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What to Look For in a College Visit

We’re in Round Two of the College Tour Season. After a notably bad experience visiting one prospective college, I was thankful I had had good experiences beforehand to balance out the bad one. Had that bad experience been my first experience as a parent visiting a college with my child, I would have been utterly demoralized.

Prior to that experience, all of my focus had been on preparing my kids for college visits. Now, I realize it’s a two-way process. When you visit prospective colleges with your teens, you need to prepare your teen first with homework about the school and also what accomplishments and potential your teen brings to the table.

That visit is also an opportunity to discern whether or not the school is a good fit. We have been fortunate to meet several outstanding faculty members who understand the fine art of recruiting new students. The best recruiters have moved beyond the Willie Loman-style of selling where the sales person sells at a prospect and fails to listen to the customer.

Though students may change majors, make sure you have at least one 1:1 meeting with faculty members in their interest area. This will give you a feel for how that department or institution treats individual students. In an era when families are increasingly aware of the expense of higher education, the good recruiters know how to show the value they add to a student’s education.  They know to build a relationship and learn about prospective students first.

Here are things the good recruiters do:

  1. Ask questions.  Good recruiters will try to figure out what makes you tick and what makes you unique. They will seek information on your accomplishments, interests, studies, and work ethic. As they learn about you, they will offer ways that their program is a good fit for you.
  2. Know answers. Good recruiters should be able to give specific examples of where students have done internships and where their graduates are working. They should be able to list specific companies where their graduates work. If they can’t, that means either their graduates aren’t getting good jobs or the recruiter is too distant from students to know where they get hired. If their students participate in undergraduate research, they should be able to mention the specific areas their students research. If their students go on to graduate school, they should be able to mention specific schools as well as fellowships and awards those students have won.
  3. Show interest. Good faculty members like at least some of the students they teach. They care about them. They should begin to demonstrate their interest in their students in that first recruitment meeting.

If you meet with a faculty member who shows no interest in what your student brings to the recruitment table, run – don’t walk from that school choice. The faculty member who doesn’t care about the potential of future students most likely doesn’t care about the ones currently being taught. Don’t waste your time or energy on those recruiters.

My teen had the most insightful comment after our bad experience, “Their program has lost half to 3/4 of their students. After 15 minutes there, I knew why.” When a student has a bad feeling in a recruitment meeting, it’s a good sign that’s the wrong fit for a college education.

When Michelangelo sculpted great works of art, he said he saw an angel in the marble and brought it to the forefront. The greatest teachers – the ones who inspire their students to reach the greatest heights – do the same thing. They see potential in students and work to make the most of what they see.

You will know which recruiters see the most potential in your kids. You will know which ones generate excitement and inspire your kids.

With a good fit, after finding teachers and recruiters who inspire greatness, the investment in a college education will be time and money well spent.

Say This, NOT That to Your Professor – a Guide to College Success

Say This, NOT That to Your Professor

Click, don’t run, and buy Say This, NOT That to Your Professor right now. This is a perfect graduation gift. It’s a must read for every college student, every college-bound high school student, every parent of college or prospective college student who wants to help students succeed, and every professor.

If you want a concise, practical guide on how to communicate in college and how to do better in your classes, then this book is a must buy. With its 36 Talking Tips for College Success, the author Ellen Bremen, a tenured professor in Communication Studies at Highline Community College in Seattle, Washington, shares her perspectives from both sides of the professor/student relationship. With an easy-to-follow format, she shows what professors think when students ask different questions and offers constructive suggestions on how to ask better questions and build better relationships with professors.

This book is an ideal book for every college student as it illustrates what to ask, when to ask it, and how to communicate in difficult situations. The lessons a student learns from this book will help not only in college but also in the workplace. Whether a college student is a first-generation college student with no idea how to talk to college professors or a college student with helicopter parents who always fixed student problems, this book gives specific examples of how to own your own education and make the most of it.

One of the features I liked best about this book is that Ellen is real and shares mistakes she has made and how to do things better. She tackled tough subjects – flunking tests, missing classes, and missing deadlines – and discusses what can be done and said to learn lessons from a tough situation and try to make it better.

Further, she discusses methods of communication – in person, telephone, email, and social media – and shares pointers on how to use each method effectively.

I met Ellen earlier this year on a Twitter chat, #collegecash, where she led a discussion on how to help college students learn to ask their teachers for help. Her suggestions and encouragement were all on point. I knew I wanted to read her book to learn more. After the chat where Ellen and I met, we talked more about college success, and she sent me a review copy of her book to evaluate.

After reading Say This, NOT That to Your Professor, I realized it’s not just a book I’ll pass on to my kids. It’s the kind of constructive guide I will buy for each of them, so they can have their own copy to take to college and refer to if and when problems arise.

