Tag Archives: choosing a school

College Tours. Questions to Ask on a College Visit – And Who to Ask


College Tours. Campus Tours. Questions to Ask on a College Visit – and Who to Ask

Visiting your prospective colleges before you make a decision is smart. If you can’t visit one of your top choices, conduct phone interviews with multiple college staff and students. Either way, you have a great opportunity to make a more informed decision if you take the opportunity to learn from the people who study, work, and teach on campus first. By asking the right questions, you can gain a strong sense of a school and its culture, far beyond the facts and figures on its website.

201109-w-college-campus-notre-dameTo make the most of your visits, you should prepare thoughtful questions to ask on each college visit. The college tour is just one part of your college visit. Set your goal to meet with more than just the college tour guide and watch the promotional film or PowerPoint slideshow. This guide will provide you with a comprehensive college visit checklist of questions for your tour guide, current students, admissions officers, financial aid officers and professors. Plus, we’ll offer some advice on what not to ask.

Do the Research Before You Arrive on Campus.

You’ll see a few links highlighted throughout the article that refer to different pages on Student Resource Central, an online e-binder of relevant and highly valuable information. Between Student Resource Central and the college’s website, you have 90% of the information needed to make a good college choice. That last 10% will be revealed on campus and is equally critical.

About Shyness.

Get over it. You and/or your parents are about to spend a great deal of money (even if you have a full scholarship) for your education. If you were buying a $70,000 car, you’d probably ask a few questions and take it for a test ride before buying it. This is your opportunity to make an informed decision for you. Don’t let the circumstances hold you back from asking the questions you want and need to ask.

If you are considering colleges – then you have earned the right to ask questions – and get answers.

Why Are College Tours Important?

You can check out the school’s facilities, like the library, dorms, dining halls, gym, and science labs, as well as branch out to see its surrounding city/town culture. Gathering your impressions of your college’s campus and beyond will help you gain a much stronger sense of whether or not it’s a place you’d like to live and learn for four years. First impressions usually carry a heavy weight. However, many students who ended up going to their “2nd choice” for reasons out of their control report adapting and loving their “2nd choice”. At the end of the day, loving or hating any given college choice will be in your control.

We recommend having three designations for college choices after you have completed your due diligence. Sort your college choices into A, B and C groups. The A group is for your strongest matches – those that offer exactly the major you are wanting, the college is visited and supported by industry-related companies that employ students in your major and/or for your career interest and have great facilities, culture and top quality academics. Group B is for those colleges that offer something that fits what you want to major in, have reasonably good connections with industry representatives in your field of study and have an acceptable level of facilities and campus life. Group C is for those you have clearly decided to reject for any reason.

Keep in mind, an amazing visit is actually a subjective evaluation using fabricated events. When students have an amazing visit they typically feel much more empowered to put together a stellar application. If you find yourself applying to one of your “B group” choices, be sure to approach the application with the same enthusiasm as if it were your first choice. That B choice may just be the best choice.

collegecampusfallBesides sampling the dining food or hanging out on the quad, you can also learn about the student experience from your tour guide who is usually a current student, and other current students that you meet (summer tours present less opportunity to see the campus the way it will be during the busy Fall and Spring semesters).

Even the other student visitors on the tour with you are valuable connections. Ask them why they are considering that college, what major and career direction they are considering. Set up meetings to speak with admissions officers, financial aid officers, and/or professors. Those meetings are not advertised, and the admissions folks may even say they don’t want you meeting with professors. However, most deans and professors enjoy meeting with prospective students. Keep in mind they are needing to market their offerings so it is in their interest to take the time to meet with you.

Prepare.

Current students, tour guides, professors and deans can offer their unique perspectives and experiences, especially if you ask meaningful college visit questions that lead to broader conversations.

Before you hit the road, be sure to do your homework. Student Resource Central: Education Research: Search Colleges and Universities has incredibly rich data on pretty much every college, university and most vocational schools. You’ll want to know about costs, financial aid and perhaps most importantly, graduation and retention rates.

College Search Results US Dept Education College Scorecard

Choose questions based on your specific interests and who you are interviewing. Modify each question as needed. If a question asks about popular classes in general, for instance, you can adapt it to ask specifically about popular classes in, say, the Biology Department.

