April 27, 2008

It's Gettin' Hot in Here: Professional Pressure Cookers

One of my fiance's good friends from Columbia recently came to visit for a weekend. Quick background: this friend happens to be a former private college counselor; she is currently enjoying life in the admissions office at a top, private school in Wisconsin. Aside from all of their hilarious memories shared (sadly, though I have heard them before, they still make me laugh), many interesting higher education topics discussed and a little trip to South Beach for some people-watching, I was offered some very interesting insight on their Ivy League experiences and the "pressure to find a 'successful' career", as they remembered it, for many months leading up to graduation day.
I can't easily compare my experience with theirs as I was enrolling, immediately upon graduation, in an M.A. program and to me, that was all that mattered. Luckily, I was offered a full-time position on campus after graduation, then (oh my goodness!) a graduate assistantship coaching, then a part-time research job, then another graduate assistantship . . . For me, this period of my life seemed blessed. At the time, it was living a dream. I was actually able to pursue avenues that were mine to choose. However, at the same time, I remember very little pressure coming from my mom, my friends or professors. I was never venturing home to find someone waiting for me with tips on how to approach an interview, how I should dress or what I should say to people. I never heard anyone say, "You need to be networking!" Thankfully, people in my life seemed to think it was okay for me to just pursue whatever options I had at the time and that no life decisions had to be made on the spot. This, however, was so clearly not the case with these two Ivy Leaguers.
Not only did they both suffer great anxieties during the entirety of their senior year but so did everyone else who they could remember. There is the friend who got an "amazing" job as an investment banker but quit within months and has since, four years later, been earning $7/hr getting coffee for folks on various production sets in Hollywood-- she's 26 and still working towards her dream. There are the group of friends who all got the coveted internships at the financial companies (i.e. Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch) and who, since getting these prestigious positions post-graduation, have all left them and entered into 'power firms' such as The Peace Corps, Teach America and Teach English as a Foreign Language, in any of a number of exotic countries abroad. So, naturally, the next question that comes to mind: where is this pressure created? Who is it created by?
My answer (my answer for just about everything): Parents. Why? It is true that parents work hard and want more for their children. It is true that parents, whether they are financially supporting a student or not, ARE responsible for support in other forms (i.e. emotional, psychological, verbal, etc . . .). So, it's easy to understand, taking this (and so much more) into consideration, why a parent would feel so invested in the college education of their student. And then, say a family did invest anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 in that university education, it's fair to expect something in return, right? It's fair to expect that your student will come out of college as an enlightened and highly motivated, money-earning machine. No. In fact, it's not only completely unfair to have those (or any) expectations, but it's entirely illogical and impractical. A parent can have no concept of what their student went through, learned or experienced during the college years. I spoke to my mom on an extremely regular basis (still do, in fact) and am extremely open with what I share with her. However, for her to have a concept of what should fulfill me . . . not a chance. Every parent applauds the son or daughter of their friend who enlists in the Peace Corps or Volunteer America. But the minute your son or daughter tells you that this is what he/she wants to do-- err, not good, right?
My fiance's friend told us about how her mom still says things to her like, "you graduated from Columbia, why are you dating HIM?"; "You have an Ivy League education and you're making so little". Aye, as if young people who have been well educated, ever needed anyone reminding them of the disparities in life or, for that matter, the possibilities on the "other side".
Certainly it's not ALL on mom and dad. Another significant contributor to the pressure- the schools, themselves. They reap the rewards of having their alumni become CEO's and Senators. However, if you do the simple math, it's impractical to think that each student is going to be a financial "success" directly out of college- or EVER, for that matter. Just like every university is looking to diversify its student body with valedictorians and athletes, thespians and activists, when these folks graduate they won't all be streamlined into the financial sector. But what are they told when they get to school, at orientation, during freshman commencement ceremonies? They are told that they are tomorrow's leaders, the next President, the next CEO . . . Well, what about being the next Teacher or the next great Librarian? What about being the next person to volunteer with an orphanage in Namibia? Or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro? Or, perhaps, instead of being the "next" anything, maybe they could tell you how you're the First YOU and because of that, they will open up and make available any doors and avenues that they can, in order to give you a better opportunity to blaze your own trail. Ahh, the old art of being an individual. Don't succumb to the pressure of the place. Create your own environment and reaffirm that your convictions are right.
Now, understand that I do not believe that everyone who takes that coveted Goldman Sachs internship straight out of college is just confused. There are certainly those out there who do know precisely where they want to be and how they're going to get there. More power to them. This, however, is rare. Commendable, yes. But rare, nonetheless. So, instead of urging colleges and universities to tout their elitism according to their quick graduate job placement, let's take a survey of satisfaction with university career services and centers , 4, 10, 16 months post-graduation. Let's see which schools are really in it for their students and which are in it for their ranking.
So, when you're starting to feel the pressure to be placed in a fantastic position after your senior year. Please remember, there's always going to be time to feel anxieties and pressures. Senior year of college is such a valuable time and transition that it does not need to be overshadowed by the job search process. Oh, that reminds me, the idea is the same for high school. The next step will work out just fine. You will get in somewhere. We just don't know where . . . yet. Keep working hard and learning to enjoy your hard work for what it is- purposeful. I commend you all on your patience and perspective. Parents, you especially. What I have said is extremely difficult to do as a parent, I am sure. However, know that you ARE doing everything you can by giving your student the freedom to choose and the freedom of his/her convictions. Cheers!

