Today we’re proud of our student Katiera Rutledge! Katiera is a student we’ve worked with over the past two years who was interested in transferring from her community college to the University of Maryland at College Park. Her story was featured here.

Katiera was originally denied admission, but after some encouragement from us, called the Admissions Office to find out how to become a stronger application. At that point the Admissions Office discovered that her file had simply been misfiled! Katiera had earned admission to her dream school after all.

This student’s story tells us a few things about the transfer process.

1) It can sometimes be scary. 

Katiera was used to the community college setting, and, even though she wanted to transfer, was a bit reluctant to apply to the larger, flagship school. We worked to demonstrate just how prepared, and ready she truly is, to allay the “I’m not good enough” fears.

2) Follow up can make all the distance.

Katiera did not call the university ranting, but she did ask questions regarding her application, and what she could do to make it stronger. Not all universities are open to such calls, but the lesson here is to let them tell you no rather than assuming the answer without speaking to someone first.

3) Seek outside help. 

Katiera has worked with us over the two years to bridge the gap between her community college and her dream school. Guidance counselors, and university officials are great places to start looking for information about college or transfer, but don’t discount the web, and books! There are a wealth of people in the world who want to see students succeed, and are willing to answer questions. This site is one of those places as well.

Hiding from the Economy With Loans

Dear Student:

I know that the American employment landscape is quite frightening and has been for a while. Friends of mine are moving home to regroup and figure out how to survive while looking for work, or even as full time employees! It is tough for everyone and I want to fully acknowledge that. However, despite how safe school feels you have to go ahead and get out there.

I’m quite saddened and, quite frankly, startled to see young people staying in school unnecessarily to avoid facing the economy. Most colleges only require 120 credits to graduate, but I am seeing students with 150 and more. Some of these students say they are adding a second major to be more competitive. However, I implore you to figure out the long term costs.

Tuition at my institution is quite expensive. Tuition, fees, room and board tops 56 thousand dollars. 56 thousand dollars is more than many Americans earn per year. Staying in school to add extra credits at a cost of 56 thousand dollars does not make long term fiscal sense. Even if your university expenses are less think about what your starting salary may be and how you will pay off that extra year of schooling.

Even though the economy is tough it is better to get out there and start your career and build experience. You may have to live at home and that’s okay. You may have to share an apartment or house with several friends. Again, doing so is okay, and actually pretty fiscally sound if you put away the money you save on rent and pay down student loan or credit card debt contribute to your retirement or put it in a good old savings account.

If you insist on staying in school then I suggest that you earn another credential. Adding credits to your bachelor’s degree does not help in the marketplace. Also, employers may question why you did not graduate on time. Earn a certificate or master’s degree if you can instead. You may not be able to use the graduate education right away, but at least there will be tangible evidence of your extra time in school.



What are your fears about graduating and getting out there? Maybe we can offer some solutions. Leave a comment.

MOOCs and Being First Gen

In our office we recently had our first dust up with MOOCs, or massively open online courseware. A student was attempting to transfer in an edX class and we had to figure out how to explain that this type of credit was not sufficient for our institution.  I have nothing against MOOCs for personal enrichment. edX seems to offer a wonderful array of courses for anyone who wishes to be a lifelong learner. The danger is when students do not know the difference.

Many MOOC sites do explain that their courses may or may not count for academic credit at a traditional college or university, but sometimes this information is hard to find. If you find yourself unsure about your classes and whether they transfer look for a few key things:

  • Are there any admissions requirements? A regionally accredited university requires some sort of documentation that you attended and completed high school or a GED equivalent. This is true of for-profit, online education and traditional non-profit schools. If a site allows you to take classes without any such documentation then it is likely that the site is meant for “fun” and not mean to be transferable.
  •  Are the classes free? With the budget cuts all American colleges are experiencing you can trust and believe that no credit-bearing class is going to be free.
  • Is the site separate from the main university site? Many of these courses are taught by faculty from prestigious institutions such as MIT, Harvard, and UC Berkeley, but unless you have gone through the admissions process at the main university site then you are not enrolling in an actual course from these institutions.