Questions to Ask Your Tour Guide or Other Current Students

Most college tour guides are big fans of their colleges and are enthusiastic to share why. They tend to know lots of history and fun facts about the school, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect them to rattle off specific data and statistics about graduation rates and financial aid packages (save those kinds of questions for administrative officers) along with the information you collected through the resources mentioned above.

Tour guides are usually current students, so they can also speak to their personal experience. Remember, they were in your shoes just a few years before!

The following questions are divided by academics, support resources, internships, study abroad programs, extracurricular activities, residential life, and general culture. Finally, we’ll suggest some personal questions for your tour guide. As you read, consider which questions you’d like answered, and how you might customize them to meet your specific interests and needs!

Questions about Academics

  • What majors are considered this universities signature programs (which colleges are ranked higher compared to similar colleges/universities)?
  • Which majors/programs are recognized by employers based on number of internships and offers upon graduation?
  • How large are the required classes? [These will be larger. Some universities will have as many as 75 – 150 in their larger classes. The more common core the subject, the more likely it will be large.]
  • What courses are you aware of that offer especially innovative or creative learning experiences? Which classes have been most interesting to you so far? [The student may not be in the major you are considering. This question is more for gaining insight into the types of class delivery that is at the college/university that you may not have experienced in high school.]
  • Are the professors accessible outside of class? What has been your strategy for accessing the professors. Do the professors hold office hours? How often can students interact with professors outside of class?
  • What kind of classes have smaller section meetings? What are they like?
  • Are there any especially popular classes or must-have professors? [either for core required classes or if the student you are talking to is in the major you are considering]
  • When did you choose your major?
  • How much freedom do freshmen have in choosing courses?
  • Are students usually able to take their first choice courses?
  • How’s the Wi-Fi? How’s the cell phone coverage? Which providers provide the most comprehensive coverage? [some college campuses don’t have the cell phone coverage you’d think they would have]
  • How are freshman advisors assigned?
  • How would you describe the freshman experience, in terms of advising or any classes that everyone has to take?
  • Can undergraduates work with professors on research?
  • Are there honors programs? If so, what are they like?
  • Declared Double MajorIs it easy to change your major? Can I enter as a freshman with a double major?
  • How many hours of class do students typically have each week? How many hours of homework outside of class per day/week?
  • Are finals more exam-based or project / essay-based?
  • Where are your favorite best places to study on campus?
  • What are the hours for the library? Do these change during reading periods or exam weeks?
  • Are there any research methods or online tools I should learn about for my classes?
    • Do any majors require seniors to write a thesis or complete a senior project?

Academic and Social-Emotional Support

  • Can you get help from professors outside of the classroom?
  • What free academic support or tutoring is available?
  • What kind of resources are there for international student support and orientation?
  • What kind of learning disability resources does the school offer?
  • Is there a writing center to help with essays and research papers?
  • Are academic advisers accessible and effective?
  • Do the librarians help with research?
  • Do students organize study groups or online discussion forums?
  • Are there computer labs available with the required software?
  • How accessible and helpful is health services?
  • Are there opportunities to participate in organized conversations about issues and events with administrators, deans, professors and other students?
  • Describe the social orientation programs for freshmen? Are they required/recommended/optional? What was the most valuable thing students talk about after attending an orientation program?
  • Is there career counseling available? Have you received career counseling? Was it helpful?

Research, Internship, and Study Abroad Opportunities

student volunteers

  • What kind of opportunities exist for undergraduates to work on research or academic projects with professors?
  • What kind of internships are available? Do a lot of students get internships? What is the typical strategy for getting an internship?
  • Are any departments known for obtaining internships for most or all of their students?
  • Do any majors prepare students to continue as researchers in a Master’s or doctoral program?
  • Are study abroad programs popular? Any ones in particular?
  • Do most students study abroad on a program through the school or an external program?
  • Do students of certain majors, like engineers, find it difficult to study abroad?
  • Are there internship opportunities abroad?
  • Are there opportunities through the school for summer internships or research?

Extracurricular Activities

  • What are some of the most popular extracurriculars and why?
  • What are some of the larger campus-wide community service events?
  • What intramural sports or exercise classes are available?
  • Can you talk about the ____ club? (Examples might include the student newspaper, student magazine, international relations clubs, art groups, science clubs, musical performances, plays, bands, ensembles…whatever you’re interested in!)
  • In what ways do students connect with and volunteer in the surrounding community?