April 24, 2008

Going to a School with a Big Game

. . . that was nothing like I had anticipated. Granted, there were certainly many impressive aspects of my visit to Auburn University: the grand, colonial architecture; the massive libraries; the faculty I met; a wonderful lecture from a Continental Airlines executive, etc . . . However, on this trip, which found me accompanying father and son (a soon-to-be Auburn Tiger), Ian and Dan Watkins, so much of the experience was unexpected. Having never been to an S.E.C. Conference university (especially not on homecoming weekend), I had very little concept of what, exactly, the hullabaloo felt like. Little did I realize that it not only felt amazing, but looked amazing, tasted amazing, sounded amazing and . . . well, dare I say, smelled amazing also?! I was privileged to be on this trip. Ordinarily when I go with a student or group of students on a campus or college tour I will be the adult in lieu of the parent(s). With Dan, for example, this was my third state and probably tenth campus that I had been to with him. However, this was our first trip with one of his parents also accompanying us. The idea of getting to experience the campus and environment with Ian and being a ‘fly on the wall’ of their father-son relationship during this eye-opening, football-ing, introduction-to-the-college lifestyle-weekend was no less than fantastic.

Let it be known, this is a wonderful family and Dan, quite clearly, is trusted and appreciated by both his parents. He’s a wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful person who also happened to be a pretty great high school student, graduating a year early, like I wish so many others could motivate themselves to do. Together, we saw a lot of the expected: fanaticism; Auburn flags waving on every building; lots of RV’s; tailgating and orange- everywhere. We also witnessed many things which were unexpected: an entire town square covered in toilet paper; a live tiger in the middle of a downtown sidewalk; the best lemonade on Earth! (one of the only times I can say I am in agreement with Oprah); 80,000 people applauding a marching band; and, of course, the Auburn/Opelika Airport, where all of the Auburn planes and the few University jets are docked and maintained. It’s also where young Dan will be fueling some of his best college memories.

The energy of this town is magnetic. Perhaps this is why Auburn becomes the third largest, most concentrated population in the state of Alabama on any given game day. We ate southern barbecue, stayed in a small, adjacent-to-campus lodge and carried ourselves like we were locals once we found the hot-spot to eat breakfast (and once Ian and Dan found the bookstore to purchase some paraphernalia). Even with all of this, the wonderful experience that comes with getting to learn first-hand about a spirited and beautiful college campus and being in the company of good people, there was a subtle, underlying theme that took my attention away from much of the goings-on: I was accompanying a father and a son who were experiencing their first anxieties, apprehensions and enthusiasms for this enormous step, this ritual writ of passage. Of course Ian and Sue Watkins are both extremely proud that Dan will be enrolling this coming Fall as a member of the prestigious Honor’s College and Aviation Management Program. But the pride of every parent is accompanied by trepidation and a bit of distress over whether the son/daughter is ready to exist outside of the family. For certain, I have been close to this anxiety in the past. In fact, I go through it with every family, every year. However, being on this trip with father and son was an “ah-ha” moment for us all. For Dan, he gained a great understanding of what he could expect from the Auburn experience. For Ian, he was feeling many emotions: pride; relief; excitement; all coupled with equally strong feelings of sadness and, always, apprehension for the fact that his first child would soon leave the house, leave the state of Pennsylvania, leave he and his wife and leave them feeling a bit helpless. We did not talk about this much, Ian and I. In fact, only for a moment when Dan had left his seat during the Auburn Intersquad baseball game (yes, it was a guy’s weekend) did Ian assure me that this transition would be- err, in fact, it already is difficult for both he and Sue— and this was only just October. Dan was not scheduled to leave the house for nearly one more year. This peek into the transition of not only a high school senior, but the parent(s) was so valuable.