MOOCs are a wonderful way to enrich your life and help you really hone a knowledge base. I liken them to the Khan Academy, which helps refresh a student’s memory on concepts long forgotten, or even reinforces what one learned in traditional classes. However, if your desire is degree attainment then please reach out to the admissions counselor at your local community college, or four-year public or private university.

Square Peg – Round Hole

As a practitioner in higher education I see students at all stages of growth simultaneously. It is not unusual for my day to begin with an undeclared freshman and end with seniors ready to tear into the world. One thing I’m noticing across the spectrum is a disconnect between desired occupation and the requisite skills needed to join the occupation.

Most recently I’ve seen students interested in prestigious companies, agencies, or titles, but with little desire to learn the skills necessary to reach those positions. For example, one may want to work for the United Nations or the International Monetary Fund, and yet, not want to travel abroad, not want to experience a culture that does not speak English, and yet wants to train workers who may go abroad. Another example, is a student who wishes to go to law school but hates writing. In fact these students typically emphatically dislike any course that includes writing. In discussing options with these students it can be challenging to steer them toward their interests and aptitudes while not appearing to crush the dream they’ve had since they were seven. However, we must challenge these ideas if we are to be of service to our students.

The disconnect between skill and desire is coming from multiple aspects of a student’s life. Some students are pressured by parents to get a “good job.” Other students are listening to the reports that say if they do not major in science, engineering or mathematics (STEM) then they are doomed. Other students are looking at their student loan balance reports and are trying to head for the sure bet come hell or lack of interest in a field. Inevitably these students fail miserably in their courses or eventually in their ability to get a job because they cannot articulate a true purpose for why they are interested in their subject of study. These students are outperformed by those who actually want they thing, whatever it is, that they are going for.

It is debatable whether the United States really needs more STEM graduates. It is certainly debatable that humanities and social science degrees do not pay off. The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Handbook shows art students doing fairly well: These students are not wealthy, but they aren’t impoverished either. What I see in my work is that regardless of the degree, if the holder is not enthused about the work then the job hunt is merciless as they are beat out by passionate and skilled individuals. Toning down the rhetoric that one must be in one field to do well would go a long way to ensuring that students choose majors and careers that are a good fit.

No Such Thing as “Backup” Education

I met with a nervous and scared student recently. This student thrives in artistic arenas. However, instead of following her gut and just majoring in theater she was double majoring in a subject in which she had no interest. You could tell that the student had zero interest in the subject through both her body language and her grades! While in my office she was crunched into a ball while talking about the second major, and her grades in the classes were quite different from her stellar marks in theater.

So why was the student torturing herself? She believed the hype. She believed that there are no jobs out there for people in the arts, and she added the second major to boost her chances of getting a job. However, what she didn’t know has tanked her grade point average. First, the second major she undertook requires a graduate degree to even begin to make more money than she could as an artist. Second, the job market for that sector isn’t strong either. Third, there are plenty of theater venues in Washington, D.C. and her time would have been better spent gaining experience than taking on coursework for which she had no zeal.

Fortunately, this student has one-year remaining of her formal undergraduate education, and she came to check-in with her advisor instead of waiting until the last minute to do a graduation review. The lessons I hope students learn from this young lady is that there really is no such thing as backup education. If you aren’t invested in what you’re learning then you simply won’t do well, and low GPAs can make life more challenging than being in the “wrong” major.

Follow your talents.

Fish in the Wrong Water

This morning I spoke with a very concerned mother regarding her son’s ability to cope with the social environment of the University.  This family is affluent enough to afford private school tuition, but doesn’t take trips to Aspen every weekend to ski, nor do they vacation in Europe on a regular basis.  The family is making sacrifices to give this student the opportunity to attend this very expensive institution.

What is the problem you say? Well, many, though not all, students here are able to afford lavish lifestyles, and it makes other students feel as though they cannot keep up or fit in.  What the mom and student do not know is that MOST of our students are receiving some sort of financial aid.  That MOST of our students aren’t traveling the world.  This student feels out of place when he really is the norm.  Nonetheless, these facts don’t negate this student’s feelings of inadequacy.