Residence Life

  • How many students do they really squeeze into those dorm rooms?
  • What are the dorms like? Are there lounges, laundry, and kitchens? Shared or private restrooms?
  • Do certain dorms have a focus or appeal to students with different interests, like a “healthy living” dorm or a dorm for pre-med and science majors?
  • Do most students live in the dorms? What about after sophomore or junior year? When do most students move off campus? How much cheaper is it to live off campus?
  • Are any students placed in dorm triples?
  • How are the resident counselors? What social events are planned for freshmen to get to know one another?
  • Do most students get along with their randomly assigned roommates? [Roommate assessment and guide]
  • What would I do in case of a conflict or need for a room switch? Is that possible?
  • What kind of food does the dining hall serve? Are there different options? How is it, really?
  • Does the dining hall accommodate special dietary restrictions?

Campus Culture and Surrounding Area

  • Where do students tend to hang out on and off campus? Friday/Saturday nights?
  • Are there movie theaters and concert venues? What about good cafes for getting work done or finding the perfect pumpkin spice latte?
  • Do a lot of students belong to fraternities or sororities?
  • How ethnically diverse is the campus?
  • What percent of international students are there? What countries do they come from? [this will likely be answered in the formal presentation]
  • Do students stick around or go home on weekends?
  • What’s the party scene like? (This might be a question to ask current students away from the group tour.)
  • Have there been any recent student protests? What were they protesting, and how did staff and faculty respond?
  • What are some big campus events, like homecoming or alumni weekend?
  • Is it easy to get around campus or get off campus without a car?
  • What transportation options are there around campus?
  • Is it a safe area to walk around at night? What kind of safety measures are in place?
  • Do many students work on or off campus? How easy is it to find a part-time job?

You don’t want to put your tour guide too much on the spot, but you should feel free to ask about her experience at college!

Personal Questions for Current Students

  • What’s your favorite class and why?
  • What’s it like to study in your major?
  • How helpful did you find your freshman year advisor?
  • What do you wish you had known going into freshman year?
  • What do you wish you had asked on a campus tour when you were in my place?
  • What’s a typical weekday like for you?
  • What surprised you about campus life here?
  • Is there anything you wish you had done differently to improve your experience here?
  • Are there any things you’d like to change about the school?
  • What would be your most important advice for freshman?
  • What’s your favorite spot you’ve discovered on campus since arriving?

For more technical information on admissions policies and financial aid offers, you might set up meetings with the relevant offices. Read on for questions to ask the administrative staff.

Questions to Ask an Admissions Officer

StudentSupportDirectionSignsMaking contact with the admissions office can not only get your questions answered, it can also get your “demonstrated interest” on file, which may help when it comes time to reviewing your application. Rather than appearing as an anonymous applicant, admissions officers may recognize you from a meeting, email, or other records of contact. Not all schools keep track of this, but for many, your visits are noted in a file and demonstrating interest by the number of visits may help show your enthusiasm for the school and thereby give you a an edge over applications that don’t show any visits.

If you want to meet with an admissions officer, make sure to set up a meeting via email or calling beforehand. If it’s application season, usually March and April, try to schedule this a few weeks early to make sure they’re not too busy to meet with prospective students. Then have your list of questions ready to show that you prepared and are ready to make the most of your conversation.

NOTE: Students who have investigated career directions, have a good plan and have decided what major or double major they want to pursue in support of that career choice are very attractive to most universities. Share your career interest and choice of major with your admissions office. If you haven’t done the career exploration work just yet and are undecided about a major, we suggest engaging a professional career coach.  In a couple of weeks you can have clarity about your direction, a plan and feel confident about pursuing your interests.

  • What qualities and experiences are you looking for in applicants?
  • What do I need to know about the application evaluation process?
  • My SAT/ACT scores are ___. How large of a role will that play in the admissions evaluation?
  • I imagine you review hundreds of applications. What best advice or pet peeves do you have?
  • Is there any difference for early versus regular decision applications? Is early decision more advantageous.
  • What percentage of students graduate in four years? [see if this aligns with the information from the website resource listed above]
  • What sort of student attributes are most likely to lead to success here?
  • What sort of student might not be happy here?
  • Can you tell me about career placements?
  • Do graduating undergrads typically get accepted to the grad school?
  • What services are available to help students prepare for post-grad employment?
  • Who can I talk to that would have the most insight into employment options and support for the major/career I’m interested in.
  • Do you have an active alumni network?