Ordinarily my role entails so much focus on maximizing options and enhancing opportunities and the fact that parents can often be more high-strung about the process than their student, made this sound bite that much more memorable for me. I do understand where Ian was coming from when he told me this. I grow extremely close to some of my students and feel a great excitement accompanied by a similarly great anxiety when they earn what they deserve, academically. I, too, hope that they will use their good sense to adapt in a healthy and positive way to this new, often overwhelming, environment that is college academic and social life. However, it would be irresponsible for me to say that I know how parents feel. I do not. Being that this transition is so complex, it was very beneficial for me to have this experience with the Watkins men. I am forever in debt to them both. But shhh, don’t tell that to Dan, I don’t know if my senses can survive another homecoming weekend at Auburn.

April 21, 2008

What if I just check “Native-American”?

Well, first of all, regardless of what you may have heard or, perhaps, if you think YOU are the first to come up with the idea, it’s NOT true and you’re NOT original. Just for your information, for anyone who is a member of a Native American tribe, they are documented with what is, essentially, tribal identification. When one checks the box on a college application indicating that he/she does identify as Native American, if it’s not directly requested upon that box being checked, your tribal identification information WILL BE requested before the application is reviewed entirely. In short, if you do not truly have tribal heritage, nip this absurd idea in the bud right now. However, if you do have tribal affiliation, you’re in luck. Native Americans in higher education are the most underrepresented minority. Though you still must have basic minimum requirements for any public universities or near average requirements for the privates, your heritage will be a factor (if, at the least, a minor one) during the review of your application.

As for the other boxes that one could potentially check. Race and heritage are no longer able to play strong roles in the admission process. However, it would be ignorant for me to say that schools with little diversity on campus – who ARE trying to increase their minority numbers – would not consider strongly a competitive candidate who comes from a minority group. The key word here is “competitive”. And, also, keep in mind that when an applicant checks that box indicating that he/she is of a certain minority group and then puts his/her signature on the end of the application, verifying that the information contained in the application is true, they are signing a contract which, if accepted (the student is offered admission), states that the acceptance is contingent upon the accurate and honest representation of the student’s record. In other words, if you have been dishonest in any portion of the application (i.e. stating that the courses you took were not taken, stating that you are a different race than you claimed, stating that your parents either did or did not attain a certain level of education, etc . . .) your admission can (and most likely will) be rescinded.

Not only will your offer of admission be rescinded but it will most likely be punished by, at the least, the university not refunding any deposit you may have made or, worse, banning you from submitting an amended application or transfer application or application for graduate school in the future. Best policy: be careful and be honest. There is a college out there that needs a person just like YOU, just the way you are!

April 15, 2008

College Costs How Much?

It's true what they say in many cases: you get what you pay for. A friend recently told me that the cheap deoderant I had just bought will really end up being more expensive for me because . . . well, because it wasn't working. So I will, obviously, have to go back and purchase a better product. But, is this the case with colleges and universities? I'm not so sure. As recently as 2003, George Washington University could not be found on any of the various (albeit extremely similar) Top-10 lists for "Most Expensive" college in America. In fact, the most expensive, ‘traditional’ university in America, according to CNN Money in November, 2003, was the $30,824 per year tuition at Sarah Lawrence College (a phenomenally creative and academic place to be, for sure). However, Sarah Lawrence now takes the backseat to our reigning champ from Washington D.C. at a staggering $39,240 per year . . . and that's JUST tuition. The total cost of a year's education at G.W. tops the $50,000 mark. And you want to know something? Since they first made the top-10 list in 2004, George Washington has received a drastic increase in the number of applications to their undergraduate programs. So, it's working for them, right? They raise tuition costs and more people apply. It seems that families who desire a G.W. education cannot be out-priced- nor are they alone. Though G.W. still receives fewer freshman applications than, say, Harvard, Stanford, Yale or Princeton, would it be fair to assume that with the rise in cost of a G.W. education and the fact that their applicant pool has increased with it, that they WILL continue to raise their tuition rates on a yearly basis? Wouldn't you?

