As a college admissions officer for a highly-selective interdisciplinary degree, I often have the opportunity to attend college fairs. I am always impressed when a prospective student asks me insightful questions about my institution. Since part of my job is to assess the likelihood of success a potential student would have if granted admission to my program, this lets me know they are on the right track to finding the institution that would serve them best (and makes me want to try harder to recruit them).
The college search process can be a confusing and time consuming experience. Several factors should be considered when weighing your options or narrowing down your list to a handful of possibilities. Students and their parents can also have different ideas and values when considering colleges. All of this can make the college selection process challenging.
How can you make the best decision possible when determining where to apply to college? The answer lies in knowing the right questions to ask the college representative or recruiter.
Here are 5 questions that should be on the top of your list during the college evaluation process:
1. When would I have an opportunity to visit your college?
Colleges not only go on the road recruiting at high schools and community colleges, but also regularly host Information Sessions for prospective students on their own campus. An Information Session is a great time to ask any follow-up questions you may have after meeting a college rep or after reading through their brochures or visiting their website at home. Typically, colleges also offer tours of their campus, often led by their students. This is an ideal time to not only get a feel for the campus, but also to hear from another student's perspective.
2. What is the cost of tuition? Do you have any scholarships available?
Affordability is an essential factor in creating your list of colleges to apply to. In general, in-state public universities are going to be your most affordable option for a high-quality education. If you are planning on getting an advanced degree, you might want to consider enrolling in a public university for your undergraduate degree as a cost saving measure, as well as commuting to school instead of living in a dorm. Additionally, you will want to check out the Financial Aid packages and scholarships the college offers. For public institutions, qualifying for these scholarships may pay for all or most of your tuition and books.
3. Are your college's credits transferrable to other institutions?
You want to be sure that the credits you take at one institution will be transferrable to another should you decide to change your mind regarding your major or college. Credits from colleges that are regionally accredited are typically more widely accepted by other colleges. There are six regional accrediting bodies that are responsible for accreditation within different geographical regions of the United States. They are: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Accreditation Commission, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Professional schools (e.g. business or trade schools) that only offer occupational degrees and have industry specific accreditation but no regional accreditation are less likely to offer credits that widely transferrable elsewhere.
4. Where can my degree lead?
Research your desired major in libraries and on the internet and review the statistics on job availability and salary within your chosen field. What is the projected need for new professionals with such a degree by the time your studies will be completed? Will the completion of a graduate degree be required to be competitive in your field? If so, factor that into the total cost of your education. Talk to others already working in this area to gauge overall job satisfaction. Is it likely that you will earn a sufficient salary to live comfortably in your current city? What is the job availability in other locations nationally and internationally should you desire to move? Will you be in demand?
5. Does your college offer the option of creating an ad-hoc or interdisciplinary major?
Increasingly, colleges are realizing the benefits of offering their students the option of completing an interdisciplinary (sometimes known as ad-hoc) major. Interdisciplinary majors allow students, usually with the aid of a faculty mentor, to have more input and creative control over how their degree is structured by allowing them to customize a curriculum to meet their unique personal, educational and career goals. Typically, students interested in interdisciplinary studies are highly-motivated, academically-excellent and are independent thinkers (all qualities that employers and graduate programs typically look favorably upon in applicants). Additionally, the mentoring component of individualized study provides a valuable opportunity for students to learn on a one-on-one basis from a faculty member and receive additional insight and guidance going beyond what is possible within the confines of typical classroom instruction. Thus, faculty mentors are in a position to provide more in depth recommendation letters or referrals for their mentees. Students may also have the opportunity to co-author papers, work on research projects or complete an independent study with their faculty mentors.
Applying to college need not be a confusing and stressful time. With these 5 questions, you will have a head start in narrowing down your search and forming the criteria by which to select your ideal educational match.
I wish you luck in the pursuit of your studies!
Interested in learning more about Interdisciplinary Studies in The City University of New York?
As a college admissions officer to a highly-selective interdisciplinary program, I have had the chance to review hundreds of college admissions essays.
