A lot of high schoolers are beginning to look at colleges around this time of year. Before you get too invested in the process, check with your family, teachers, etc. to see if college is right for you! With graduation rates plummeting and costs soaring, attending college is no longer the no-brainer it once was.
Choosing the right college can be tough! There are a lot of factors involved, like location, size, cost, Greek life, etc. With all of these factors weighing on their minds, most students who are set on going to college will probably fail to ask the 4 most important questions. Take it from a college recruiter; THESE are the questions to ask!
1. What is the average class size?
Let's say you're in a lecture hall of 400 students for Freshman biology. How well are you going to know the professor? How many questions are you going to be able to ask? How much feedback are you going to be able to get? Wouldn't it just be cheaper to watch a YouTube video?
The purpose of college is to prepare you for a future career, and while we generally think "General Education" classes are "Generally Useless," if you're going to be forced to take them you might as well learn something. Building a connection with your professor (the expert in the subject) and actively participating in a lecture are just two of the best ways to maximize your college investment. If you're not participating or you CAN'T participate, you might as well watch YouTube videos at home.
Smaller class sizes mean more connection, more interaction, and more learning. It's just that simple!
2. Who teaches classes?
College should be about learning, and if you're paying over $25,000/year you had better be getting access to experts. Does a professor's degree indicate how good of a teacher they'll be? Not at all. But that's not why you're asking this question...
Many college classes (particularly at larger schools) are taught in large auditoriums or lecture halls with several hundred seats. In order to make sure students' questions are answered, the classes are split into smaller groups and assigned TAs (teaching assistants) to help them learn the material. TAs are usually Master's or Doctoral students who may only be a few years older than their students. Generally TAs are NOT subject matter experts.
The reason you should ask this question is that it gives you more insight into class sizes and how much access you'll have to "the people who know what they're talking about."
A variation of this question you can ask is, "How easy is it to get to know professors?" If you're in a class of six people sitting in a circle next to a professor, the chances are very high that you'll get to know each other and that they'll be there if you need help or want to learn more.
3. What is your 4-year graduation rate?
Why is this answer so crucial? You're spending a LOT of money on a college education.
According to Value Penguin by LendingTree:
Average yearly total cost of public colleges: $25,290 (in-state) and $40,940 (out-of-state
Average yearly total cost of private colleges: $50,900
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average 4-year graduation rate in the United States is 41%. The 6-year graduation rate? 60%.
Conclusion: it's not all that likely the average college student will graduate in 4-years. That means college is a LOT more expensive than you might think...
Public College In-State: 4-year cost = $101,160; 6-year cost = $151,740
Public College Out-of-State: 4-year cost = $163,760; 6-year cost = $245,640
Private College: 4-year cost = $203,600; 6-year cost = $305,400
Colleges should prioritize getting students to graduate on time instead of prioritizing making more money by keeping students in school for longer. Several college students I've spoken to have said their schools encouraged them to only take 12 credits each semester (4 classes) to avoid stress. This will NOT lower stress, a Bachelor's degree will take 10 semesters (5 years). Taking just one extra class per semester (15 credits) will mean you graduate in 4 years, but it's not in a college's best interest to get you out quickly! Asking for a 4-year graduation rate will help you figure out if they WANT you to graduate on time.
4. What study abroad and/or professional placement opportunities are there?
College application season is in full swing. It might seem like the hard part is getting INTO college, but the harder part is what happens when you get there!
Don't take our word for it, check out what advice these college students had to give to perspective college students and for all students who want to go to college.
Spoiler alert: Their lessons also apply in high school and to the "real world"!
“In my first semester at college, I learned a lot about adjusting to college and my new environment. With having hybrid classes the whole semester, it was certainly challenging at some points but overall I figured it out. There were some specific things that I did that really helped me succeed.
The first thing was making separate email folders for each class I was taking. I got a lot of emails from professors, and to have all of them organized by class really helped me locate an old email and stay on top of deadlines.
The next thing was I hand wrote all of my notes in class. This was a preference thing for me, but I truly believe that I retain more from a lecture if I hand write notes. It was also challenging for me to type notes while on a zoom lecture.
