College is a great environment to be in, full of supporting faculty and staff and offering great opportunities to become a responsible adult. What you don’t know, however, is what goes on behind-the-scenes in colleges. Things they don’t want you, as a student, to know about. It’s not that they’re illegal, or necessarily immoral, but that by knowing them, they’d ruin the positive image universities try to maintain.
1. College entrance requirements aren’t as strict as they appear
I once talked to an admissions counselor when I was searching for colleges. She was very friendly, but the pamphlet she gave me was pretty intimidating. “I have to have THAT high of an SAT score?” I thought to myself as I kissed my dreams of being a whatever-it-was-at-the-time goodbye. Reading further, I saw that I had to be involved in a certain number of organizations, had to have this high of a GPA, and had to have so many volunteer hours, among letters of recommendations, full transcripts, and job experience.
The admission counselor smiled, surely relishing in my worried facial expressions caused by my ignorant innocence, and told me not to worry about too much about the requirements. “There’s always exceptions,” she said confidently. She then went on to tell me that as long as I could write an essay explaining why I wasn’t involved in organizations, or getting an adequate score on the SAT or ACT, the university would consider my application.
I’ve learned that this is true of many colleges, save for the Ivy Leagues and the sort. Colleges like to put down rigorous entrance requirements so they can tout that they have the smartest and the brightest, but if you read the fine print, there are many ways to get around the published requirements. See, if universities truly stuck with what they advertised as their requirements, enrollment would be horrible! The funding systems for universities are based on enrollments, so universities strive to get as many students as they can. For this reason, they implement certain “loopholes” to their own policies to be able to admit students who do not meet their requirements.
Go to any university website that you are interested in and take a look at its admission criteria. You’ll see that it is worded in such a way that allows for flexibility in admissions standards. For example, take Oklahoma State University’s admissions page.
First of all, they preface the requirements by mentioning that all students are encouraged to apply, as they take many factors into consideration and individually review each application. Likewise, if you meet one of their listed criteria, you are assured admission. That’s where the wording is tricky. Colleges often make is sound like all their students meet those requirements as a minimum, and they are partially correct. Sure, those are minimums, but only for guaranteed admission. You can still be considered even if you don’t meet their listed requirements. And even then, of the several “minimums” they state, they usually publish the strictest one to make them seem more selective (as was the case at my undergraduate university).
Florida State University’s admissions page is another great example. In this one, they don’t even give you a minimum requirements list. The list they show you is the academic profile of the middle 50% of freshmen they accepted in 2013. So really, all it does is give you an idea of their overall average of the students they admit, which doesn’t really tell you how well your chances are, since the bottom 50% could fall anywhere below that average. Plus, they make sure to include careful wording to say that “applicants who bring other important attributes to the University community may also receive additional consideration.” These may include, but are not limited to skilled artists, musicians, and athletes.
Why do colleges do this? For publicity reasons, mostly. This way, they can state in their advertisements, pamphlets, and national publications that they accept students with these amazing criteria in an effort to attract other students with these criteria. And if you have 5 colleges in one area that accept students with a 24 ACT as a minimum, you don’t want to be the college that publishes your minimum as 18 ACT. It’s just not good for business.
So what does this all mean to you as a prospective student? This means that you should not be discouraged to apply to a college if the requirements seem to strict. If you weren’t involved in extra-curricular activities in high school because you worked full time in the evenings to support your family, that’s fine! Be sure to include an essay with your application that states that. Admission departments in colleges don’t just go down a checklist and pull your application if you don’t meet them all. They look at your application to see how you are as a whole person. The more information you provide with your application, the easier it will be for them to paint a better picture of you as a student.
If they see that you worked to provide for your family in high school, they may see that as responsibility and maturity and would take that in place of your extracurriculars. If you didn’t have very good grades, as long as you can provide a good reason for it and assure them that you will do much better in college, they may give you consideration they may not have otherwise. Now, I’m not saying that you can BS your way through an application and get into college. It doesn’t work that way.
What I’m saying is that you have nothing to lose by applying to the college that you want, even though you may not fit the “ideal” criteria.
Let me tell you that when I started college, all I had going for me was my GPA. Being a first generation student, I had no idea how important extra-curricular activities, volunteer hours, and letters of recommendations from teachers who knew you well were. Plus, I am a horrible test taker and didn’t do very well on my SAT. Still, I made a strong enough case on my application, got accepted, and not only did I graduate from my university, but I was senior class president and gave the commencement speech in front of ten thousand people. All because they decided to take a chance on me.
2. You DON’T have to go to college
I can already hear my fellow colleagues and college administrators yelling at me for this one, but the truth is, you really don’t have to go to college like society makes you believe. I’m sure you’ve heard in high school, in the college you already attend, in TV shows, commercials, and speakers that jobs won’t hire you without a college degree. That it’s not like it used to be where anyone could get a job with a good work ethic and a smile. And yes, it’s true that it’s becoming more difficult for companies to even consider you if you don’t have that degree on hand. Even jobs that didn’t previously required formal education experience are requiring Associate or Bachelor degrees. And that is why you are told very often that you need to go to college to get those lucrative jobs.
But do you see the problem with this? Students everywhere are being told that they need a college degree to get a job that requires college degrees. As a result, more and more students are going to college each year. Over the last 15 years, enrollment in U.S. institutions of higher education at all levels rose from 14.5 million students in fall 1994 to 20.7 million in fall 2009, with most of the growth occurring in the last 10 years (source: NSF ). And what’s worse, over the past decade, the U.S. private-sector has lost 203,000 jobs (source here ).
What this means is that more and more graduates are finishing colleges with degrees, but the jobs aren’t growing with them. As a result, we have tons of people out there with useless degrees working jobs that don’t require anything more than a high school diploma. But colleges won’t tell you all of this, because their goal is to get more students.
As a Student Affairs Professional, I will say that college does a lot more for you than just get you a degree, as I listed on my blog post detailing how college can get you a job without a degree. But still, I stand by the fact that there are some people who do not need to go to college. Are you one of these people?
Let me explain. I’ve seen many students, both as a university staff member and as a student myself, that go to college despite the fact that they are not ready for it. They either do not know what they want to do with their life, or are just not emotionally mature enough to handle the responsibility of college life. Yet, these students will start college, get into lots of debt, then drop out their first year having no way to pay back that said debt.
Other people are just not good classroom learners. Regardless of college, it is reasonable to assume a lot of classroom work will be in your future, and some students just don’t do well with that. A friend of mine just could not grasp anything from a classroom, and left college within two months. Yet, he was a masterful electrician and could rewire an entire house with no problem.
Students like these would be better off going to trade schools, where there is more practical learning and they could put their talents to good use. I’ve known many mechanics, plumbers, and carpenters that make a lot of money, and never had to go to college to do it.
What about those students who are not ready for college? Students who don’t know what to do with their lives but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars for an education they may not even get use out of? As someone who went to a university with a strong military focus, I would say that the military may be a viable option. Don’t know what to do with your life? If you meet the health requirements and don’t mind some discipline in your life, the military may be a better option for you. I’ve known a few high school students that would gain a lot from joining the army for a few years before going to college. It can be an eye-opening experience, and what’s more, they may have the option of paying for your college once you complete your years of service.
For other students, maybe college is best if you just wait. Work a full time job for a little bit, get a sense of what the real world is like, paying bills, paying your own rent, just generally living on your own. Start college when you feel ready. My sister followed this path, and now she’s in college and loving it.
I don’t believe that college is always the right answer. But not enough people are willing to say that. And why would they? It makes sense that a college recruiter would feel guilty telling you that college isn’t for you. And that’s because they cannot make that decision, nor can I. Only you can. You need to take a good look at yourself and wonder if it’s worth getting into all that debt for the next few years before you dive right in.
For a great illustration of how college may not always be right for you, check out my post on how the movie Monsters University accurately depicts college life.
3. A lot of faculty aren’t trained to teach
At some point during my college career, I decided that I wanted to be a professor. Part of the decision came from the amazing professors that inspired me to follow in their footsteps. Another part came from the horrible professors who made me want to become one to correct their mistakes. Upon looking for grad schools and trying to decide what I wanted to teach, I came to one horrible realization: professors are not trained to teach!
Teachers, specifically for elementary school and secondary school, have to go through an intense program, that includes not only a Bachelor degree, but teacher certification, and in some cases, even a Master degree. They have to learn about classroom management, implementing curriculums, special education, and then student teach for hours and hours while maintaining a teacher’s portfolio assuring future employers that this person knows what he or she is doing.
I was pretty shocked to find out that this is not true with college professors. There is no “professors 101” class or a degree specifically to teach college courses. The way a person becomes a professor is to get a Master degree in a field, and then get a doctorate in that field as well (or a related field). At that point, the person is considered an “expert” in the field and is then qualified to teach a course in that field. However, none of those courses prepare those students to teach what they have learned. This is especially evident in STEM fields, where students constantly complain about engineering professors who don’t know how to teach a concept in a way students can understand, or a science professor who just reads from a slideshow. Sure, they know everything they need to know about their field, but that does not mean they know how to teach it.
When colleges look for new faculty, they look for several factors, with the primary ones being teaching experience and research/publications. A professor is worth more if he or she is a published researcher, holding some clout in the field, and has the ability to receive grants from several institutions. It shocked me to find out that in many universities, teaching ability isn’t at the top of the list. Now this isn’t true of all colleges. Community colleges and liberal arts colleges put more priority to teaching skills, whereas research and land grant universities will put more weight on research and publications. I actually had a professor tell me that if I didn’t have some decent published research by the time I finished my PhD, I will have a hard time getting any college to consider me.
But what about all those great professors that have a passion for teaching, those that just seem to get it? Typically, it’s a result of experience. Experience is a wonderful teacher, and professors who learn from their mistakes and research effective teaching methods on their own time will likely be better at it than others. Mentoring is also very helpful. Many doctorate students find advisors and mentors that are willing to work with them and teach them the practice of the trade, even sometimes offering teaching assistantships where they get practice before they graduate. This is, however, very dependent on the teaching quality of the mentors.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed that universities are now offering certificates for college teaching. Usually these programs consist of a few courses specifically suited for teaching in a college environment. As far as I know, I don’t know of any doctorate program that requires these to be a college professor, but the resource is there and more and more universities are encouraging professors and would-be professors to get it.
4. Beware of the “weeding out” classes
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I went to a university that was very engineering-focused. Even though I wasn’t an engineering major, I had to take an occasional basic engineering class or two each year. As a non-engineer, I noticed that I was having a very hard time with these classes. At first, I thought I just sucked at engineering. But upon discussing it with other classmates, we came to the realization that it wasn’t that we didn’t understand the work, but that the work was made hard on purpose.
First of all, those engineering 101 classes were huge. Lots of students and only one professor to teach us all. Our professor covered a lot of material in a very short amount of time. Tons. Concepts that, individually, would result in hours of work. Even if I did figure out how to solve the homework assignments, there was no way I could finish it all and do all the work in my other non-engineering classes. At some point, I had to call it quits and settle for the lower grade for that assignment. It made me wonder how those students with four engineering classes in a row got anything done.
What I learned later on was that these classes had an ulterior motive. In addition to providing a “general view” of engineering, they were designed to overwhelm students with varying different concepts to “weed out” the students who were not the best of the best at the craft. Even though I had a hard time excelling at the class, my wife, who was and engineering major at the time, got through those assignments with no problem. Sure enough, she got an A in the class and moved on to the higher level classes.
What surprised me about this the most was that I was generally good at math. I was studying meteorology and we dealt with all sorts of equations and concepts. But for some reason engineering work frustrated the hell out of me, and there was just so much of it. I, like many others, was the victim of a student not worthy to go to the higher level engineering classes, where professors worked at a better pace and were more willing to help you learn the material (as opposed to my class, where I would go to my professor to help me with assignments and he refused to help me in favor of the upper-level students).
Now that I’ve graduated college and have worked in colleges, I notice this for many fields. STEM fields are notorious for this, but I’ve seen this in other fields as well.
Weeding out classes are generally seen as classes where they are designed for students to fail. Large classes where professors throw a lot of information at you in a “101” style class, hoping to scare away all but the most dedicated to the craft, those who will stick through until the end. They offer minimal support to test you to see how well you can take the heat.
It makes sense in the long run, since professors don’t want students who don’t have a chance at being successful in the field. But this is still important information for students who have a passion in a field, but don’t necessarily have the skills to get through those “weeding out classes”. If that’s you, you either need to find another major or prepare for an uphill battle getting that degree.
5. Politics… politics everywhere!
I had a discussion with a friend of mine the other day, who talked about a program at a university that required EMT classes and certification in the curriculum, even though in wasn’t related to the field they were studying. The department head had been struggling for several years trying to remove that requirement from the curriculum. It seems that the requirement was put in there erroneously many years ago, since the beginning of the program, but no one had bothered to take it out. After many attempts, the department head was unable to get the requirement removed. Why? We still don’t know. I don’t think even he really knows.
The truth is, universities are filled with politics, just like any other business. I’ve heard from many people mistakenly believe that academia is a peaceful environment where learning takes place through curious minds exchanging ideas while sipping tea. I’ll tell you that this isn’t the case at all. Faculty and staff at universities can be just as catty and political as any other industry. Grudges among administrators can delay proposals and university changes for months, or even years, as they argue semantics and try to get things their way.
Just like our own US government, implementing changes at the university level can take a really long time as committees meet about this and that, amending the changes and involving others both inside and outside the university. They try their best to keep things objective and professional, but I’ve seen situations where things can get personal, and the personal beliefs of those in power can interfere from any real change happening on the campus. Professors who don’t like other professors will fight for favored courses, or timeslots for courses, or even office hours. Staff members may want to work independently or have more freedom in how they allocate their budgets. A lot of the time it involves administrators implementing new policies which adds responsibilities to departments that do not have the capacity to accept those added responsibilities, resulting in angry and resentful staff.
“So what?” you may ask. “This happens everywhere.” Well, yes, but the difference here is that oftentimes, college students will see the effects of these situations in a much greater magnitude. Political battles in university administration can result in tuition increases, removal of pivotal classes for degrees, removal of faculty, removal of amenities, more regulation to make simple tasks more complicated, and generally a lower quality of life at the campus.
The moral of the story here is that everyone is human, and no one is above making mistakes. Students get screwed over all the time regarding classes they need to take for graduation, grades on courses, residence hall charges, and other issues that may be the result of university politics. Sometimes, there may be no way to avoid them. The best you can do is understand that no one is perfect and mistakes can happen. Choose your battles wisely and fight for the things that matter the most to you.
College For The Win has a new Facebook page. Please follow it and get updates on new blog posts and other updates. Who knows? There may even be a giveaway or two in the future!
Every now and then on my blog, I’ll review a book that I think may be of interest to college students. It’s also a crafty way of getting me to read for pleasure again. Ever since starting grad school, all my reading became purely scholarly, and I suddenly realized I lost my passion for fiction. As a result, For The Win Book Reviews were born!
Today’s book review is World War Z by Max Brooks.
This is an amazing book! It takes the absurd setting of a zombie apocalypse an reshapes it in a more realistic setting of a reporter inquiring about the “zombie war”. The interview style he uses gives the entire book a sense of authenticity, like all of this really happened.
He goes into a tremendous amount of detail within the stories of the “interviewees”, telling me he either did a lot of research for this book, or has had many interesting life experiences.
In a sense, the book itself is a number of short stories with the common theme being that “zombie war”. The stories themselves can be hit or miss. A few at the beginning had me just flipping through the pages seeing where they were going, then disappointing that nothing came from them. Later on, though, the stories started getting much better. I just couldn’t put them down!
For those who have seen the movie by the same name, this is nothing like the movie. And I’m not saying that in a “the book was better than the movie” way that book enthusiasts tend to say. No, I mean they are really nothing like each other besides the main character’s name and maybe a setting or two. For one thing, the book takes place in the future, after the war ends (I’d mark that as a spoiler, but that’s what it literally says in the back of the book). In the movie, it’s in the present, and the main character is in the middle of it all. But anyways, I’ll leave it at that, as this isn’t a book vs. movie review.
All in all, I really enjoyed this fresh take on the zombie genre. The characters introduced seemed very real and relatable, even if they were only introduced one time and never heard from again. It also makes you wonder if this really is how society would respond during such an outbreak. This book has gotten me extremely interested in the zombie genre.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Pixar’s latest entry in the animated film industry received a lot of mixed reactions upon its announcement. Following in the footsteps of two other PIxar sequels, Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, many figured that Pixar was running out of ideas and had to recycle their existing series into sequels and prequels.
Although Toy Story 3 was met with strong critical acclaim, with a 99% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com, Cars 2 was met with a 39% “rotten” rating for feeling too much like a cheap cash-in and lacking that Pixar magic that their movies have been known for.
But where does that leave Monsters University? Just like in the original movie, Monsters Inc., the movie takes place in a world inhabited by the monsters that children fear are hiding in their closets. They have their own society, with their own economy, factories, and of course, education systems. As a prequel to the original Monsters University, this movie follows Mike Wazowski who attends Monsters University in an effort to achieve his dream of becoming a scarer.
Let me just say that I went into this movie pretty skeptical. The last two movies I had watched, Cars 2 and Brave, didn’t really impress me much. Monsters Inc, while a good movie, just didn’t appear to me to be the kind of movie that needed a prequel. However, I was pleasantly surprised that not only was this a good movie, but it offered a really nice view of college life through Mike’s eyes, and even ended it with an interesting message that you wouldn’t typically expect from a movie for kids.
Let me explain. At first glance, this movie is just pure fun, providing typical satire of college life, such as the super peppy RAs that you find on campus, to the new roommate, the craziness of sororities and fraternities, and the rigors of academic pressure.
But where this movie really shines is the parts that aren’t so typical for a college movie. At first glance, the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they meet seems to follow the typical movie cliché: nerdy guy meets the cool guy. Cool guy is popular and everything comes easy, whereas the nerdy guy has to fight his way to make it through the top. Cue a rivalry through the whole movie until the nerd comes out on top. Surprisingly, this movie was not as shallow.
Right from the beginning, despite Sulley’s cocky attitude at the beginning due to being son of a famous scarer, he quickly realized that his reputation wouldn’t get him far in class. His lack of care and preparation had him fall behind in class and get a pretty bad tongue lashing from the dean. Meanwhile, Mike’s studying and preparation actually made him a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, quickly becoming the professor’s favorite and impressing the rest of the class. This is quite different than what I expected, which was Mike having to catch up to Sulley through the whole movie.