Traditionally, highly-competitive colleges and special programs require students to submit personal statements or essays as part of their admissions criteria. Students may ask themselves "what should I write about?" or they may find it hard to talk about or promote themselves out of shyness or fear of being perceived as boastful.
Not to worry
Here are seven great brainstorming tips to get you started on presenting yourself on the printed page:
- Introduce yourself and explain how you first learned about the college or program. What attracted you to it and why do you think it will help you achieve your short and long-term educational and career goals?
- Focus on why you are interested in the specific college or program. How did you first become interested in pursuing this avenue of study or opportunity? Has this been a lifelong passion or is it a relatively new interest based on some exceptional life experience? Why is this opportunity perfectly tailored to you?
- What makes you unique? It is the goal of your essay to describe why you are a uniquely qualified candidate and why a college would want you among their student body. Flesh out your essay with details about what motivates you, what your ideal career would look like and the skills you possess that will help you achieve success.
- Don't be bashful when you write about yourself. College admissions officers don't know how wonderful you are. You need to let them know in your personal essay. Write from a place of confidence about your skills, abilities and passions. It’s okay if you don’t feel that way all of the time. No one does.
- Address areas of weakness that are obvious from your record. We are all human and no one is perfect. If you had some personal issues or reasons why your grades were poor in the past, the personal essay is your chance to address it. You need discuss only as much as you are comfortable disclosing, but a good explanation about why you had that bad semester sophomore year can make the admissions committee more comfortable about overlooking a blemish or two on your record.
- Include life lessons learned. How have you faced personal adversity and overcome it? What lessons have you learned? How has it made you a stronger person today?
- Proofread or, better yet, have several people read your essay thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors. Make sure your essay expresses your message clearly and conveys to the reader what an outstanding candidate you are.
The college admissions essay is a very important part of the application process. It not only serves as a writing sample, but also gives the admissions committee a better feel for the type of student you are, provides insight into your educational and career goals and may be the determining factor in the decision to grant you an admissions interview. By utilizing the brainstorming tips above, you can create an insightful, compelling and attractive portrait of yourself as a highly-motivated student bound to excel in their institution.
I wish you luck!
PS-Interested in a bachelor's degree from the City University of New York that allows you to combine your passions, interests and skills into a unique degree? Find out more about the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary studies and how you can design your own specialized area of study:
In the late 1960s, a group of faculty and students suggested that CUNY should allow individual faculty and students to define programs of study, with access to courses across campuses. On February 22, 1971, the NYS Board of Higher Education authorized a University-wide B.A. degree; soon after, the B.S. was approved. First known as the CUNY Baccalaureate Program and renamed CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies in 2008, the degree is commonly called CUNY BA.
CUNY BA's 40+ years of experience has proved that students who design their own degrees have much success with graduate school admission and in the workplace.
And over half of all CUNY BA graduates have gone on to graduate education. That's higher than the national average!
What makes CUNY BA students so successful?
First, completing our degree tells an admissions committee that you are the kind of student who can work independently and with faculty members. Those are important skills for graduate school.
Second, the unique title of your degree will also help you stand out. If 100 students with degrees called "Art" are applying to an MFA program, if your degree is called "Mixed Media Art and Social Justice," you are bound to get their attention!
Third, since CUNY BA students take the courses they want to take, rather than a prescribed set of courses, they are bound to do well. Our students tend to earn the highest grades.
As far as the workplace is concerned, you can really pursue a clear career route through CUNY BA. In our alumni surveys, approximately 80% of our grads report that they hold jobs in fields related to their specialized degrees. How many History or Psychology majors can say that?! More than half report getting promotions or raises in their current positions or that they have started new careers. A great example is Jaime D. She designed her degree in "The Sociology of Volunteerism." She got hired immediately upon graduation to be the Manager of Volunteers for New York Cares. She said, My degree is one of the main reasons I was able to get my job. My interview focused quite a bit on my degree – what I studied, why I studied it, and how this was even possible. My job is directly related to my studies. It's just what I wanted to do with my degree."
CUNY BA is CUNY's most flexible, versatile and innovative degree route, leading to the B.A. or B.S. You can learn more about CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies by clicking on this link: