Tag Archives: rankings

CollegeQandA asks: On the college tours, what should I ask?

What are some good questions to ask on the college tours?

It is college tour season.  I participated in my first faculty panel this month.  These panels have professors representing different parts of the school sitting and answering questions from prospective students and families.  This is one small piece of the college tour.  I sit on these panels fascinated by the questions that are asked.  I wonder if the questions I hear are the important questions to ask.

Tour guide pointing to statue

What is the goal of the tour?

The goal is to find out if this is the place that will be a good environment for your next 4 years of learning.  This means you are looking for a welcoming, challenging, engaging, and interesting environment.  So, why then is place X better than place Y?

What would be a good question?

The good questions will have answers that will help you differentiate between different places.  This means the questions should be open ended.  The questions should be related to the learning environment.  The questions should be about personal experiences (the bad and the good).

For example, a question such as: “How big are your classes?” will have many nuanced answers from place to place.  Based on the size of the university (student enrollment) and the type of classrooms (how many large lecture rooms) you can easily guess to this answer.  They start bigger and progress to smaller, but this answer doesn’t give you any idea of the experience.

A better question might be: “How does your college make bigger lecture classes into good learning environments?”  That’s a very tricky question for a professor, and if they aren’t aware that there are different ways of improving learning, then maybe that university isn’t particularly interested in undergraduate education.  “How did you like your lecture with 100+ students?”, will get to a students perspective on the large lectures.

Similarly, “Can you describe a situation where you did a research project with a student/faculty member?”  This is another question that looks into the idea that undergraduates are doing research-like activities at this university.  What is actually being learned and what are undergraduates actually doing?

Follow these questions up with, “Can I get their email to find out more about their experience?” and “Can you name professors/students in your department who have done things like this?”

Questions that delve into personal experiences at a university will go deeper into the experience at said university instead of generalities.  Also, try and talk to people who are not directly involved in the college tours.  What do the non-groomed faces of the institution have to say?

What questions are bad?

The bad questions tend to include superficial questions (how big is the dorm rooms?), mechanical questions (are there internships available?), or too focused on a particular path (how hard is it to switch from major X to major Y?).

The first two questions can be asked via email or a web search and tell you very little about this particular university.  All universities have very similar offerings, will offer similar good rankings, will show how past students have been successful, and will have all sorts of statistics that are in favour of the school.  Therefore, asking these types of questions allows for the toured presentation to talk about things that don’t really matter in respect to what is the university offering to you and how it differs from your other potential options.

The last question is too specific to an upcoming experience (undergraduate degree) that is very difficult to plan out from day one to day 1200.

Credits: photo titled: Guided Tour; by Mads Bødker

CollegeQandA asks: Should the department of my major be highly ranked?

How good should your department be?

Should the department of my major be highly ranked?  Your department is a division within the university where your major (or minor) is housed and mostly administered.  In many cases, a department will determine the curriculum to earn a major, and will teach the classes in relation to that major.  For example, a physics undergraduate major will be part of the physics department.

Podium medals

What will rankings tell you?

First, what might be some good rankings to look at from a department perspective (as opposed to rankings for entire universities).   US news rankings is not a great source since the departments are ranked based on graduate ranking.  This means the main measurements are related to research output, and these metrics have little impact on undergraduate education.  LinkedIn’s career rankings is an interesting way to approach ranking your major since it measures departments in terms of career prospects of active alumni, and this would be the ranking system I might use.

Still, the limitation of rankings is that a few metrics are used to evaluate quality, and the relevance of those metrics are questionable depending on your case.  A better approach is to have an understanding of what majors are learning and where are they working afterwards (where LinkedIn works well).  Those two questions are more relevant to your individual case than perceived and measured metrics.

Another, it doesn’t matter, it’s up to you

From an undergraduate perspective, I feel that similar to choosing a college, how well ranked your department is has very little importance in your undergraduate degree.  However, if you know where you want to work (both job and location), then specific schools may serve specific markets.

Most state and provincial schools supply employees to local companies, and a few of their graduates will find their ways into top global corporations.  It is useful to look at your potential schools pipelines.  However, your first job is a first step that will lead to many other opportunities if you perform well.  Your undergraduate is an opportunity to learn and grow.  Any department at a good school will push you in this growth, and where you take yourself really depends on your efforts in learning and doing.

Credit: photo titled: Paola ESPINOSA y Tatiana ORTIZ, bronce, ¡Felicidades México!; by Marco Paköeningrat