Questions to Ask a Financial Aid Officer

College Financial Aid Game: How to Get Your Fair Share E-Book Offer

Get the E-Book

Just as the admissions office will have lots of facts and advice about the admissions process, the financial aid office can walk you through your financial application. The next section covers questions you might have for them.

Most schools offer a good deal of information about the cost of tuition, room and board, books, and other fees through online resources (see above resource), as well as the steps to take to apply for financial aid. If financial aid’s an important factor for you, it could be helpful to meet with an officer and make sure you’re doing everything you can to get your financial needs met. Also see Student Resource Central Financial Aid and Scholarships resources for valuable information and free e-book, The College Financial Aid Game: How to Get Your Fair Share.

Research available online resources first, so you’re not asking about info that’s readily available online. Then you can use that base knowledge as a stepping off point for other queries, like the ones below:

  • What kind of need-based financial aid do you offer?
  • Do you meet 100% of demonstrated financial need?
  • What information do you require besides the FAFSA?
  • How many students receive merit-based scholarships? How much is offered?
  • Are there other scholarships that students can apply for at the time of application?
  • How much loan debt does the average student owe after graduating?
  • Can I renegotiate my financial aid offer if it’s lower than I need?
  • What are some opportunities for work-study?

Questions to Ask a Professor or Dean

Finally, meeting with a professor could be a great way to make contact and learn about a department and class, especially if you have a strong sense of what you want to study. You can learn about their teaching style, the department’s approach, and any opportunities for independent projects or research. Contact the office of the Dean and ask the staff member how to arrange a prospective student meeting with the Dean or Professors. Also ask if there are any special days that the college will be holding special events that will be of value.

 

  • What are the general expectations for students in your class?
  • What is your advice for students to succeed in your class? What separates a grade of A vs a B from your perspective?
  • What are typical requirements, like exams, papers, or presentations in a semester?
  • What is the most important personal soft skills that you see in highly successful students?
  • What knowledge would you consider to be prerequisites?
  • Do you offer opportunities for undergraduate students to do research?
  • What other opportunities are you involved in or sponsor that are outside of the classroom to reinforce my learning, like cultural clubs or festivals?
  • Do you meet with or mentor students outside of class?
  • What are the signature strengths of your program? Department?
  • What’s your vision for the community of students who major in this program? Do they serve as peer mentors, collaborate on projects, form study groups, have a high rate of getting summer internships, etc.?
  • [If interested in grad school] What could I do to prepare for further research at the graduate level? Would I be required or able to write a senior thesis or do an honors program?
  • How much flexibility would I have in shaping my major or taking an interdisciplinary approach? If I want to double major, when can I declare and do I have the flexibility my freshman year to schedule courses to support my double major?

Questions to Avoid on College Visits

You may want to avoid asking questions that are overly personal and not helpful to others in the group when you’re on your tours. While it’s fine to ask about certain departments, DO NOT share your life story and DO NOT ask any one to speculate about your admissions chances.

A final good rule of thumb to follow is to avoid asking basic questions that can be easily answered via Student Resource Central or a quick search of the school’s website. Be prepared. For instance, questions like the following fall into that category:

  • Do you have a psychology major?
  • When was the school founded?
  • How many students are in the freshman class?
  • What was last year’s rate of acceptance?

If you ask questions that are readily answered online, you are losing impression points. All of the official representatives you meet are very aware of what information is available to you. Think about it from the admissions perspective. Do they want students who are self-directed, self-starters and inquisitive or do they want students who depend on everyone else as if they are royalty?

How to Prepare for Your College Tours

collegecampusaerialYour first step is scheduling and signing up online for your college tours, as well as any other meetings or overnight stays. The best time to tour is when classes are in session so you can get the truest sense of the college in action.

Since you should prepare questions and take notes on the answers, I recommend writing them down and bringing a notebook (paper or electronic) to take notes. You’ll be getting a lot of information, along with walking around and seeing everything, so it will be useful to have a record to which you can refer at the end of the day.

You certainly don’t need to go overboard with the college tour questions. I would suggest preparing five to ten of your most important questions for each person (student, admissions officer, professor, etc). You may find you should choose about three during your tour, while you may be able to ask a lot more during a one on one conversation or meeting. Better to over-prepare than under-prepare, and you could list your highest priority questions at the top to make sure you get to them first.

