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The Two Most Important Factors for College Fit

By Robert LeVine

In a world dominated by university rankings, reputation, and branding, we always stress that a college education is intended to enhance a student’s lifetime success, not the resume of a family. Yet amongst the misinformation and misperception, how do you identify college fit?

There are two critical factors to consider when selecting the right post-secondary institution for a student: curricular structure and environmental influence.

It is paramount that students and families understand the differences between academic structures at different universities. Some students are ready or deep, career-based training. Others need time to find their paths, both vocationally and for all aspects of life. It is very important to get “traction” as early as possible. In America, only one out of four people work in an area that is related to their college major. High school does not prepare students for career or life decisions. Universities, however, provide resources, guidance and support that – when utilized – help young adults succeed.

Colleges in the United States sometimes ask students to declare a major immediately, even before they enroll as freshmen. Other universities give time for exploration – up to two years – before the decision about academic concentration is required. During these years, those universities offer different academic structures, including among others a core curriculum, general education requirements, open curriculum, and cooperative learning programs. The starting point for identifying the best education is not a school’s alleged quality or caliber, but rather finding the structure that provides the support and guidance that a student needs. Student success is directly related to academic appropriateness.

Yet what happens in a classroom is only part of the overall education. In college, the quantitative and qualitative aspects of education change dramatically from high school. Learning is no longer a seven-hour block of time in which students absorb the droning of teachers. Rather, students will be in a college classroom only a few hours each day. The amount of time absorbing someone else’s instruction diminishes. The amount of time teaching oneself increases. Moreover, the out-of-classroom influences become more extensive and deep.

Universities have much greater assets than high schools offer. Most high schools have a library, but Harvard has 73 libraries. Most high schools have science equipment, but universities have research laboratories. High school teachers do not have offices or office hours; college professors do. Perhaps most importantly, the greatest assets of any university – its students – are either interactive and accessible, or not.

On-campus education is much more robust than what happens at a high school. In order to maximize their learning potential, college students need to recognize and utilize all that has been paid for. In making a decision about a university, parents should assist their students in looking beyond rankings, which are manipulated by the schools for their own economic purposes.

The educational environment, however, goes beyond a campus. Is there enough room to grow? Does the location of a university provide enough off-campus opportunities for education and inspiration?

What a student needs differs. Students interested in science fall in love with modern laboratories and their wonderful toys. Labs are most often found on a campus, not off. Yet students interested in the social sciences or humanities may need more than a campus offers. There really aren’t any on-campus jobs or internships for business majors, so for these students, college towns may not have enough to offer.

Moreover, off-campus resources can refuel and recharge a student. If you like country music, consider what Nashville has to offer for inspiration. If you like theater, consider New York or Chicago. If you like the outdoors, consider Colorado. We always do better when we’re happy, and even the most rigorously academic schools like MIT preach the necessity of refreshing one’s energy.

A university education is a huge investment, not only in money and time, but also in a student’s lifetime success. Do not allow the usual mindsets to distract you from making the best possible decision.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email BobLeVine@SelectiveCC.com or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com


Confessions of a Reforming News Junkie

By Anu Varma Panchal

In the summer of my junior year, I stepped into my first real newsroom for my first real internship, as a features reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times. It was everything I had dreamed of since I was a little girl who wanted to be a journalist one day: hardened news reporters on their third cup of coffee, scanners crackling with police dispatches, late-afternoon deadlines and the intoxicating smell of newsprint as we opened up the front page to see whose story made it above the fold.

It was 1996 — and, as usual, I was late to the party. In the ensuing two decades, daily newspapers as a first choice for news would tank, but I remain a news junkie today. When I listen to Razia Iqbal reading the BBC news as I drive back from school drop-off with bed hair and pajamas I’m hoping will be mistaken for workout gear, I feel like I’m still enmeshed in the big, exciting world. I check my news feeds reflexively and end my day scanning the headlines on my phone before bed. My older daughter’s usual question for me when we sit down for breakfast is, “So what’s going on in the world today?”

But should I tell her?

Lately, the news has become a major source of anxiety, even as it becomes more addicting. Natural disasters, hardening divisions along racial and political lines, superbugs, global warming, shootings and riots — if all of this can cause stress in adults, what might constant exposure be doing to children’s minds?

Irma put us squarely in the crosshairs of this dilemma. My filter completely vanished as I sat in front of the news and weather channels for hours, watching with awe and horror as that monster cloud churned its way inexorably towards us. Heedless of little ears in the vicinity, I turned up the volume on the governor exhorting all Floridians to “get out now!” and to meteorologists positive that Tampa’s time had come. I talked to friends about my worry and panic as my kids —already unsettled from the tension and break in routine — listened wide-eyed. On Friday night, we tried to relax and watch a movie. We even picked a Hindi one, “Piku,” with some weird notion that it would take us further away from the reality of what was happening. It was pleasant, until the hurricane sirens began to blare from our phones and we were compelled to turn the news back on. My younger child’s eczema flared up from the tension. Another friend’s normally stalwart child burst into tears out of the blue, worried their house would be destroyed. In retrospect, I wish we had shielded them more.

According to the American Academy for Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, it’s not what is happening today, it’s how the news is delivered that is negatively impacting children. Today’s news is on 24 hours a day with live events broadcast repetitively and in vivid detail. Social media feeds keep the fire roaring, giving events everywhere an air of urgency and proximity, even when they don’t and won’t affect us. This distortion can create worry in a young mind sensitive to tone and atmosphere. Seeing repeated images of cars washed away in floods somewhere else can make a small child worry about the inevitability of that fate, even when there are blue skies outside. There’s also the issue of tone: Yes, my preteen needs to know about a major piece of legislation that may affect her life one day, but do I want her to soak in the snark and incivility of commentators shouting over each other with barely disguised contempt, and accept this as the adult status-quo?

Many of us are blessed to trundle through our lives without a brush with violence, natural catastrophe or political scandal. As an adult, I need to stay informed about the world’s calamities, but my 9-year-old doesn’t, at least not to the same extent. Children should understand the forces that are shaping our world. They should be able to evaluate sources, understand hidden agendas and differentiate between fact and opinion. But as grownups, we have to be their filters. I can tell my kids about the heroic responders at a demonstration-turned-riot, but they don’t need to see footage of a demonstrator hurtling through the air after being hit by a car. I have to protect them from the worst of it, the bits that deep down inside I fear will never change — human greed and ignorance — so that when they grow up and one day turn on the news for themselves, they can do so with the luxury of optimism and hope, and maybe prove me wrong.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of www.YourEditingSolutions.com

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