Here are a few tips to combat the affluence blues:

1) Before you apply ask students about the social climate of the school.  Usually, the admissions office will pair prospective students with current students. Ask them to honestly tell you what the campus environment is like.  What is even better is a visit before you sign on the dotted line committing to attend.

2) Find activities where you can be an All-Star Rookie Freshman. One of the biggest problems for students is not finding a venue where they excel. They are bored with their high school activities, or are unable to continue them at the college level, and don’t know what to do next. College is the time to try things you’ll never have time to do when you have a full-time job so try what interests you.  Join a greek organization, intern somewhere, play ultimate frisbee and touch football, and attend student government meetings.  Feeling like you excel at something is one of the easiest ways to be happy.

3) Choose a major that matches your abilities.  Number three should probably be number one.  Many students want a proscribed career track that guarantees a lifetime of comfortable earnings.  However, many of these same students actually hate the classes that go with that proscribed major. They are prospective pre-med students who hate biology and chemistry.  They are engineering students who hate math.  These students end up failing these courses not because they aren’t capable, but because they are following a path that is a bad fit for them.  One of the best things you can do for yourself is be honest about your desires and abilities and act on them.  The path may not be straight and narrow, but it’ll be one where you can succeed above your expectations.

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.

Good, Better, Best: Who Should Rank Faculty?

Do college faculty belong up here?

Do college faculty belong up here?

A student emailed me asking for my opinion on which are the, and I quote, “outstanding” professors who teach “engaging” courses, and are considered “excellent” faculty members.  I shouldn’t have been surprised considering that people now want the “best” of everything even if that “best” is determined arbitrarily by someone else whose needs and wants don’t match their own.  I took several days to answer the student, so that I could put together a tactful reply.

As it happens, I have found out that some colleges do rank their faculty.  This idea strikes me as utterly bizarre.  If a faculty person isn’t excellent then their institution should help them become so.  As a student why would you want to attend a university that doesn’t believe in its own faculty?  Sure, students may post nasty things on, but is that the university’s job itself?  I would dare assert that any school you’re thinking of attending should be in the business of ensuring that all of its faculty are up to par, and that individual students should then seek out professors whose teaching styles suit their needs.

In essence, there is no way to answer the question the student posed to me.  In an academic climate where there are tons of PhDs on the market, but no jobs, colleges have their pick of people who want to become professors.  Whether or not those who succeed in getting the jobs can teach to your specific learning style is only up to you to decide.  If the student loves learning in a visual manner then the student would absolutely hate the types of professors that I adore because I like to read versus watch videos.  You should ask questions about faculty, but those questions should align with you own values.  Questions such as: “what is the number one ranked faculty member in the school” make no sense because what if that person teaches English and you’re majoring in Biology?  More suitable questions would revolve around why they choose the texts they use for their courses, what types of system of evaluation (tests/papers) do they use and why, and does the topic and content of this class sound engaging to me.  If asked respectfully I’m certain that faculty would be happy to answer these types of questions as they show that a student is really invested in his or her own education.

In the end no one other than the student has the answer to “which faculty are the best.” And besides, asking an administrator to rank faculty is just plain rude.

Explore Early

Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

College is a great and wonderful place to discover new things. You may not have known that you were interested in geology until you had to take it because it was the only class available that fit into your General Education Requirements.  The chance to open your mind is in fact what a great deal of what a college education is supposed to be about.  However, that doesn’t mean that you should not also consider your future.

Students who plan on going into specific professions have very specific requirements.  For example, the student know absolutely knows that they are pre-med must take classes such as organic chemistry early on in the collegiate careers so that they can get to the more advanced courses that are required of students who want to take the medical school entrance exam in their junior year.  Also, engineers must take several courses in mathematics before ever starting courses in their major.  The student who discovers that they are interested in either of these majors well into their college careers could be forced to spend longer than necessary at school.

As an English professor, I can only hope that you take the time to enjoy some fabulous course in literature if you’re into the sciences.  Conversely, I hope that all of the humanities and social science majors find the time to take more than the required number of courses in either the natural sciences or a professional program like business.  However, exploration also has it limits.  In order to ensure that you can graduate in four years, be eligible for internships, and start building a relationship with a faculty mentor it is important to make the decision in what you want to pursue at least for the first phase of your life.