The last thing I did was very hard for me: relax. College can be very stressful, and if it isn’t I don’t think you will get better as a person. Sometimes the only thing you can do is just take a deep breath, relax, and simplify things. I am not saying that doing these three things will guarantee you a 4.0 GPA, I am just sharing my advice and stating what helped me succeed in my first semester.”
- CJ, Freshman at Fairfield University
“One of the greatest realizations in my transition from high school to collegiate life, is that one has the tremendous opportunity to enter into a new environment and become the most comfortable version of themselves. This “clean slate,” if you will, enables young people to step outside of the numerous stigmas and intangible rules of teenage sociology and develop into the individuals that they were always meant to be. It is because of this observed truth that I strongly suggest, to all students moving on to any college or university, to take advantage of the extremely rare opportunity that higher education offers. I will never forget the moment when one of my dearest family members told me, “college is one of the last times in life that you can actually determine for yourself where you would like to continue on in your future.” He emphasized that once in the real world, chances to continue on in life, in a chosen location, do not often present themselves. In preparing for the real world myself, this is some of the best advice that I had ever received as a teenager and I wish to pass it on.”
- Liam, Junior at Seton Hall University
“Time management is the best piece of advice I could give. If you take time aside to allocate to school I can promise you that you will have time to spend with friends. Try to establish routines for when you do homework. Throw your phone across the room, go to the library etc. No one is going to hold your hand anymore and you need to be your own voice. You need to advocate for yourself.”
- Ryan, Freshman at Fairfield University
“The only advice I could give is that especially for online students you have a lot more free time than you think! When you are in your classes put the phone away and actually focus because they are very distracting and you have all the time in the world to do whatever you want after your classes.”
- Max, Freshman at Rutgers University
Let's face it, teaching in 2020 is HARD.
How difficult? Here's a great metaphor found circulating on Facebook recently that helps explain:
Imagine hosting two dinner parties at once: a BBQ in the backyard with an open fire-pit, and then the roast in the oven to be served on fine china to guests in your dining room. Now, also imagine finding time to make doggie bags for those who didn’t show up.
Imagine, as well, your electric company cutting power at times briefly, where lights go off and on, and the in-house guests have to make their way back from any confusion or missed courses of the meal. Some of them joke about it. You settle them down.
Some of the dinner guests don’t know how to use utensils, or clean up after themselves, are still hungry but are afraid to ask, or refuse to eat. Some complain about the food. Or claim they ate it last year. Or claim they never saw other parts of the meal before.
Some in the dining room have requested to be outside at the BBQ. Some at the BBQ now want to be in the dining room. You have to keep track. Sometimes new guests arrive!
The appliances sometimes change. The utensils and plates seem to be moved to different cabinets on occasion. Then you find out that your space for serving others has to be shared with neighbors who are also hosting dinner parties. Too many guests elsewhere! Clean up fast enough between meals!
The fire department might also, at any point, ask everyone to evacuate from a threat — either real or imagined. The police also expect us to huddle guests into the windowless garage, in a corner, six feet apart, in the event of an intruder — either real or imagined.
Your entire dinner party could be told at any moment to go home, and you need to quickly wrap up everyone's' meals.
You do all this, while wearing a mask. While remembering to wash or sanitize hands several dozen times throughout the day. While hoping and trusting that the guests come in without any unseen illnesses brewing.
You also have to answer the phone and emails while all this is going on. You must keep detailed records of your guests and what they ate.
The guests leave. You catch your breath. You think about tomorrow’s menu...which has to be totally different than today’s. While you catch your breath and anxiously take inventory of ingredients for tomorrow, you know in your heart why you chose to cook for others.
There are plenty of good teachers out there, so during this season of thanks be sure to tell one (past or present) that you're thankful for them and all they've done!
American students are stressed. According to a study by NYU, "Nearly half (49%) of all students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and 31 percent reported feeling somewhat stressed."
There are a lot of causes of chronic stress, from social media and cell phone usage/addiction, to pressure to attend college and a lack of time management/organizational skills. A lot of students spend their time constantly trying to ration their effort in an attempt to get the best grade possible. Instead focus on the goal of school: actually learning something.
The best way to 1) avoid being surprised by what's on a test, 2) prevent cramming to prepare for a test, and 3) ensure you actually learn something is to review a little bit every day. Spend at least 5-10 minutes for each class every afternoon or evening going over what you learned that day. What could you possibly do after you only just learned the material in class?
If you review a little every day, studying for a test is a piece of cake. Since you've already been exposed to the material at least twice (or three times if you read the book prior to class), studying goes faster and is less stressful. If you walk into class and realize you have a test that day, at least you're somewhat prepared!
Question: What are you actually paying for in college?
It's not the food, dorms, or books, although those are all expensive parts these days. No, you're paying primarily for one thing: access to professors. In colleges that are conducting distance learning only, students who are not participating may as well stay home and watch YouTube videos for free (or perhaps purchase some videos at The Great Courses). So then what are you really paying for? What's the difference between a YouTube video and an online college class? Your ability to access the professor.
Not only do professors determine your grade, but they also provide incredibly valuable networking and learning opportunities that are unique to your college/environment. Many professors are experts in their fields and almost all have an area of study that interests them in particular. Learn about it, ask them questions, show them genuine curiosity for what they have to say. Who knows? You might actually learn something...
Q: How do I approach my professor?
A: Go to their personal website or find a biography on the school site. Try looking them up on a site like JSTOR, Lexus Nexus, or even just Google to see what work they've published. Read something they've written, find something interesting about their work, then ask them a question about it! You can also ask them for advice.
Q: When should I talk to my professor?
A: In-person it should be a little easier, because you can stick around after class. Even virtually they should still have office hours, so make an appointment!
For High School Students:
Your teachers are the ones who will write you letters of recommendation for college or your first jobs. You spend more time with your K-12 teachers than you likely ever will with a college professor, so get to know them! Learn as much as you can from them.
Think about all of the things you can learn from your teachers besides content: leadership, communication, work ethic, responsibility, people skills, and so much more. Learning what NOT to do is often just as valuable as learning what TO do.
"How's school/college going?"
"It's good I guess, it's more difficult than I thought it would be."
"Are you participating in class?"
"It's awkward. I don't want to look stupid, there are upperclassmen in class, and I don't want to be 'that guy' who tries too hard or makes class take longer."
I've had this conversation in one form or another so often over the past few years with high school and college students alike. In order to fix this we need to answer one primary question:
What is the purpose of school?
If the purpose of school is to protect one's image or look "cool," then maybe you should consider not speaking up in class or perhaps consider the people you're trying to impress; if they don't think participating in class is cool, then those people aren't worth knowing anyway. Plus some of the most participatory kids ARE the "popular" kids.
However, if the purpose of school is to learn material and skills and improve yourself, participating in class is a no-brainer. If you DON'T participate in class, then sitting through a lesson is no different than watching a YouTube video. If students don't participate in class, then the teacher asking questions is no different than the Blues Clues/kids show pause after asking a question. You don't get to be corrected and explain WHY you were wrong.
If you're in college and you don't participate, you're essentially paying as much as $75,000/year for a TV you're going to watch on mute, or listen to at full volume and face the wall instead. If you don't ask questions, provide answers (even/especially if they're wrong), get to know your professor, etc. you're paying to watch a YouTube video (and sometimes a bad one at that), live in a crappy hotel, eat (usually) not so great food, and drink/party. *Cue sarcasm* That doesn't seem like a waste of money at all... *End sarcasm*
How do you participate in class?
Asking questions is just one way to take advantage of a teacher's knowledge, understanding, and (usually) their ability to provide multiple examples/break down a topic further if students don't understand. But you need to ask questions, otherwise the teacher won't know you DON'T know something UNLESS YOU PARTICIPATE.
When a teacher asks a question, answer it! One of two things will happen: you'll be right, or you'll be wrong. If you're right, saying the right answer will help you remember it later on and you'll help move the class along (teachers appreciate that a lot). If you're wrong, then you'll learn where you went wrong and show your teacher that you're engaged. It'll correct a misconception you had and it may also answer a question that someone ELSE had.
In school as in life, failure is ALWAYS an option, and if you're not making mistakes you're probably not learning. If you don't feel comfortable making mistakes, it's a good thing to get over that in high school when the stakes are virtually zero.
For Distance Learning Students:
It is more important than ever to participate in virtual school for a multitude of reasons.