Their bickering eventually gets them in trouble with the dean, causing them to fail the qualifying exam and kicked out of the college of scaring. This forces the two of them to work together to prove that they can be decent scarers.
The rest of the movie has your typical “ragtag team of losers overcome the odds to win the championship” type of plot, but once again wowed me as it reached the end. The entire point of the movie was Mike’s dream to be a scarer. It is all he wanted since he was a child, and promised himself he’d do whatever it takes to make it. This manifested himself in the scaring competition, where he truly believed in himself, and against all odds, scared the tacos out of the child simulator and won the team the competition. I rolled my eyes after watching this scene, as the whole “you can do it if you believe” schtick is in just about every animated movie you can imagine.
But in an effort to continue to feed me crow, Pixar once again throws another curveball by revealing that Sulley actually tampered with the machine which allowed Mike to win. As it turned out, Mike wasn’t scary at all!
After a series of events, Mike and Sulley end up trapped in the human world, hunted down by a bunch of cops (or were they park rangers?). In the midst of hiding, Mike gives what I believe to be one of the most heart-wrenching, powerful speeches I’ve ever heard come out of an animated character’s mouth.
Earlier in the movie, the dean had these words to say to Mike: “Mr Wazowski, what you lack simply cannot be taught. You’re just not scary.”
After everything he went through, after all his failures, he came to the realization that she was right. He is not scary, and he will never be scary. Mike realized that his dream was wrong, and that he simply could not be something that he was not. Instead, rather than trying to chase after an unrealistic dream, he altered his goals to match his strengths, and together with Sulley, managed to come up with a plan to scare away the cops that were chasing them and find a way back to the monster world.
Despite their victory, they were still kicked out of the university for cheating and consequently trespassing into places they weren’t allowed. The final foot-in-mouth moment I experienced with this movie was towards the end, when Mike and Sulley finally accepted who they were at the bus stop before Mike left. As they were saying goodbye, the dean approaches them to congratulate them for their previous victory in working together to scare full grown adults.
As I’m sure most people watching were expecting, this would be the part where the dean enthusiastically invites them back in, they finish their degree, then claim their place at Monsters University. But that didn’t happen. She did not let them back in. They did not go back to college, any college, and decided to start at the bottom at the Monsters Inc post office. The credits scenes subsequently showed them working their way up to the scaring positions we are familiar with them having.
This movie shares with its viewers a couple of messages that go against the norm of society today.
First, that just because you really, really want it, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. If you do not have the talent to do something, then you just can’t do it, period. Sure, you can work years and years to become adequate at it, but why waste your time becoming adequate on something you’re bad at, when you can be great at something you’re good at?
For example, try as I may, I will never be a great Olympic swimmer like Michael Phelps. I’m not 6 feet, 4 inches, for starters, and my wingspan is nowhere near as long as his. Plus, I just suck at swimming. But society today tells me that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. That’s just not true, and as a result, we end up with a bunch of very disappointed kids who were raised with unrealistic expectations. Many people I’ve talked to complained about the downer ending in which Mike never became scary, but instead became a scaring coach. Well, so what? If this were a real life situation, isn’t that what would happen? I applaud Pixar for giving this realistic ending.
The second message that this movie gives us is that college isn’t for everyone. I may get a couple of dirty looks for saying this (especially from other college professionals), but it’s true: college isn’t for everyone. Some people are just not suited to learning in a college atmosphere. But that’s not a bad thing. Society seems to stigmatize people without a college education. Monsters University is unique in that it doesn’t seem to favor one way or the other. Mike and Sulley quit college, but instead gain all their skills by starting from the bottom of the totem pole and working their way up. They become just as competent in their job as the rest of their colleagues.
But let’s take Randall, Mike’s roommate. He stayed and (we assume) graduated from Monsters University, and yet he was also a pretty good scarer. In Monsters Inc, he was shown to go toe-to-toe with Sulley. Is either approach better than the other? Not necessarily. There’s a reason vocational and tech schools have grown rapidly: some students just don’t want or need college for their career goals. On-the-job training is sometimes the best route for them.
Too often is college seen as the only option, and the message is that if you don’t go to college, you are a loser and will never succeed. This is demotivating for students that either can’t afford to go to college, or just can’t succeed in the college classroom setting. Now, granted, I do believe that most people can benefit from a college education, and it’s true, most jobs nowadays won’t even look at you without a college degree, but I still stand by my statement that college isn’t for everyone.
So all in all, this was a really good movie. Pixar has once again managed to raise the bar with quality animation and throw in some wonderful messages without being too preachy. Good show, Pixar, good show.
For today’s post I just want to share with you a neat little tool I found online for comparing different colleges. It is especially helpful for those of you still in high school who are trying to choose the right college or university. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are many different types of colleges available, and choosing the correct one can make a big difference on whether or not you finish with your degree or end up quitting/transferring out.
The website is called Big Future and is a college planning tool with a variety of functions. It offers SAT prep (as well as a bunch of other tests), general college info, as well as financial aid resources and scholarship links. However, the most useful tool I see on there is a pretty neat college comparison tool where you can see up to three colleges side by side in a variety of categories, such as type of college, cost, campus life, financial aid available, and location.
I played around with it for a while, and it’s pretty accurate, so definitely give it a try. This is also helpful for those of you already in college but are looking to transfer or just want a college experience that better fits your needs.
This blog post was created as a result of an interesting conversation I had with a gentleman who firmly believed that college is a waste of time and money. He said, to paraphrase: “You go to school where they don’t teach you anything that will help you in the real world. You finish 4 years and you start from scratch. You have no experience, you’re stuck with absurd amount of debt which you’re getting charged and there’s little chance you’ll get a job in your field.”
The conversation got me thinking about the usefulness of college other than that piece of paper saying that you finished.
My thought is that college is only as useful as you make it while you’re there. Many people go to college under the wrong impression that it’s high school plus. In high school, you merely go to school, your teachers teach you, and you go home. You are mostly a passive learner.
In college, it is a completely different ballgame. You are expected to be an active learner. What this means is that going to class is not enough. It is rare for a student who just goes to class and graduates really gets much out of the college experience, and in that case, I do believe they wasted their money going to college. Even if they get a job, they only got the bare minimums of what college can offer.