In addition to asking questions and jotting down notes on the responses, you should take the time to observe everything going on around you. Beyond viewing the facilities, try to notice how the staff responds to you or how students interact with one another. Perhaps most importantly, is it a place where you’d feel comfortable?

Finally, spend some time writing, discussing with parents and/or reflecting after your visit. Does the school seem like a good fit with your personality, interests, and goals? Do you feel excited about the prospect of attending? At the end of the day, you must save the final questions for yourself.

Happy hunting.

Is Choice of College Setting Your Destiny?


Your destiny based on college choiceThe article in the Washington Post, The Resume That Makes for a Top Executive, by Gena McGregor, references a new study published this week in the Harvard Business Review, which provides a snapshot over time of the demographics and career trajectories of Fortune 100 executives. The study shows how much the boardroom is changing. Not all students are interested in becoming the next CEO of Google, but choosing a college continues to be riddled with anxiety for those that have choices. The study’s data reveals some changes that are worthy of noting for any high school student (or parent) struggling over which college/university will be best – regardless of career direction.

The study states the majority of top executives now have undergraduate degrees from state universities, with only a fraction going to college at one of the Ivies. Nearly 11 percent of the top executives are foreign-educated, up from just 2 percent in 1980. And however few women there may be in leadership positions, they actually climbed the corporate ladder faster than men, spending fewer years, on average, in each job and taking a shorter time to get to the top.

The research, an effort by professors from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and IE Business School in Madrid, compiled the backgrounds of the top 10 executives at each Fortune 100 company in 2011 — those who might be called the most powerful 1,000 people in corporate jobs. They conducted the same study in 1980 and 2001.

What has interested people most about their study has been the details about where executives got their education. “I was surprised that’s been such a remarkably big deal for most folks,” Cappelli says. “I guess it’s something that makes people think about their children. Anyone with kids is thinking about these roles, and it’s an aspect of inequality that’s very noticeable to people.”

The study shows the education backgrounds of top corporate leaders are becoming much more equal over time. In 1980, just 32 percent of leaders went to a public university. By 2001 that had grown to 48 percent, and in 2011 the number reached a majority, with 55 percent of corporate leaders going to state colleges. While the percent of Ivy Leaguers has dropped slightly, from 14 percent in 1980 to 10 percent in both 2001 and 2011, those with degrees from private non-Ivies has plummeted, falling from 54 percent in 1980 to just 35 percent in 2011.

Why are we seeing so many more corporate executives from public universities? More meritocratic corporate cultures could be playing a role, Cappelli notes, but he thinks it’s mainly due to history. “It’s a bit of an archaeological story,” he says. “If you think back to when the executives now went to school, around 30 years ago, it was sort of the…golden era of state universities, which really boomed in the late ’60s and ’70s. Schools like Michigan and Berkeley — they were building these fabulous campuses, and pulling people in who would have otherwise gone to Ivy League schools.”

That’s not to say elite schools don’t still hold sway among MBA-holders and the very top leaders. If you look at the three most senior executives in each organization (say, the CEO, CFO and Chairman), 21 percent have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school, compared with 10 percent overall. Additionally, 40 percent of all the executives who hold MBAs got them at one of the top 20 ranked business schools in the country, many of which are at Ivy League universities.

Another way the makeup of the boardroom is changing, of course, is in the number of women. Like other studies before it, the Wharton/IE Business School professors counted the number of women at the top, finding that almost 18 percent of the top jobs were held by women in 2011. That’s a massive swing from 1980, when they reported finding no women among the top 1,000 corporate leaders.

More interesting than the stubbornly few number of women at the top, however, was the finding that women are managing to reach the top faster. It took women an average of 28 years to reach the “top-tier positions” (CEOs, vice chairs, presidents and the like), compared with 29 years for men. Women reached “middle-tier” jobs (executive VPs, general counsels, chief marketing officers) in 23 years, compared with 26 years for men. In addition, women were promoted quicker in each of their jobs, at an average rate of every four years, while it took men five.