"Limitless paper in a paperless world" was the tagline Michael Scott developed for the ad he made for the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. That episode premiered in 2007, when we all thought the world would soon be paperless. Many processes and jobs have moved to mostly or fully virtual systems, and YET...
There's a reason why we do things on paper! It's clearer, personal preference, or allows you to manipulate things. You get the amazing feeling of crossing something off of a to do list. We teach students this in school, often requiring students take home an "agenda" or planner to get signed by a parent. But once we stop checking? Most students stop keeping a written planner.
College kids: KEEP A PLANNER! Let's dismantle each of the arguments against writing things down in a planner.
For High School Students:
Most schools still provide students with a planner or agenda at the beginning of the year. USE THEM! Writing down your homework, major due dates, upcoming events and meetings, etc. will help you be more productive and remember everything you have to do. It's a good habit to get into, and WAY better than your phone or computer.
Writing things down also makes it easier to make a plan and relieves anxiety. When you write something down it's a lot less overwhelming than it seems when it's all in your head!
You're PAYING to attend college, so going to class is your choice, right? You're pretty smart, and your bed is so inviting (perhaps after a rough night or weekend 🍻), you'll just learn the material on your own. What could go wrong?
This is the worst slippery slope you can start to go down in college, and could lead to catastrophe (unreliability, poor work ethic, lack of motivation, bad grades, flunking out, and more). All it usually takes is this happening semi-successfully one time, and you're on the path to never attending a college class again.
You are PAYING to attend college, so NOT going to class is like burning money. You're pretty smart, but the material you're learning is usually painful to read about or confusing, and you'll often spend 2-3 times longer trying to teach yourself material you could've learned from an expert if you just WENT TO CLASS. That's also assuming that you're actually going to learn the material outside of class; in our experience, that's just wishful thinking.
Another important thing to remember is that just because a friend did/does it, doesn't mean it's right for YOU. Part of college is learning about how you best learn and work, and not just doing what everyone else is doing. If you're worried about being judged for going to class, those people are NOT your friends.
Here's the bottom line: in the BEST case scenario, you get to sleep in for a few hours or watch Netflix or play video games. The WORST case scenario is that you don't make up the work, you stop going to classes altogether (because why bother? No one is yelling at you and your parents don't know!), and you fail out of college.
For Virtual Learning Students:
For all of you distance/virtual learning students out there, this college tip is crucial for YOU! If you don't go to class, we can almost guarantee that you will NOT learn the material on your own. Not going to class might be salvageable in the short term for some classes, but for classes in which the material builds on itself (math processes, English reading, history chronology, science concepts, etc.) not going to class will likely be a total disaster.
Also going to class gets you awake, talking to/being around people, and (hopefully) thinking. If you struggle with motivation, depression, time management, or keeping a routine during distance learning then you MUST go to class. This is the first step on your way to college/life success: waking up for responsibilities.
We promise, this isn't a gimmick. We will literally send you a box jam-packed with resources to make distance learning just a little bit easier! And it's free.
We're glad you asked! If you didn't, you should say "Why?" now 😂, that way this conversation makes sense.
Simply: we want to help. We desperately want to make sure that students succeed during distance learning. We're teachers and saw how tough virtual school was on students, families, and whole school communities. We were raised to believe that if there's even a chance to do something right, we should take it.
We thought about all of the things that distance learning caused and made us think/feel, and we collected posters, items, coupons, and more to make your life easier. We want to help, and this is how we can do it best. And it's all free!
Go to Survive.AytoZee.com and fill out the form to get your survival package! Obviously because they're free we only have a limited supply, so make sure you sign up today!
With more and more school districts opening virtually to start the school year, it's more important than ever to take advantage of distance learning. Improve your skills, character, habits, and knowledge by joining our mailing list today, like us on Instagram, and follow us on Facebook and you WILL be ready for the coming school year, no matter what it throws at you.
You can do this. We can all do this. If you want help coming up with a personalized action plan, send us a message on our coaching page!
Thank you for joining us in our mission to prepare students for the real world. We wouldn't want to do it with anyone else. 💚
Our coaches are working around the clock putting together resources to help YOU!
NOTE: All of our College Success tips work for ANY level of school!