Research agrees that most of the learning in college happens outside of the classroom. There are tons of things you can do while in college to make yourself more marketable to employers. Here are a list of suggestions that will increase your skill set and make college a more valuable experience:
Career Development workshops
I’d say around 95% of universities have these. They include resume workshops to teach you how to write an attractive resume, interviewing workshops to practice your interview skills, dress for success for proper business attire for interviews, job hunting techniques, networking techniques, business etiquette, and much more. And best of all, you’ve already paid for them with your student fees. Go to every single one you can. I went to these, and it did wonders in building up my confidence for job hunting. I don’t even fear interviews anymore. I come in to interviews and just chat with the employer with ease, person to person. It’s all the practice I’ve had beforehand.
The truth is, you need experience for employers to take you seriously. Internships are the perfect way to get that experience, whether paid or unpaid. The thing is, government has been cracking down on the ability for companies to provide internships. Nowadays, you can only get an internship if it’s for class credit towards your college degree. This is to keep companies from using “internships” as a way for free/cheap labor. But the opportunities are there. Look online, talk to your professors or career services department for internship opportunities in your field. You can theoretically get an internship each summer you’re in college, or even fall/spring semesters if you want. Imagine graduating college with already one or two years of experience in your field? But internships don’t just come to you. You have to work for them to find them and then apply for them.
On-campus organizations are really valuable tools. Most colleges have them, and they range in topics. The trick is joining the right ones. Are you a theater major? Join the Drama Club? A female biology major? Join Women in Science? An education major? Try the Student National Education Association. Just about every major has an organization that relates to it. Become an officer in it. Engage in projects with the community or even the organizations you hope to work with that way. Organizations help you meet others in your field with similar goals, and thus networking opportunities. They teach you how to work with a team in a practical setting. You learn leadership skills, things that employers like to see. Projects you complete in the organization are great for resumes. Employers want to see what you do with your free time while in college. They want to make sure you can take a project from beginning to end.
Research projects with professors
The best part about college is that professors aren’t just there to teach. Behind the scenes, they work on numerous research projects, presentations, case studies, and even consulting gigs with firms. Professors generally love to be asked about their work. Talk to them, find out what they are working on. Then ask them if you can work on a project with them. It could either be a project they’ve already started or come up with a new one. This is another great way to gain experience in your field. Your professor more than likely has connections in the industry. If you work with them, there is a high chance they can get you in touch with people that have the power to hire you, especially if you have good work ethic. Thing is, professors don’t just advertise that they’re willing to work with you on these projects, as there are too many students for them to split their time with. They expect you to go to them, and offer up something of value. They want to help you, but they also want to advance their own Curriculum Vitae through completion of these projects.
Life Skills and civic engagement
This one doesn’t directly get you a job after college, but I feel it is an important part of attending college. College provides you a safety net for learning a bunch of life skills. College is the only time in your life when you can make huge mistakes and recover from them relatively easily. Get fired from a job while in college? You can generally bounce back from that once you graduate. Horrible at managing your time when living on your own? Fail that one class and it’ll snap you into reality. You also just learn how to be an adult in a safer environment. You have resources available, such as a free fitness center (usually), counseling center, health/wellness center, career counseling center, minority services center (if you need it), cooking classes, money management tips, parenting classes, Real Estate 101, and all sorts of other things that colleges get funding for to help you learn to live on your own as an adult. College is in part about becoming an adult who contributes to society, and lives interdependently with the community he or she resides in.
My best years were in college. It’s where I met my wife. It’s where I truly grew up and matured. It’s where I got opportunities I would have never had, such as flying a plane, being a television weatherman, and giving a speech to an audience of 10,000 people. My resume is packed to the margins with skills, expertise, experiences, and projects that happened while I was in college, giving me a leg up on the competition.
It’s true, that college isn’t for everyone. But to say it’s a waste of time and money is a stretch. You just need to invest your time into it to reap the rewards.
Moving into a dorm or residence hall isn’t easy. In addition to leaving your comfy room at home, missing your family, and living with a person you’ve never met, you have to deal with the smaller space you have to work with when moving on campus. Here is a list of items that can make your years in college more bearable, if you can scrape up enough money to buy them, that is.
1. Light-up umbrella
Travelling alone at night through a storm? Rain never fails to appear when you have the longest walk around campus. Prepare yourself with this light-up umbrella for only $22.82. Buy it here.
2. Credit card utility set
I have one of these myself, and it works really handy in many situations. Armed with a pocket knife, tweezers, toothpick, can opener, and more, it is a great tool for any college student. Get it here.
3. Bubble-wrap calendar
Who doesn’t like playing with bubble wrap? With a college student’s limited time, this calendar provides you the opportunity to be productive while having fun puncturing those little suckers every day of the year. Get it here.
4. Glow in the dark toilet paper
You aren’t a college student if you don’t go for those 3am trips to the bathroom after the 4 cans of soda you drank right before bedtime. To prevent unnecessary wiping mishaps, might I suggest this glow-in-the-dark toilet paper to aid you? Get it here.
5. Grocery bag grip
If you are unlucky enough to live on a higher floor in your dorm, getting groceries from your car to your room must be a pain. Living in the third floor while I was in college meant several trips back outside to the car, and the parking lot was quite a ways away. This handy tool allows you to carry all your bags at one time so only one trip is needed. You’re welcome.
6. USB charging batteries
Most everything uses a power outlet these days, whether to get it to work or to charge its internal battery. But every now and then you’ll come across a pesky item that requires good old batteries, like flashlights, remotes, and digital guitar tuners (for all you musicians out there). These batteries hook up to a usb slot in your computer so that buying new batteries are a thing of the past.
7. Mirror wiper
You’re running late this morning. You get up, grab your clothes, and run to the bathroom, only to find that your roommate just got out of the shower and fogged up your mirror. Not to worry! This uber expensive mirror wiper clears up your mirror in one simple motion. For those who just refuse to wipe it any other way, the mirror wiper is there for you.
8. Poor man’s Ipad
Jealous of all the other college students with an Ipad? Upset that it’s apparently a college rite-of-passage that you missed out on somehow? If you’re tight on cash but want to show off, be sure to try out this poor man’s Ipad. Looks just like the real thing, but less likely to break if you stare at it too hard.
