Selecting a school…

A quick input today, folks.   I’ve been an adjunct faculty member at our local university’s College of Engineering for more than 20 years, and a manufacturing associate recently sent a question to me I’d never considered before:

Our grandson has several invitations to visit colleges, and I was wondering if you could send a short list of the most important questions he should ask.

That’s a wonderful question.   Just in case any of you have a similar situation with a child or grandchild going through the college selection process, let me share with you (from the perspective of an insider) what I think any student ought to know when considering a college:

Question 1:  How long does it take to get a Bachelor’s degree?

Many schools have stretched this out to 5 or 6 years, which I think is deplorable.   It ought to take 4 years to get a 4-year degree.  If a student wants to take longer because he or she has to work to pay their way through school, that’s okay.  If the university makes it difficult to get required classes, though, that’s shameful.

Question 2:  In my field of study, what’s the placement rate at graduation?

Many students select fields of study that are literally worse than useless in the sense that their majors hurt them (rather than help them) when they seek employment.  I’m not saying that these fields shouldn’t be taught; I am saying that students need to think about what they can do with their degree.   How well the school prepares a student for finding a job should be a critical factor in the selection process.

Question 3:  What percent of the faculty has practical work experience outside the classroom?

Teachers who have never done anything except teach can’t bring real-world experience to the classroom.   Many schools use adjunct faculty members with full-time industry jobs, and teachers who consult to industry outside the classroom.   This kind of practical experience adds an important dimension to any education.

Question 4:   Which department teaches writing? 

This question is particularly important for students who are engineering or science majors.  If the engineering or science department teaches its own writing classes, the training will probably be much more useful.  If the English department teaches these classes, students will graduate knowing a bit about Shakespeare, but they probably won’t know how organize a proposal or how to select appropriate illustrations for a technical report.  Make no mistake, writing is a critical skill, and any engineer or scientist who graduates with inadequate training in this area is graduating with a serious professional handicap.

Question 5:    How many office hours do the professors make available to students each week?

You’ll want this number to be high.   Students can’t pick up everything they’ll need from lectures, and from my experience, being able to visit with professors and ask questions is critical.

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