand that. That’s a lot of money. But in reality, I don’t think there is a way to quantify the value of college. I know you can look at statistics about people who have a college education are better paid. I think you have to look at how quality of life issues. To me, ignorance breeds hatred. And if you can get people knowledgeable, there will be less hatred, more understanding. That’s my theory. 

    MARTIN: It’s impossible to learn a completely different way of thinking about things without unlearning what one has already learned. And I think it’s important to realize that, because it’s often the case now that people think about education as the acquisition of new things as if it were an unproblematic and promising process simply of adding to what one already knows or thinks. And the truth is it is transformative, and that means upending a whole set of assumptions about how to see things, what’s possible, what’s real.

     


    Freakonomics Podcast: Is College Really Worth It? Part 1

    11th and 12th graders: I would very much like you to listen to this podcast. Will put it in assignments along with discussion points in next focus areas. Great for parents to listen to as well!!

     

    Highlights:

    LEVITT: The best way I think an economist thinks about the value of education is tries to figure out how the market rewards it and what other benefits come with it. And one thing is clear is that the market puts a tremendous reward on education. So the best estimates that economists have are that each extra year of education that you get is worth about maybe an eight percent increment to your earnings each year for the rest of your life. So it turns out for most people buying a lot of education, or at least for the average person let me say, buying a lot of education is a really good deal.

    CANALE: One of the things that I’ve done in the past is I’ve talked to parents at the high school in Fairfield. And one of the things that I tell them is after you go to the admissions office at any school, go to the career center. Because it’s a great place to find out whether your son or daughter is going to have a good chance of finding a job, because you can find out what companies actively recruit at the school. And if you can see big-name companies, you kind of know that the education there is valued by employers. … I would say follow your passion, figure out what you have to do. Once you get into a school, what you do there is totally up to you. You could go to a second-tier school, let’s call it, and graduate in the top three percent of your class. And you would have a very bright future, you’d have very high prospects. Some kids today are graduating with $200,000 in debt, $100,000 in debt, and maybe they just weren’t the best consumer, you know, when it came right down to it.