Cappelli offers three explanations for why this might be. One, he says, could be an explicit effort by companies to get women into top jobs faster. “It’s possible that a type of affirmative action is going on,” he says. Another could be that the talent pool of women in these executive jobs is simply better. Because we see more women than men change work paths or drop out of the workforce in the middle rungs of their career, he says, it’s possible “the women are actually better because they’re self-selecting.”

Finally, Cappelli suggests, the difference may be due to the fact that there are more women in functional jobs — such as human resources, legal or marketing — for which the technical expertise needed means they’re promoted more quickly. In the report, the researchers call it “riding a different elevator.”

“If you’re going up through a functional track,” Cappelli says, “you could be advancing at a very different pace than the folks who are going up through operations jobs” that may require more rotations or longer tenures at each stop along the way.

Quirks about the leadership ranks at different companies, and what they might reveal about the different corporate cultures, may be even more interesting than the broad-based trends the study found. For instance, the average length of a top Google executive’s career is just 14 years (the shortest in the Fortune 100) while at Hewlett Packard and ConocoPhillips, it’s 32 years (the longest). Meanwhile, some companies have outstanding male-to-female ratios among the top 10 execs — at Target, Lockheed Martin and PepsiCo, women hold half the senior management jobs — while as of 2011, there were still 17 companies in the Fortune 100 with no women at all among their top 10 leaders.

To Cappelli, this is among the most interesting of the study’s results. “They’re all just so different,” he says. “There’s a UPS model, there’s a Google model and there’s an Exxon model. The idea that there is a corporate model of leadership just doesn’t seem to resonate any more.”

The take-away – Strategically narrow your college choice

Many high school students choose a college mainly on emotional criteria. The following is based on a study by the University of California—Los Angeles‘s released in January 2013, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2012.” The 2012 study is based on the responses of 192,912 first-year students at 238 U.S. four-year colleges and universities who entered college in fall 2012.

Strategic Reasons Emotional Reasons
1. College has very good academic reputation (63.8 percent) 5. A visit to this campus (41.8 percent)
2. This college’s graduates get good jobs (55.9 percent) 6. College has a good reputation for its social activities (40.2 percent)
3. I was offered financial assistance (45.6 percent) 10. I wanted to live near home (20.1 percent)
4. The cost of attending this college (43.3 percent) 11. Information from a website (18.7 percent)
7. Wanted to go to a college about this size (38.8 percent) 12. Rankings in national magazines (18.2 percent)
8. College’s grads get into top grad/professional schools (32.8 percent) 13. Parents wanted me to go to this school (15.1 percent)
9. The percentage of students that graduate from this college (30.4 percent) 16. High school counselor advised me (10.3 percent)
  18. Athletic department recruited me (8.9 percent)
  19. Attracted by the religious affiliation/orientation of college (7.4 percent)
  20. My relatives wanted me to come here (6.8 percent)
  20. My teacher advised me (6.8 percent)
  22. Private college counselor advised me (3.8 percent)

To make the best choice, identify your personal preferences for industry and career direction first (you can still be somewhat general but the more clarity the better at this stage). Then research which universities are tied into those industries and are academically highly ranked for the major you are wanting. Look for major corporate donors to a university to see the connection. As they say, follow the money trail. Another way is to call the placement office and ask which companies consistently hire interns (in your major) from the university’s student population.

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl and his team of licensed facilitators across North America have helped thousands of students find a better way through a career exploration process that works.  Self-directed assessment and career exploration coaching packages start at $399. Local public workshops, distance-coaching and in-school programs available. Call for more information at 972.346.2892.

I Want to Quit (My Career)


Talent Management MagazineThe July 2013 issue of Talent Management Magazine, a respected journal for human resources executives, highlighted some new statistics that reinforce what I’ve been trying to communicate to parents, high school administrators and college and university career centers for some time now – “what you are doing isn’t working!”

Here are excerpts from the article…you be the judge


First there was the Gallup survey that came out in early June 2013, which found the majority of American employees (70 percent) were either not engaged or actively disengaged with their work.

As if that wasn’t enough to raise red flags for employers who care about and are tracking employee engagement, a new Harris survey for the University of Phoenix in Arizona that was released July 8, 2013 showed that more than half of U.S. employees want to change not only their jobs, but their careers.

Apparently, only 14 percent of workers say they’re in their dream careers.

Some of you may not be surprised to learn this feeling is more pronounced among workers in their 20’s (80 percent), but it’s certainly not specific to this demographic alone: Sixty-four percent of those in their 30s want to change careers and 54 percent of those in their 40s reported the same.

