I spent last week urging, some might say browbeating, people to look beyond the most obvious name schools when drawing up a college list. Beyond their local schools, I urged people to look at more than super expensive private East Coast schools, as well as prestigious state flagships that are charging obscene amounts of money — in some cases over $50,000 – to nonresidents. I am almost ready to move on to another topic.
On Friday, I suggested one way to find schools that don’t carry such ridiculous price tags while delivering a great education. In the post, I recommended that families generate ideas by checking out Forbes Magazine’s college rankings. If you missed the post, here it is:
Here are four more ways to find potential schools and to research them:
1. Make the most of college fairs.
You can discover a decent amount about a school by spending time with an admission rep at a college fair. When I’m at a college fair, I like to stop by the tables of the admission reps who aren’t overwhelmed with visitors. On the West Coast, schools like UCLA, UC Berkeley and San Diego State are mobbed. You are likely to have a fruitful conversation and learn more about a school when a less harried college rep has time to focus just on your questions.
At an arts college fair that I attended in New York City earlier this month, for instance, I learned a lot by talking with the point person for the modern dance program at the University of Utah, which is apparently one of the premiere programs in the country. The rep shared highlights of the program, the success of grads in getting jobs, as well as the talent scholarships available to dancers and she handed me a CD to watch later. She also assured me that the students in this small department can graduate in four years. I also learned a lot about another dance program — at George Mason University, including the availability of scholarships — by talking to the head of the department, who was incredibly enthusiastic about her program.
2. Try virtual college fair.
College fairs aren’t just being held in school auditoriums and convention centers anymore. They’ve gone virtual. CollegeWeekLive is a huge provider of them. When you attend one of these college fairs, you can have conversations with admission staffers without ever leaving your computer. With schools cutting back on college fair appearances due to budget problems, schools are increasingly interested in connecting with teenagers online.
3. Spend time on school academic websites.
Once you start gathering names, make sure you don’t just visit a school’s admission website. Poke around on the online home of academic departments, which should provide a more unfiltered look at what kind of learning is happening on the campus. What I like to see are signs of a vibrant academic department. The physics department at North Carolina State serves as a great example of what I’m talking about. You can learn a lot about the physics department on its dynamic website including these sorts of facts:
- The physics department received a 90% approval rating from its students in the 2010 school year.
- Twelve professors are members of the North Carolina Academy of Outstanding Teachers.
- The department awards research grants to undergraduates.
- It has the 9th largest physics program in the country.
- It produces a newsletter for physics students and maintains a physics society chapter.
4. Talk with students.
Here’s an easy way to get the scoop on a college, as well as academic departments. Ask current students questions. Unlike admission reps, they have no reason to be anything but honest. Here are some sample questions to ask:
- What do you like about your school?
- What do you dislike about your school?
- Why did you end up attending this school?
- What would you change about your school if you could?