Until they hit a boiling point where the tuition rises to a level that actually deters applicants, resulting in fewer applications to the University than the year before, they have no reason to halt the tuition increases. So, while many people are up in arms about the rising cost of tuition for both public and private universities in this Country (especially Congressmen and women, some of whom, I’m certain, have paid staggering tuition bills themselves), it seems that our actions are speaking louder than our words. Ponder with me one point: Why is it that when gas hits a certain price, the sale of hybrids start to increase exponentially. But when costs of higher education begin to rise to these levels, which, as recently as 5-10 years ago were considered unrealistic, applications increase and faux-status (rankings) builds right along with it. I would warn anybody from using the various annual lists of top universities as a starting point in their research on where to apply (or a middle or ending point, for that matter). Even though paying attention to statistics such as faculty:student ratio is valuable and can be found in these rankings, when applications seem to go up in number as in correlation to tuition increases, it's no wonder some universities take their rankings so seriously. Are universities not run as for-profit businesses these days?

I do not intend to tell anyone how or where they should spend their money. I just wish to take contention with the notion that college cost is a direct relation to classroom quality. Universities cannot outbid their counterparts for tuition increases as a sign of true academic strength. However, it seems that, perhaps, we are falling for the old adage: you get what you pay for. And in this case, I’ll be the first to say, you’re paying too much. I realize that intelligence IS invaluable and our education is the only thing that can never be taken away from us. In fact, this is a statement of fact that I am constantly espousing to my students and their families.

So, please be prudent and conscious when shopping for an education. I am not saying that it should be cheap. Heck, one of the cheapest public systems of higher education is the State of Florida’s and, because it’s so cheap, the whole system is floundering on the brink of bankruptcy. This is not a scenario that a student wants to find him/herself in halfway through their undergraduate education: program cuts; larger class sizes; hiring freezes, etc . . . At the same time, just because a school is one of the most expensive universities does not guarantee anything other than . . . it’s very expensive. There is a whole spectrum of schools out there. Look at publics that are in and out-of-state, as well as privates on both coasts and, of course, in between. Remember, just because you can (spend the money) doesn’t mean you have to. And, just because it’s the most (expensive) doesn’t mean it provides the most.

April 14, 2008

Gimme, Gimme: My Ideas on Positive and Negative Reinforcement

If someone told you that they would give you a FREE CAR upon turning 16 and all you had to do was . . . absolutely nothing, what do you think you would say? Answer seems pretty easy for anyone who has ever encountered the idea of responsibility and reward. However, I’m encountering more and more young people today who expect reward without accepting any responsibility. The car when one turns 16 is not only NOT APPRECIATED, it is expected. It's completely appropriate for a parent to want more for their children than what they had when they were growing up, sure. But isn't reward a bit more appealing?

For independent men and women, the need to be proactive is essential. If you don't work hard first and you don't satisfy necessary needs, you fall behind. In other words, you don’t get a paycheck until the work has been put in, in most cases, right? That's the bill-paying, 9 to 5 world of those who Work-to-Earn. I don't mean to sound like an old curmudgeon, but there's an inherent difference between the lives of those who LIVE at the home and those who SUPPORT the home. If a primary wage-earner of the house is not proactive in their responsibilities- and those responsibilities are usually pretty clear and general (i.e. mortgage, car payments, utility bills, groceries, etc . . .) - the potential for reward is minimalized as basic needs are even more difficult to achieve. But, for teenagers, even the understanding of responsibility is often vague and unclear.

Perhaps one family expects grades of straight-A's whereas another family expects a son to be starting quarterback. The expectations can be tremendous and, so often, not articulated clearly or supported by any sort of positive or negative reinforcement. In other words, if an expectation is met, it is completely appropriate for the agreed-upon reward to be bestowed. However, what does it teach a young person if they do not follow through with their side of the bargain- or, worse yet, there is no clear quantifier of what “their side of the bargain” is- but their actions are reinforced with some sort of positive reward, regardless, as if they had followed through with the responsibility? What happens, most often, in my opinion, is that the rewards offered are not specifically for the student. For example, perhaps it is a bit of a schlep for a parent to take their student to school and so the offer of a car for an outstanding report card is not only as a reward for the student, but also to lift a burden off the parent’s shoulders (aka: reward for the parent). This is one of the biggest mistakes made in the positive reinforcement process.