Is this the classic “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the unstable economic environment coupled with debilitating student loan debt coerced many graduates to scrounge up any kind of employment they could secure just to have a steady cash inflow. Consider that nearly three-fourths of those surveyed (73 percent) said they didn’t end up with a job they had originally anticipated when they were younger.

And before you go on a rant about how flaky millennials are, you may be surprised to learn that those in the upper echelons of corporate America are among those who want to sign up for a different career. Nearly half (43 percent) of C-level executives said they were somewhat interested in switching careers, while 26 percent expressed a stronger desire to do so.

Offering lateral moves and defining a clear career path for employees might not be the silver bullet when it comes to engagement and retention problems, but it’s a start.


Employers can’t fix this. And then there are high schools and colleges continuing to do the same things they’ve been doing for the past 10+ years, only now the high schools have teacher productivity work flow tools in the cloud (Naviance, XAP, etc.) to help track high school student college readiness tasks.

This is a wake up call. Want to decrease student loan debt? Get smarter about planning career and educational strategies. You can delegate career exploration and career matching to an overworked high school counselor with outdated assessments or delay this work until college where students are going in undeclared, changing majors 3 or 4 times and taking 5 years to graduate at a cost of thousands of extra dollars. Or you can take a proactive approach and do something different.

Better Career Planning Better Lifehttp://www.careercoachingforstudents.net

Carl Nielson is Chief Discovery Officer of Success Discoveries and Managing Principal of The Nielson Group, an organizational development consulting firm that provides executive development coaching, team development and assessments for hiring. As creator of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads, Carl has helped thousands of students find a better way through the career exploration process that works.  Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer – 30-days coaching support with the Home Study student career coaching package.

Survey Identifies How Students Choose Their College or University


Infographic_TrendsinHigherEd204 university counselors in 33 countries took part in an IE University survey designed to pinpoint the interests and preferences of the upcoming generation of university students with regard to study abroad and most popular degree programs.

The survey shows students choose a university mainly to gain training and skills for a future job, and choose a specialization because they feel there is job market growth in that field. When asked about the main reasons for choosing a university, counselors cited:

Main drivers

  • Prestige
  • Location

Secondary consideration

  • Scholarships
  • Content

These findings suggest there is either a lack of appropriate guidance at the high school level or students are dismissing better advice for how to choose a college or university.

With the percent of students changing majors 2, 3 or 4 times, taking 5 years to complete a 4-year degree and student retention and graduation rates dropping, students need to take a smarter approach to choosing a college or university.

The fact that students list prestige as the #1 consideration creates immediate risk for the student. By not considering newer institutions, that may actually be way ahead of their more traditional and prestigious counterparts, students are missing out on some possibly better choices. But even if your needs are best served in one of the more traditional universities, the most prestigious option may not have the best program for your area of study. Prestige alone is not a good reason to choose a college or university.

The best order of consideration and prioritizing that has been shown to produce the best choice (high satisfaction with choice, retention, graduation in expected time frame) for the student is:

  • Determine career interest(s)
  • Determine education requirements for the career interest(s)
  • Create an education strategy (choice of majors, field of study)
  • Research and identify colleges/universities or vocational learning institutions that are leading in the chosen field(s) of study (a high level of prestige for the specific subject area)
  • Rank findings to create a short list of institutional choices
  • Conduct on-campus visits to all short-listed choices
  • Make the choice

With the cost of higher education so high, a one-semester course correction costs thousands of dollars. By following a smart strategy for decision-making, students can avoid that unnecessary added expense and be much happier with their choice. But it requires students to change the way they think about school choices.

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, executive development coach, career coach and author of the Career Coaching for Students program for high school students and the  Career and Success Skills Mastery for College Students and Recent Grads. Assessment and coaching packages start at $349 – checkout the Summer 2013 special offer.

 

Student Resource Central 10x more useful than ConnectEDU, Naviance, Kuder, Career Cruisin or XAP


The Career Coaching for Students™ program has so much to it. Independent career coaches, high school counselors and college career center counselors are finding the assessments and strategies creating significant breakthroughs. We call this disruptive technology.