9. Bedtime reading glasses
It’s inevitable that you will spend many hours studying for your next exam long into the night. Or, perhaps you like to get some light reading before bedtime. In any case, these really cool glasses allow you to read while laying down, without having to lift your head! It’s the ultimate tool for the lazy. I wonder how many people have fallen asleep using these?
10. Tabletop aquarium
Universities typically don’t allow pets in the dorms, so say goodbye to Spike or Mr. Whiskers when you head off to the big U. However, most colleges do allow a fish aquarium in your dorm. If you want an awesome-looking aquarium without sacrificing the space, check out this sweet tabletop aquarium. It really works! Though be careful, as it is made of pure glass and with a price tag of almost $600, you’d better have a really trustworthy roommate not to break it and flood the room.
Anyone who has lived in a college dorm knows what an RA is. They are seen as either the bossy tools who go out of their way to keep you from having fun or the useless nobodies that get a free room to do nothing and let chaos run throughout the halls. Well, I worked as a college RA (Resident Advisor, or Resident Assistant in some universities) while in college, and eventually got promoted to an RD (Resident Director), and a lot of my college experiences happened from the point of view of those positions. Here are ten lessons learned from being an RA/RD:
1. An RA isn’t just that happy-go-lucky robot with a clipboard.
I thought I would start off by giving a clearer description of what an RA is and does, since I’m sure not many people are familiar. An RA is known as a Resident Advisor, or a Resident Assistant, in most colleges. The hiring process to become an RA is much more in depth than any other campus job (which I’ll describe in more detail a bit later), as the responsibilities of an RA range in many areas. The following are the typical tasks an RA of your school would be responsible for:
– Rule enforcer- Probably the most common task RAs are known for. They are in charge of abiding by the university residence hall policy and make sure students in their hall are following them as well. If they catch students not following policy, they are then to either give them warnings or write them up for a variety of punishments options.
– Room checks- Making sure that resident rooms in dorms and residence halls are clean, in proper living conditions, and ready for students to move in. Throughout the semester, they must ensure that the rooms continue to be in proper condition and do not present safety hazards to the students who live in it. They also must check the rooms when the students leave to make sure no damage has been done to it.
– Advising- This is where the “advisor” part comes into play. RAs are often put (whenever possible) in dorms with students in a major similar to themselves. RAs are trained to help students if they are having trouble with classes, with school, or even their personal lives. While not full-fledged counselors, RAs are given basic training to see if students are showing signs of depression, or giving basic counseling advice in emergency situations when a counselor isn’t available.
From my experience, most RAs get the compensation of a paid room to themselves. In many schools, that’s all they get (and sometimes they’ll even have to share a room with another RA). In other schools, RAs get some better benefits. In addition to a free room, some schools give RAs a stipend (ranging from $20-$100 a week), free meal plans, free travel expenses for conferences, free goodies (like shirts, office supplies, mugs, caps, etc), and gift certificates/gift cards.
2. The RA hiring process is very selective and thorough.
Unlike other campus jobs, the position of RA holds a lot of power and responsibility, so it is no question that the interview process will be very comprehensive. Since I don’t know how the interview process goes for every university in the country, I will merely provide the process for mine. I assume other schools are at least in a similar ball park.
The first step is the application. In addition to all the traditional application information that has to be provided, the RA application also puts you to answer essay questions that test your ethics and your desire to be an RA. If you hold the minimum GPA required and the questions show some ethical decision making and interest, you may be called to an interview. In that first interview, even more questions are asked in all sorts of different areas. You are given scenarios that RAs typically deal with and are asked how you would deal with them.
In addition, you are asked to prepare for the interview a 15 minute presentation of how your first RA ‘wing meeting’ will be (the initial meeting with your new residents at the beginning of the year). You are invited to be as creative as possible, and have decent knowledge of the housing policy handbook.
If you pass that interview, you will join a second group interview. All the candidates who have made it this far will be asked to participate in a one-day retreat kind of thing, where games will be played and team exercises will be performed. RDs and administrators will watch these games and see who works well with others and how these students perform in group settings. Being the loudest and most outgoing won’t necessary land you the job. It’s about being yourself, and not being afraid to take risks and talk to people. I would also recommend volunteering to be the first to do something in a game, even if you know you’ll make a fool of yourself. In that initial time when they ask for volunteers and everyone is quiet, that is the best time to shine.
If you get selected to continue, you go through the last interview. This is usually with the assistant or associate director of housing. They tend to ask even more prodding questions to find out more about you, including experiences you’ve had that you think would be relevant to the job, and case studies to truly see how you think. If you can make it past this 3rd interview, you’re almost an RA.
All that’s left is the RA class. In some universities it’s offered for elective credit, in others it isn’t. This class ranges from 1 month to 3 months, once or twice a week, and the class covers just about everything an RA will do: administration, counseling, community-building, activities and events hosting, and even how to dress and nonverbal communication.
If you get through the class and manage to complete your assignments, you get placed in a residence hall and a room, go through another week of intensive training (the class is more on theory, and the training is more on practice) the week before school starts, and voila! You’re an RA!
3. There are a lot of unadvertised perks of being an RA.
In my line of work, I’ve had several dinners with the university president, gotten backstage passes to Jeff Dunham and Tosh.O, and have even been picked as a volunteer for several hypnotists at my campus thanks to my VIP seating. In addition, I have been invited to complimentary trips to the Oshkosh aviation air show to represent our school, and other trips around the country for a variety of reasons.
The point I’m trying to make is that RAs receive many other benefits and opportunities than what you see in the job description. It really is a lot of fun and worth the experience. Plus, as student leaders, putting that you were an RA in college looks really good on resumes and grad school applications. It’s one of the most versatile campus involvements you can have since they deal with so many areas.
In addition, you will be very well-known on campus. As an RA, you participate in orientation events, rallying up students for orientation activities, games, and programs. You usually get to know all the students in the building, and more importantly, they get to know you. If you’re the super strict RA with the iron whip, the students will get to know you and avoid getting in trouble by you. If you make an effort to get to know the students, like saying hi in the hallway, going to the events you promote, etc., you will find that students will talk, and all of a sudden all sorts of people will be saying hi to you on campus, some you don’t even know. This will continue to grow every year that you’re an RA, until you become one of the most well-known students on campus, if you can handle that.