Ellen’s book is available in print and on Kindle.

5 Steps to Summer Scholarship Searches

Searching for scholarships for my daughter has consumed a huge part of the last year for me. I’ve learned many things along this journey that will help me plan things differently in 2 years, when I begin this quest with my son.

The most important lesson I learned was that summer is prime time to make the scholarship search easier, and you can get an early start. Things I recommend?

  1. Communicate. Start talking about college with middle schoolers or younger. Make sure they know their career and college opportunities. Show the admissions standards of colleges and what classes they expect from incoming freshmen. Listen to what your kids are interested in and observe their passions and talents. Encourage kids to enroll in hard classes – the harder the better. Share what college expenses are and show how student loans work – what the interest means and what payments are after college.
  2. Organize. Designate a central location to keep records of awards and activities. As a 4-H parent, my kids use their 4-H Achievement Records as their primary organization tool. (I’m giving a 4-H workshop on June 21 on College and Career Success Through 4-H.)
  3. Study. Summer can be a prime time for a little test prep every day. Enroll in library summer reading programs and encourage kids to read classic books. Enroll in library summer reading programs yourself so you can lead by example.
  4. Serve. Find ways to serve your community and get involved. Community service is a great way to find ways to not only help people but broaden your horizons and learn about yourself.
  5. Connect. Find resources to help you learn how to search better. Jodi Okun of College Financial Aid Advisors hosts a weekly Twitter chat, #collegecash at 9 p.m. CDT on Thursdays, which taught me a lot about scholarship searches and encouraged our family to keep going when the going got tough. She has a free guide of the 12 most helpful financial aid tips on her website that I highly recommend. If you follow @JodiOkun on Twitter, she will keep you current on multiple scholarship opportunities.

My daughter’s scholarship adventure took us on an unexpected path, with highs and lows, and an unexpected outcome.  We went into her journey hoping to help her find scholarships to go to the school of her dreams. But on our journey, as she explored other opportunities, she realized her dream and what was the best fit for her was a little different from what she imagined in the fifth grade. Fortunately, she won scholarships at a different school that will help her reach those dreams and be a better fit.

I hope along our scholarship quest, my daughter and I both learned that the shot not taken is never made, and it’s better to take a shot than hold back. If we work at it, we can learn from the shots we miss today and do better tomorrow.

Search Your Colleges. Then Search Again.

If you have teens going to colleges, search their social media footprint.

For years, I’ve told my social media classes that colleges and scholarship committees do social media background searches. Now, as the parent of a graduating high school senior, I see the ways they use social media to better communicate.

When we tour a campus, I now tweet about it to see if their college administration is listening. So far, half respond. I want my teens to learn to use social media well. If a college leads by example, monitors their own Twitter presence, and replies to my tweets, that’s a plus in their favor. For the colleges that don’t, it’s a potential red flag.

My most amusing moment was at a college day when I checked in on FourSquare and watched the Admissions reception table. I stood by the side and noted when one of the admissions counselors saw the Tweet on her phone. She immediately tweeted on behalf of her college’s admissions office. Then, she grabbed the counselor next to her, they looked me up, and then I could see their scanning the room to find me. I said nothing but nearly exploded with laughter the moment they saw me. Neither of them said a word. But later that day, one of them asked, “Do you use Twitter?”

Answer: “Yes.”

I was impressed with the school that gave their scholarship weekend a Twitter hashtag to see if any students tweeted about it. And I enjoyed the professors’ banter with that hashtag. About half the colleges she has applied to have made creative use of private Facebook groups to better communicate with students and their parents. (And you know that means they are also screening students and their social media profiles.)

Now, I see it’s also important to flip the search. Last weekend, I started a Hootsuite page to search  my daughter’s top college choices.

What’s being tweeted about my daughter’s prospective college choices? Who is tweeting about them?

Here’s what I’ve found in 3 days:

  • One college is under pressure to drop certain majors because of declining enrollment. I checked my daughter’s department and preferred major, and it’s not on the list.
  • One college has just had student protests because of a professor’s ill-advised, inappropriate use of Facebook.
  • Some colleges tweet links to their research studies.
  • Lots of students love their college’s sports teams and live tweet during games. And they hate it when their teams lose.
  • Some professors require students to tweet and do an excellent job of engaging students in online conversations.
  • Some colleges promote their career fairs via Twitter. (a very good thing)
  • Some college students blog about stupid things their classmates say in class.
  • Some college students hate the cafeteria food. (Imagine that.)

Colleges do social media background searches to see if a student’s test scores, transcript, scholarship essays, and interviews reflect what the students say and do on social media. I think that’s a good thing.

Parents need to do social media background searches on prospective colleges to ensure that the gorgeous brochures and weekend tours match what is happening on campuses.