The rewards offered to young people have to be rewards which, if not earned, would not have a negative impact on other members of the family. Parents have to be prepared to follow through with their rewards and, likewise, repercussions. This is such a pertinent aspect of the teachable moment in young people’s development. Just as bad for helping to shape a young person’s value code as setting unrealistic expectations on them, is the trend to offer reward whether or not reward has been earned.

April 11, 2008

But You HAVE to Take it! (dealing with the SAT/ACT)

It’s no secret that the standardized tests for college admission are a burden to bear. With so much riding on the scores- especially if you’re planning on applying to public schools- there are two ways to look at it, regardless of your level of preparation: first, the test is so difficult and there’s so much riding on the results that if the scores are not reflective of YOU, in your opinion, ALL dreams will be lost; or perhaps a more grounded perspective, everybody out there for the last century, who had hopes of gain admission to colleges and universities across the U.S. have taken this test and it has not altered the state of the universe- in any apocalyptic fashion. In other words, it’s just a test. The weight of the world does not depend on the score that you receive.
To be quite honest, it’s not appropriate to have the colleges that one hopes to apply to selected BEFORE ever taking either the ACT or the SAT or both. If this is the case, a student is putting him/herself in a perfect position to feel like a failure. However, it will be no one else’s fault but your own if you do not prepare properly. For all of the hype surrounding college admissions and the SAT and ACT exams, it surprises me how many students skirt the preparation.

Let me digress for the sake of an example. My sport of choice was water polo. I grew up in a pool, training as much as one could. In water polo there is a penalty shot called the 5-meter. Similar to a penalty kick in soccer, a field goal in football or a free-throw in basketball, a 5-meter penalty shot is precisely as it sounds: one player, unguarded, 5-meters out who, with the blow of the whistle, has to pick the ball up and shoot into a cage which is guarded by a goalkeeper. Not the hardest thing in the world, is it? Surely not. Is it the easiest? Not by a stretch. Especially when it’s a close game, perhaps in the conference tournament or, better yet, the NCAA Championship. However, a good player will always make time in their days to practice this shot. They practice at the close of a workout, when their legs are exhausted, their arm and shoulder can hardly hold the ball up let alone throw another shot, yet they know, come game time, when it really counts, they have practiced this shot so often that the ability to score is a habit. Missing the shot is not even a fleeting thought . . . this is, arguably, the greatest anxiety a player can experience. How do the top performers cope with the pressure on a day-to-day basis? Through repeated practice.

An old adage that I remember hearing from one of my childhood coaches, “practice doesn’t make perfect, PERFECT practice makes perfect!” resonates with me to this day. When I work with my students to help make them smarter and better prepared to enter any type of learning situation- be it a test, debate or, perhaps, an admissions interview, we don’t focus on the AMOUNT of work as much as we do on the QUALITY of the work. The point is not to maximize the capacity for memorizing test-like problems as it is being the most prepared mind in the room. When stumped on a vocabulary problem, the difference in scores of a “successful” test-taker and a disappointed test-taker are those who are able to make NO educated guess and those who can narrow the options down to three, sometimes even two choices. Through recognizing the connotation or root of the words or the context of the sentence where it is placed, the tests do tend to be biased in favor of those students who are more critical thinkers and better prepared. In other words, students who can analyze a sentence for a positive or negative missing word or whether the two missing words are going to have similar definitions or, perhaps, be opposites, because they have trained themselves through practice, will find greater success than students who think that the SAT/ACT require no extra preparation outside of an English III Honors course.

I have had one student who suffered such great anxiety attacks and, literally, responded to the idea of the SAT like he was Chicken Little and sure enough the sky WAS falling. By all fair reasoning, he was mildly prepared and should have been in the range of 1000 combined for the math and reading sections, maybe even a bit higher. However, his panic was so intense, beginning about two days before the test, that he lost all focus and would, apparently, stare at his answer sheet like he was asleep with his eyes open. Luckily, we made sure that he had many other things going for himself when it came to the strength of his application and he will be enrolling in one of my favorite schools for the Fall of 2008, University of Colorado at Boulder. I would highly recommend that if you have this similar test-day lapse, get yourself an appointment with a psychologist who does testing evaluations and is knowledgeable regarding the process of how to recommend certain accommodations for when you actually sit for the SAT, ACT, SAT II’s and AP exams, etc . . .