From personal experience, I went from a completely reserved, quiet student as a freshman on campus to one of the most well-known students in school. Case in point, I actually won Senior Class President my senior year and gave the graduation speech on graduation day. The biggest part of the popularity necessary to win that election was the people that I knew and the people that knew me.
It is a great feeling to have residents you had all year come back to you in their junior year and tell you thanks for helping shape their freshman year. Granted, many freshmen could care less, but there will be some that really appreciate your efforts.
4. Once you are an RA, you are always an RA.
Our university’s housing department had a motto about being an RA: It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. The reason for this is because you are an RA 24/7, whether you want to be or not. You can’t just “turn it off” when you go clubbing with your friends. Your residents will see you as their RA in the halls, and they’ll see you as an RA in the clubs. They will also see you as their RA ten years from now when you encounter them and their kids at Disney World.
Many university staff members and student affairs professionals started out as RAs. Once they realize they could make an entire career out of doing stuff like that, they went for it. I’m one of those people. I became an RA for life, so to speak. So if you don’t think you can handle the pressure of a job that becomes a part of your life, I wouldn’t recommend being an RA. Otherwise, it’ll be one of the most memorable jobs you’ll ever have.
5. Being a Resident Director (RD) is pretty awesome too.
I want to take some time to talk about a Resident Director. Simply put, it is an RAs supervisor. Rather than looking over a hall, they look over an entire building, and oftentimes several buildings at once. In many schools, these jobs are offered as full time positions. In others, they are offered as graduate assistantships to graduate students who want a place to live for grad school. In my school, however, you can get it as a promotion as an undergraduate if you applied.
The interview process is similar to that of an RA, but there are less people applying and you already know the interviewers very well. As for the job itself, it is amazing. Rather than a simple dorm, you get an entire full-fledged apartment. My apartment in particular had a bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, and two bathrooms, fully furnished.
The job is more administrative in nature. You usually have much more full control over the punishments you give out to students who break the rules. You also make big decisions as to changes you make to the buildings you are responsible for, such as adding additional study lounges, vending machines, or even restructuring room placements. You also often get to pick the RA staff you can work with, and hire and fire your staff as you see fit. It is a rewarding experience, and it is one of the only university jobs that I’ve ever seen where you are on just about equal footing to other university staff and administration.
The pay is much higher than an RA’s pay, and most universities will also give you a very generous meal plan and money for travel. However, there is also much more responsibility with the position. As the representative of my building, any cases too big for my RAs to handle were sent up to me. I had to deal with the suicide attempts, students caught with firearms, arson cases, sexual assault, and hate crimes. As the RD, it is not as easy as an RA to be the fun-loving, good guy.
In order to help your RAs out, sometimes you have to be the bad cop to the students in order to make your RAs the good cop. For those who watch Scrubs, think of Dr. Kelso. He has to make the tough decisions in the hospital and look like the bad guy so the rest of the staff doesn’t have to. With the kind of guy I am, that was the most difficult transition. But I found the perfect balance of being fun and easygoing with being tough and fair.
6. A typical day for an RA.
As an RA, my typical day consisted of a variety of different things depending on the day. Other than normal student things such as classes, and RA has to have at least somewhat of a presence in their residence hall every day (so no extended trips where you’ll be gone for more than a day without approval). Though you can usually dodge this one if you just ask a fellow RA to watch your hall for you. RAs also have a couple of meetings they need to attend a week. The two most common are staff meetings and committee meetings. Staff meetings are run by the RD that goes over issues in the building, in the school, or relaying other work-related information. Some RDs also make it a group bonding time and play games or go out for dinner or some type of social activity since RAs are often like family to each other. RAs are also occasionally asked to serve in committees for school events, such as student appreciation, staff appreciation, resident hall Olympics, Relay for life, etc. They also have to go to those meetings.
Also, at least once a week, if not more, an RA is on duty. This means that they may not leave the building they live in for a 12 hour period for any reason. In addition, they have to serve anywhere between 2-6 hours of desk duty, where they must man the front desk of their building to answer questions for students or provide general customer service. Most RAs use this time to socialize with friends who join them during the downtime or do their homework. It’s also how you catch up to the dorm gossip since you’re in the middle of everything.
RAs also have to fill out weekly email reports to their RDs telling them how their residents are doing and have occasional one-on-one meetings with their RDs to tell them how they are doing.
Lastly, RA should constantly be making events and social functions for their residents, like movie nights, bowling nights, dinner, games, etc to keep the community feeling in the dorm. You know you have a good RA when they constantly supply a good range of activities for you to do throughout the year.
7. Some stories from my RA days.
In my line of work, I deal with all sorts of situations, some serious, others humorous. Here are some examples:
The pranksters– I had two “factions” of residents across the hall from each other who pranked each other nonstop, each one upping the ante on the pranks. They would super glue their keyholes, put live cockroaches in their rooms, steal their hats and drop them in the toilet, vandalize their doors with shaving cream, and all sorts of things. This was an interesting but challenging situation.
The shower lockout– The bathrooms in the building I lived in were outside the rooms and required a key for entry. I’ve been woken up several times at all times of the night by guys and girls in a towel who got themselves locked out of the showers and their bedroom. Why do so many people shower at 3 in the morning?
Alcohol poisoning– I ran into a freshman throwing up in the bathroom from alcohol poisoning from drinking too much at a party. He wouldn’t stop throwing up and would occasionally lose consciousness as his friend tried to keep his head up. I had to call the ambulance and have them take him to the hospital. I was told that he was so intoxicated it could have killed him if he didn’t get the medical attention when he did.
Topless wrestling in the halls– This isn’t what you think. For some reason, one year I had a hallway full of guys that for some reason always wrestled each other in the hallway with their shirts off at 3 in the morning. I would come out of my room, exhausted and angry to yell at them, only to see wide-eyed what was going on. I would tell them to keep it in the bedrooms and I went back to bed. Never understood that one.
Hall Wars– There were two dorm halls that were competing with each other for the best hall. Each time a hall put up decorations or set up an activity, the other hall would put up something better. I still remember during Halloween where the competition got so fierce, when you walked into the hallways you felt like you were literally walking into a Halloween town. The walls were covered with wallpaper, spider webs and spiders sticking out, mechanical ghosts on strings flying back and forth, pumpkins by all the room entrances, and an orange glow emitting from the lights. It was amazing.
