Tag Archives: undergraduate

CollegeQandA asks: How do I write a great entrance essay that gets me into elite schools?

How do I write a great entrance essay that gets me into elite schools?

This is a post title that I’ve seen much of lately.  College bound students are trying to get in the best school possible.  The reason to do this is… what is the reason to go to the best most elite school?

"Elite" spraypaint art

Why go to school X?

My general opinion on choice of schools is to go

  • In state – because of lower costs and quality of education
  • Public – lower costs and quality of education
  • Community college – for first one or two years (if credits transfer) because of lower cost, quality of education, and low risk investment to test your motivation

In other words, find the lowest cost entry point to higher education in the beginning of your higher ed path to evaluate if the institution, degrees, and learning environment are worth the huge investment.

Are there reasons to divert from this?

Of course there are.  If you and your family have the means to send you anywhere, then you should go anywhere.  For the other 99% of us, then you should question why a special school is for you (also don’t go there just because of sports team X since you can wear sports team X’s clothing and still be a fan minus the thousands of dollars in education fees).

What are the benefits of private schools?  These schools have more control over what they focus on, where their money is allocated, and what their mission is as an institution.   Their alumni network will, typically, be strong.

What are the benefits of elite schools?  These schools have the benefits of private institutions plus – These schools tend to have a student body that self-selected as the high performers in traditional schooling.  These schools have a recognition signal  (how the world perceives them) that is known world-wide instead of state, regional, or nationwide.

Is the education better at more elite schools?

Possibly.  The best students, in theory, should provide an environment and community of deep thought, inquiry, and learning.  This isn’t always the case since competitive students can continue to compete to be the best of the best at the expense of helping and creating a great learning community.

I don’t think that undergraduate education at elite schools results in significantly different outcomes.  The exception is schools that provide unique cultures that tie well to existing trends such as entrepreneurship and nontraditional educational paths.

So how do you write that essay?

Good question.  I’m of the lesser group that never tried the route of the elite.  If I had to write an essay, I would probably write about LEGO and it’s future in education.  At least that would be interesting for me to write about.  Not sure I would get in, though.

Credits: photo titled: Elite; by Daniel Lobo

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CollegeQandA asks: Should I go to graduate school?

Who goes to graduate school?

Should I go to graduate school? This is an important question to consider as you complete your undergraduate and try to plan out your career. We will take a few perspectives on the whys and why nots.

Clock with 3 replaced by word career

Rarely just because

Many people who I’ve talked to about going to graduate school include the answer, “just because”.  I, probably, should be included in this camp, but my other reason for going to graduate school was that a professor a respected and listened to told me to go to graduate school.  I, obviously, had a great plan for my future.  The trick here is graduate school can:

  • Cost significant amounts of money
  • Costs more money in terms of lost opportunity cost
  • Takes time
  • Is not a guarantee of being completed successfully
  • Might not impact your life goals

The first piece to choosing to go or not to, is to have some sort of plan on where and what you want to do.

Let’s start with the Master’s degree

In most cases, a masters degree is a financial end career total earnings the best degree to get.  Still, that does not mean you should just do the degree.  Also, this is general advice on the Master’s degree and there are a tonnes of factors to consider depending on your individual case including current debt, area of study, job market, location in the world, school to attend, etc.

The masters degree is an opportunity to spend one to three years delving deeper into academics via courses, projects, and in some cases, a thesis.  This additional depth means that you will improve your ability to think and do, and people who can think and do better tend to get paid more if there is demand.

One other thing I noticed when I did my Master’s was that I got to tackle problems that I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to work on until 2-5 years into an industrial career.

Finally, I know many people who say they plan on doing their Master’s later.  This is possible, but in most cases getting paid and the prospect of doing a Master’s and being paid significantly less (if anything) is very tricky to do.

For the Ph.D. degree

In almost all cases, I think the main reason to pursue a Ph.D. degree is if you want to become a professor (or really think you want to become a professor).   I, highly, recommend you read The Professor is In before starting that degree to understand the nature of the faculty job world.  If you start with the basic idea that a Professor self-replicates by advising and creating Ph.D students, then you quickly see how a market with exponential growth doesn’t have positions for everyone in it and is competitive – Amazon.

If you have another reason to do a Ph.D, then as long as you see it as a means to get what you want then it is fine.  That is unless the reason is you want to be called Doctor; not worth the toil for such a title.

Credits: photo titled: Clock-career; by Flazingo Photos

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CollegeQandA asks: What to look at on a college visit?

The College campus visit

View of american university

I see visitors to our campus year round, but during fall there is a big upswing in the number of tours.  This makes sense since this is about the time a high school senior student is trying to pick where they will apply and attend next year.  So now on the tour, what to look at on a college visit?

Just like this website, it’s all about questions.  However, you must realize that colleges are going to present themselves as best as they can.  So, this is where you need to either find the honest person or ask probing questions to find out what really matters.

Ignore how pretty the university is among other things

If you can, start by assuming that all colleges have their beauty and traditions.  How nice the place looks is not relevant to your education and future career.  The following does not matter that much except in special cases:

  • How big is your dorm room (getting a single room might matter)?
  • How new is the student center?
  • How good is the rec center?
  • How good is the BLANK sports team?
  • Are there smart boards in the classrooms?
  • How many Nobel laureates are there at this institution?
  • What rankings is this university doing well in?
  • Is there a water park – really…?

The second piece of advice that seems to be becoming common is, “you’ll just feel right when you get to the college for you”.

I would argue that most colleges of a mid-range status provide a good undergraduate education, and most colleges have a similar culture, resources, and structure compared to each other.  The difference between an elite school and a mid-range school is less about the education you will receive, and is more about the strength of the cohort that will attend with you and potential access to alumni.  A strong cohort sometimes means being a small fish in a big pond.  You have to ask if elite or mid-range provides you what you want.

For example, my first question to any out-of-state visitor to our school is, “Why aren’t you thinking of going to state school X in your state?  They have a good engineering school.”

Figure out what you want

Your questions should be directed when you visit.  What you really want to know is will the undergraduate education be suitable for what you want and how you learn.  This can mean:

  • How much interaction will I have with the professors? – some people want lots; some people don’t want any
  • What will be my typical class size in my first year as well as my fourth year? – do you want small or large classes
  • How hard is it to get in the major I want to pursue? – will you be able to get in and succeed in your desired path (what is the retention rate in that major – not the school)
  • What do people from school X do after degree Y? – where are graduates going geographically and work wise, and is this what you want to do
  • How much will it cost? – you need to get a feel for the cost (tuition+extras – typical discounts)
  • Do you have any special needs and are there services for that need? – if you need something special will it be available
  • What distractions/entertainment are there at a college like this? – residential and city campuses have very different types of lifestyle
  • How is the community and culture of the major you want to do? – what do students and faculty do

In the end, skip the tour and stay local

My advice is to stay in-state for your undergraduate degree.  I believe almost everyone can adapt to the school they pick, so just pick one in state and start there.  Community colleges are another great opportunity if you are a little bit unsure and want to try with a lower entry cost.  There’s nothing wrong with touring a bunch of schools for interest sake, but I don’t think these tours should be a large factor in your decision.  If anything, these tours will market to your consumer desires as opposed to what matters in an undergraduate institution – educating yourself and obtaining the degree!

Credits: photo titled: American University ; by chucka_nc

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