With testing season upon us, my greatest advice for all students who are feeling the nerves and pressure of their future looming in one, four-hour, standardized exam: it is never too late to get yourself prepared. Set aside the same thirty minutes to one hour every day to go over vocabulary, review math problems that you have not done in a year or two and maybe, if you have reviewed and crammed all your vocabulary and math and you still have a few minutes before practice starts or your music teacher or your study group arrives, go to http://www.nytimes.com/ and read an article or two!

Good luck.

April 9, 2008

Campus Food and the Discerning Palates of College Students


Check out the link, above

This is the link to the future . . . of colleges and universities all across America. If not all colleges and universities, at least those that want to continue to attract aware, curious, skeptical, honest and, in my opinion, high-achieving students. Ten years ago universities started to get the idea that selling out the rights to various corporate entities, be it Barnes and Noble or Pizza Hut, Starbucks or Dreyer's Ice Cream, in order to gain name brand recognition in their new, state-of-the-art student centers-- would be the major selling point to prospective students. Oh yeah, and to earn a quick buck, of course! This has been the fad at most universities as they constantly begin and end capital campaigns to enhance their endowments. But many of these universities will begin to suffer the consequences of their actions as they realize that they have 10-year contracts, for example, with these corporate entities, but students are no longer attracted by the heat lamp pizza-by-the-slice and overall lack of healthy options. This generation of college students, with everything from the Iraq War to the Presidential election, are some of the most active young people that we've seen in this country since the Vietnam era. Though they certainly are also the generation of fast-food, text messaging and cell phone dependence, they are also the generation born to the parents from that Vietnam era- parents who want their kids to experience more, live richer, fuller lives and have more options than ever. Bottom line: colleges now are playing one big game of catch-up. They all want to set a trend in some area or another. When, in 1983 Princeton built a climbing wall, other universities immediately followed suit. Some universities look for anything to set themselves apart: extra-long beds; pool tables in every residence hall; on-campus banks; 24-hour libraries, etc . . . But the strange thing is, no matter how much we know about eating habits and long-term health being linked to nutrition, universities just aren't acting quickly enough to make their options healthier and more diverse. Is not college, for most students, the time when they first begin to learn responsibility in their daily eating habits? So, it is those universities that do not share nutritional values with this young generation which will continue to feel the impact of their own decision to not incorporate healthy options on their enrollment and application numbers. Applications will continue to go down. Enrollment will cease to grow. I find that teenagers today are more aware of themselves than ever. We are graduating high school seniors who have put more thought into their potential career (post-college) than any young men and women before them. Parents are telling their students in their freshman and sophomore years of high school that they need to start thinking about a career-path. I'm not saying that this is right, nor am I saying it's wrong, but I am saying that it's the truth. These students are responsible, healthy-minded and aware. You might not think I'm talking about YOUR student, but remember, teenagers are never AS responsible, healthy-minded and aware as WE want them to be. If they were, they'd be very unique (or our standards would be too low). So, remember, when you're looking into colleges and universities, be aware of the fact that if they can't cater to your needs in the dining hall(s), what makes you think they will challenge you to grow in other arenas of the college experience? Just a thought. Honestly, the article I linked above is just too juicy to read on an empty-stomach. Bon Apetit!

April 8, 2008

Not Every College is the Same

Not every college is the same. Granted, there are the campus-environment issues, student life activities available, etc . . . However, when we get down to the nitty-gritty, the meat of the institutions, the range is as broad as Shaq’s wingspan. I had a realization of this when my girlfriend, a Columbia University alumna, and I, hosted her brother (a University of Chicago alumni) for a few days in our Florida abode.

The conversational structure was much more formulated, well-thought, articulate and really, more intense than that which I am used to engaging with when conversing with John Doe. To imply that there is this great misconception about colleges and universities being homogenous is not what I want to do. Don’t misconstrue what I write. Or that “A” college’s business school might be a bit more prestigious than “B” college’s, but really you learn the same things- is not true. There are Tier-II and Tier-III schools that have programs and schools which rank in the top-10 of that particular focus. This is not because of the highly competitive admissions process or the “kill-or-be-killed” academic mentality, but the focus on open dialogue, creative, analytical thinking, Socratic method and, the very nature of college: getting to pursue that which YOU ACTUALLY HAVE AN INTEREST IN. Ahh, the refreshing freedom of selecting courses and electing to enroll in those units that do interest you.