The Spring Break Snake– A resident apparently had a pet snake in their room and left it there when he left for spring break. The snake managed to get out and scared the crap out of one of my RAs (I was RD at the time) when they were doing health and safety inspections. They had to call animal control to take the snake away. The student was furious.
The sorority birthday surprise– As an RA, I ran into a group of girls keying into another girl’s room with a coat hanger. When I confronted them, they told me they were a fraternity who wanted to fill the pledge’s room with balloons and gifts. I told them that the gesture was nice, but that they were breaking the rules by keying into a room as it is considered trespassing. I didn’t write them up, but told them they had to leave. Unfortunately, I caught them doing it again later and had to write them up.
The Stinky Roommate– I had a complaint from one of my male residents once about having a roommate who’s stench could raise the dead. When I walked into the room, I could confirm that he did, indeed, stink. It was one very awkward conversation I had to have with that resident.
The Tree hugger– I had to take a guy to a hospital because he ran into a tree. No joke. He ran into a tree and knocked himself out.
The beer smuggler. There were about 5 other RAs and I chilling at the front desk one night. One smart freshman decides to walk in right through the front door with a 12 pack of miller and walk right past us. We almost felt like writing him up for two counts: one for alcohol and one for stupidity.
The loud couple– Had to deal with a noise complaint constantly about a couple who were too loud when “going at it.”
The dump hall– For a while, there was a hall that was so dirty, that even the RA was scared to go in it. Garbage was everywhere and the students even looked like hobos. I had to send a cleanup crew to take care of that mess.
We’ve all heard that college is a time to let loose and live a little, but these college-related headlines of 2013 really take that to the next level. From ball-riding to abortion battles, university life is full of crazy shenanigans that… strangely enough… don’t involve alcohol.
5. Kansas University boobs website told to cease and desist for selling merchandise.
In an effort to support their sports team, the Kansas Jayhawks, the students of Kansas University started a unique cheering campaign called KU Boobs. Which, as the name implies, consists of various pics of female KU students displaying their cleavage in support of their team. It started with one random student showing her support with the use of a cell phone camera. A twitter account was started shortly after, and sure enough, the twitter account had over 56,000 followers within a short span of time. More information of the story can be found in this Huffington Post news article.
The university, understandably, sent a cease and desist letter to the owners of the twitter account. By this point, the group had a Facebook page, Tumblr page, and many campuses across the country had created their own versions of the group. But here’s where the headline really gets crazy. The university didn’t have a problem with the KU Boobs movement; they had a problem with the merchandise they were selling.
On his own Twitter feed, Athletic Director Jim Marchiony had the following thing to say:
“We’ve asked them to stop selling that merchandise, not to shut down the Twitter account. Rock Chalk!”
So, in essence, they had no problem with the sites that used KU’s name, just the merchandise that used KU’s name.
4. University of Texas conservative students hold an affirmative action bake sale.
Fundraisers are a normal part of having a student organization. And for many, fighting for a cause is another. However, few organizations have incorporated the two in a way that the Young Conservatives of Texas did at the University of Texas.
In an effort to demonstrate that affirmative action is “demeaning to minorities”, the group decided to hold a bake sale. However, in this bake sale, the price of the baked goods differed based on your race and your gender. White students had to pay the highest amount, while Native American students paid the lowest price.
Gregory J. Vincent, the university vice president for diversity and community engagement, called the bake sale “inflammatory and demeaning,” as well as “deplorable.” Defenders of the bake sale claimed that they were standing up for America.
3. NYC College students pretend to kill babies in an “Abortion Battles” game.
The New York Post has an article on a video that went viral that included some college students in NYC filmed playing a game called “Abortion Battles”. The game consists of two students who put a balloon under their shirt, then proceed to joust at each other until one pretends to kill the baby of the other.
Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up. Here’s the footage of the game in action:
Marco Rosales, who posted the video, wrote, “We were introduced to this epic game called `Abortion Battles.’ It’s somewhat unorthodox, but it’s really fun! Lol!.”
Such a game drew controversy nationwide, with many spokespeople voicing their opinion on the tastelessness of the game. University officials made it clear that this was something concocted by the students, and was in no way a university-sanctioned event.
2. University of Michigan takes down wrecking ball sculpture after students attempted to ride it… naked.
A giant pendulum in Grand Valley State University in Michigan had to be taken down after students attempted to straddle it naked, according to an article by NY Daily News.
The reason they did it? They were attempting to replicate Miley Cyrus’ new “Wrecking Ball” video.
‘The ball has been taken down due to the safety hazard of people riding on it,’ according to a student-run university Twitter account, which quoted a dean.
Dozens of pictures and videos popped up almost overnight of students riding the public art display.
1. Chinese students attend a cram school from hell to qualify for college entrance exams.
The Chinese equivalent to the American SATs or ACTs is a hypercompetitive college entrance exam, which according to a popular saying, resembles an army of 10,000 students rushing across a narrow log.
The test lasts about two to three days, lasts 17 hours a day, and goofing off can get you arrested. What’s more, the score you get on this test comprises the majority of your college application. If you don’t meet the university’s minimum scores, you have no chance of getting in. To make things worse, the requirements for poorer students from rural areas are higher than those of the wealthier students who live in the city near the universities.
And to make things worse, the questions range from the medium-difficulty SAT questions in American exams, to really bizarre questions such as this one:
“It flies upward, and a voice asks if it is tired. It says, ‘No.’
An article on this Australian news site talks about particular schools students attend such as Maotanchang High School. These schools are known as “cram schools”, where they use military-style test prep to get students ready for the gaokao (the name of the college entrance exam). These schools are big business. They attract students and families from all over the country, and they carry quite a hefty price, costing as much as $8,000 for the cram program.
Inside the walls of these schools, students study all day, every day. Their methods can sometimes be considered extreme. One of the classrooms, for example, is equipped with intravenous drips filled with amino acid to assist students (seen in picture above). These schools are typically located in small towns, and their success makes the town’s economy completely revolve around them.
So the next time you have to stress about choosing the right college or university, at least keep in mind that your barrier to entry is nothing like this.