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How Does One Select the Best College?

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DR. WALLACE: I am in the 11th grade and plan to attend college after I graduate. With all the colleges and universities out there, how does one go about selecting the right school? It's physically (and financially) impossible for me to visit a lot of campuses. Any advice will be thankfully accepted. I don't want to wind up at a lousy school. — Jenny, Rockford, Ill.

JENNY: Choosing a school can be frustrating, but the good news is that there are no bad colleges or universities out there. All of them could be rated from excellent to superior. What mainly distinguishes one from another is their relative strengths in certain disciplines.

For instance, Juilliard School in New York City is a fabulous place to study the performing arts (music, drama, dance). The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, offers degrees in a single major: human ecology. (Courses deal with the relationship between humans and the environment.) Stanford on the West Coast and Harvard on the East Coast set the national standard with their rigorous academic programs in many fields, including engineering, science and law.

When you begin your search for a school, ask yourself, "What is it that I want to achieve during my four years in college?" If you are not sure, you may wish to begin your college career at a local community college. After you discover your interests and a possible major, you can then transfer to a four-year school that meets your academic needs for your chosen field. You may decide to attend a liberal arts college rather than a school that specializes in a specific discipline, and this choice will give you a broad base of knowledge that will assist you in any career you choose.

If you already know what career path you want to pursue, then you should do some research to locate schools that offer a strong program in your chosen field.

Request school catalogs and find out what the coursework includes. Then it is time to visit at least one, or two if possible, in order to get a feel for what the campus and the classrooms are like as well as the community that may be your home for possibly four years. You will be able to speak with students in your major and learn about their experiences in the classroom and on the campus as well as in the community.

You also need to consider whether you would rather attend a large university that often offers large lectures, or a smaller private college with smaller classes and more student/teacher interaction.

A family discussion is of utmost importance to discuss finances and whether or not your family will be able to afford tuition, books, dormitory living, and travel home for holidays or weekends, if you choose a school that is far from home.

I was fortunate in finding two excellent Illinois schools that I could recommend. Knox College in Galesburg made me work hard to be granted a bachelor's degree and Northern Illinois University in DeKalb honored me with a master's degree in education.

After burning the "midnight oil" many times, I couldn't have chosen two better schools in helping me reach my goals — teaching, coaching basketball and writing a column for teens. Any success that has come my way was due to the outstanding education I received at Knox and NIU.

Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. E-mail him at rwallace@galesburg.net. To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Comments

2 Comments | Post Comment
Your mom goes to college!
Comment: #1
Posted by: Steve
Tue Mar 16, 2010 9:39 AM
As an educator, here's my advice:
Start with a less-expensive local college. Most community or city colleges have good, basic, higher education. If you do well, you could always transfer to a bigger, better, or more expensive university.
But beware....
Bigger isn't always better. NYU has a top-rate business school, where the graduates get great jobs. But they have an art program and drama program whose graduates don't do well. The standards in their art program are very low. The NYU Stern Business school only takes kids with top averages.
When going to college, you realy should major in business. It's a great place to start off with, and you can always minor in another subject (like television journalism).
Comment: #2
Posted by: Roger
Sat Mar 20, 2010 9:38 PM
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