At Chicago, you can expect to read more than anywhere else. At Columbia encounter tremendous juxtaposition of university versus city life. My alma mater . . . ethics and freshman experience- every frosh must take an ethics seminar. But, I’ll tell you what, if you don’t like to read, Chicago isn’t for you. If you don’t enjoy beautiful campuses in the middle of big cities, Columbia is not an option. And, if you think that ethics is defined as that which is moral in every individual society- or you really like to commit sins on the weekend and talk about them in class on Monday morning, as so often seemed to be the routine for certain people, there’s a small, Top 100 University in California’s rich and diverse Central Valley, University of the Pacific, that’s just for you!

April 7, 2008


It is, in my personal experiences, quite clear that there are three significant events or series’ of events which are responsible for creating and providing a true sense of place for people. Being that humans are community-oriented and thrive out of social opportunities where we are, more often than not, looking to pursue mutually-beneficial relationships, these three areas are, perhaps, the only three which can- almost without fail- provide us with a sense of our place, our lot, our community our connection. The three to which I am referring are: family, college and travel.

Family is, without a doubt, the marker of our experiences. Whether the family is nuclear (a household with mom, dad, brothers and sisters), extended (uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins, all living under one roof) or more “21st century” (divorced parents with half sisters/brothers), we gain our understanding of “place” in home-life. Regardless of whether the home is, in retrospect, a positive or a negative environment, our sense of place is still present. If the experience is more negative, a son or daughter may come to understand that his/her role in the family is dissimilar from his/her peers. However, the role- and the family- are still very much the community that is responsible for supporting and nurturing the growth of the children, albeit they may be more neglected than anything else, but neglect, although a negative, is still a form of nurture.

The second area where we develop our sense of place is in college and university communities. It is here, not in primary education, where the majority of pupils experience their first ah-ha moments. It is here, where we live in communities of our peers, sorting out personal issues, promoting positive decision-making, stimulating the intellect and stoking the desires of our psyches. College is, in America, the first opportunity for most students to choose their own activities and pursue their own paths of enlightenment. Because it tends to be a process of trial and error (i.e. the selection of classes, selection of majors, selection of meats in the cafeteria, selection of friends you want to cohabitate with, recreational activities that you wish to try, etc . . .) university life tends to be the period of the most significant personal development in the lives of young adults. The evidence is even apparent in university statistics. Just look at the fact that alumni donate money to their alma mater, most often after they’ve already paid the university to provide them with an education. This is the whole catch, universities are no longer just classrooms responsible for shaping the minds of future generations, right? Now, they are responsible for much more. The services that any given university provides are endless. Campuses are becoming more and more insular as they create entire self-sufficient communities to allow students the opportunity to never leave if they choose not to. So, regardless of whether one may argue that this is good or bad, it would be difficult to argue that this does not foster a true sense of place.

Travel is no longer just for the wealthy. If you don’t believe me, I’ll send some of my photos from a recent trip! In fact, I would argue that typical “wealthy travel” is defeatist in its methodology. To want to experience a different culture it is imperative that we remove ourselves from the most comfortable situations. In other words, traveling from one continent to another, bunking in a 5-star hotel and eating at all the fashionable restaurants is, I would argue, an interesting way to flatter oneself. In traveling we gain the opportunity to examine our instincts, our home, our traditions, our history, our education and our unique cultural characteristics. It is difficult, if not impossible, to share thoughts and ideas about certain destinations without degrading the meaning of the experience. It’s like taking a snapshot of a sky: no panoramic lens could convey the enormity.

Family is not our choice (though we often have friends who we consider family and family who we don’t consider family at all). College is a choice. Not only whether you will go but where you will go and what you will do while you are there. I, personally, have only one regret with my college experience and that is that I did not pursue the opportunity to study abroad. At the time, my commitments were specific and my priorities were dissimilar to now. As well, I never had anyone motivating me and lending insight as to the benefits of studying in a different country. How did I know that the cost would be identical to a regular semester (or year, depending on how long I chose) or that I would still be on track to graduate in four years? No one explained to me the benefits or showed to me the opportunities for expanding my personal community. Now, several years later, counseling high school kids on the college selection process, I am trying to make up for that.