Jul 17, 2015

2 nifty new tools for getting the most from a college visit

The University of Maryland posts NSSE results on its website.
Many families find the summer months are the only convenient time to visit college campuses.  Although it’s preferable to see colleges “in action,” during the school year, it may not always be feasible.  Rather than skip the opportunity, go ahead and schedule visits and make the best of a quiet campus to meet staff and ask questions.

And take advantage of two new college planning tools to help surface the most useful kinds of questions to ask.

Selecting A College:  Engagement Matters Checklist
To help high school students and their families get the most out of college visits this summer, Purdue University recently released an interesting college planning tool titled, “Selecting A College:  Engagement Matters Checklist.”  This helpful list is designed to help prospective applicants as they think through questions concerning the basics of the college experience and the impact various elements of that experience have on life-long happiness and success.

The checklist, available at www.purdue.edu/checklist/, is based on the Gallup-Purdue Index—a study of 30,000 college graduates conducted last year.  The study found that grads who are successful in their jobs and with happy lifestyles were more likely to have been personally engaged with a faculty member, have participated in an internship, been involved in extracurricular activities and have graduated with manageable student debt.  These findings held true regardless of the type of public or private non-profit, four-year institution, no matter whether highly or much less selective. 

It was the student experience and level of engagement that made the difference—not where the college placed in national rankings.

“The results are clear: It doesn’t matter where you go to college nearly as much as how you go to college,” Purdue University President Mitch Daniels said. “As families are visiting colleges this summer, we encourage them to take these questions along, expect answers, and make an informed choice that can lead to a great job and a great life for their students.”

The checklist includes questions to help determine how well colleges and universities actively engage with students.  It cover categories on faculty mentorship, faculty-student engagement, affordability, and the availability of high-impact experiences outside the classroom such as internships, study abroad, extracurricular activities and volunteerism opportunities.

A Pocket Guide to Choosing a College:  Questions to ask on your college visit

This summer, students on tour might also want to take a look at the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) website and access the new mobile version of NSSE’s A Pocket Guide to Choosing a College: Questions to ask on your college visit.

The newly revised guide was originally created as part of a campaign to focus national attention on what constitutes “quality” in the college experience.  

According to the NSSE website, “To get a sense of how likely a student is to learn, grow, and develop at a given institution, parents and students need to ask the right questions about the schools they visit or explore on the [w]eb.”

The NSSE guide includes suggestions for questions to ask of key people students are likely to meet during campus visits—the tour guide, admissions staff, and currently enrolled students.  These questions align with survey items from the National Survey of Student Engagement, an annual project to collect information from thousands of students at hundreds of colleges and universities.  Responses to the survey provide valuable information about what actually goes on in the lives of students and the relative quality of their college experience.

In fact, many schools will give their NSSE results to prospective students if asked or post results on their institutional websites.  Locally, 30 Virginia colleges and universities participated in the NSSE survey over the past two years.  One notable exception is the University of Virginia, which has not participated since 2011. On the other side of the Potomac, 5 universities in D.C. and 16 Maryland colleges and universities (including the University of Maryland) also participated in the last two years (to see which colleges administer the survey on a regular basis, check with the NSSE website).

Both the Purdue “checklist” and the NSSE guide focus on similar elements of the college experience.  Before leaving on a summer tour of colleges, take some time to understand why these elements might be important to you and try formulating a few questions of your own

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