It’s the Network Silly!

What opportunities will your university provide?

In a twitter chat yesterday about parenting style somehow the topic veered into what constitutes a “good” school.  Many educators are of the mindset that it doesn’t matter what school you attend so long as a student likes their experience and does well.  When it comes to a first generation student I wholeheartedly disagree.  A large part of the college going process is about with whom you’re also attending school.

A bright, motivated student will perform well anywhere he or she attends college.  However, the college experience isn’t just about earning good grades.  Students go to school to have a short period of time to get to know other bright, motivated people.  They build networks of friends and associates whom they can call upon later in life when they are looking for a job, or perhaps raising money to run for President of the United States!

For the first generation college student the choice of which university to attend could mean the difference between seeing successful peers who model how to aim high and being stuck with peers who are in the exact same boat and don’t know how to paddle to shore.  To achieve great things it helps to see that others have or are working toward achieving great things, and no this phenomenon does not happen at all colleges.

In addition to college peers showing what is achievable, a “good” college expands a student’s possibilities.  A small college with no endowment may not provide the scholarship the first generation student needs to study abroad, or take an extra summer class.  A first generation college student has to be especially careful to ask the right questions of admissions officers when determining which school is right for him or her. Often times our parents cannot guide us past what they know, so the first generation student will want to find an institution that can and is willing to do that for him or her.

Lastly, with whom is your college affiliated?  I am an academic advisor at an institution that provides students with direct access to internships that automatically lead to jobs.  This institution also has partnerships with one of the most prestigious museums in the nation.  Political figures have lectured here.  Students can, and do, stand on the shoulders of the giants that have gone before them, and even go beyond their mentors and the institution.  However, the university’s affiliations are what gives them boost they need in the first place.

Consider carefully what you want out of your education and pursue the right school accordingly.  Don’t forget the intangibles in your decision because they may  be exactly what makes all the difference.  Akil Bello of Bell Curves said it best in yesterday’s chat:  “networks, exposure to possibilities, clear examples of the achievable, “inside info”.. it matters.”

Get Advised Early and Often

graduation day
Graduation Day

At some universities your academic advisor may contact you.  He or she may send you an email to your school email account reminding you of upcoming deadlines.  However, at many universities academic advisors expect you to take responsibility for your education.  They expect that if you have a question then you will come in and ask!

There is nothing more heartbreaking than telling a student that he or she cannot graduate on time because they are missing requirements.  Usually when this happens I have tried to contact a student several times.  Emails were sent.  Nonetheless, all of my efforts are naught as I have to send the final email which begins: “I regret to inform you but. . .”

The students who do not run into major problems are the ones who come to see me early and often.  They ask questions about policies they do not understand.  The ask whom they can speak with regarding special circumstances.  They send emails asking me to look over their degree plan and potential course schedule.  In other words, the best students aren’t the ones who know everything, but they do know where to go to find answers.