This article focuses on one part of the program that other programs minimize. Student Resources Central™ offers students and parents access to the best resources on the web. From career research, choosing a major, choosing a school, financial aid, scholarship research, college admissions and application process to the latest in resume portfolios, this portal to the vast unlimited resources on the web has it all. The website sprinkles advice throughout. The organizational layout enables the user to go exactly where they need to within two clicks.        SRC Welcome Page

Below are screen shots of the main tabs. Each main tab has subtabs that offer carefully selected resources. Click on the screenshot to see a larger view to read the subtabs.

Criteria for a resource to be included in Student Resource Central:

Quality of information. Including the source, we don’t think it helps you to receive bad, biased, out-dated or partial information.

Agenda-free. The recommended resources are not operating a marketing data collection site that will use your personal information to market their sponsors.

Ease-of-use. There are plenty of web information pages. Just do a simple search on one topic and you’ll find millions of pages. Which are really worthy of your time? How much time will you have to spend shuffling through hundreds of pages before you get to the right pages of information? With SRC, you’ll quickly find your way through any webpage we direct you to.

Several great take-action recommendations

Several great take-action recommendations

 

Career Coaching for Students extensive library of worksheets, videos, and more

Career Coaching for Students extensive library of worksheets, videos, and more

The most extensive Career Research portal on the web - and easy to use

The most extensive Career Research portal on the web – and easy to use – including several extensive career video libraries.

Education Research that gives you what you need - like college freshman retention rates and graduation rates

Education Research that gives you what you need – like college freshman retention rates and graduation rates

Straight scoop, how to and information with integrity is what the Financial Aid and Scholarship resources are about. Most scholarship websites are nothing more than marketing websites. Not at SRC.

Straight scoop, how to and information with integrity is what the Financial Aid and Scholarship resources are about. Most scholarship websites are nothing more than marketing websites. Not at SRC.

Writing a resume and developing interview skills are just the beginning. So much for you to leverage including career advice videos.

Writing a resume and developing interview skills are just the beginning. So much for you to leverage including career advice videos.

Using social networking sites is key to career research, getting inside information about colleges and universities, finding internships and landing the first job out of college. The latest in using Portfolios is reviewed with a list of free cloud-based portfolio apps.

Using social networking sites is key to career research, getting inside information about colleges and universities, finding internships and landing the first job out of college. The latest in using Portfolios is reviewed with a list of free cloud-based portfolio apps.

If all of that isn’t enough, Student Resource Central is including the Life Skills for Students™ program too – for the one price.

The good news is that if you’ve purchased the Home Study Personal Edition of Career Coaching for Students or engage one of the licensed facilitators for a one-on-one service or workshop in your area, you receive Student Resource Central automatically. Purchasing the full package is the best way to go.

However, if you don’t want to buy the entire Career Coaching for Students program and receive the cool assessments and student binder, Student Resource Central is available, for a limited time, at a ridiculously cheap rate. The same rate applies for families or teachers wanting to use the resources for an entire class.

After comparing to other offerings, it becomes obvious that those other programs are trying to do the minimum while maximizing profits. Student Resource Central – well – is just simple, common sense that everyone can benefit from.

 

Choosing a College


There are many variables that go into choosing the right post-secondary college or vocational school. Before a student considers which school to focus on for their short list, it is important to first consider the career path and the educational requirements to be successful in that career path. The next step is to shorten the list of schools that carry a strong reputation for the major/subject and for placing graduating students into a first job upon graduation in that career.  With all of that said, this article assumes you’ve done that work and you are now focused on the short list.

To compare schools, try using a four box chart that allows you to compare two variables. The variables that you might consider need to be relevant to your needs. By combining the two variables, make a determination about what it means for a school to be in any of the four quadrants. The following examples are just a few of the variables to consider:

  • Retention Rate
  • Cost
  • Average Starting Salary of Graduating Students at that School (available at the school’s placement office)

Example 4 Box Chart
Using the link in the second paragraph above, you can download, print and create your own comparison chart for Retention Rate vs Cost. Here is what it might look like when you are finished (Legend of Colleges would be the names of the schools represented by the corresponding letter):

About Retention Rate

Retention rates at colleges varies widely and is a hidden metric that some schools would prefer you didn’t know about. The “retention and graduation rate” can be analyzed for 4-year undergraduate, 5 yrs, masters, all students, etc.

About the Cost of college

The cost becomes complicated when you consider all of the variables such as scholarships, grants, financial aid, etc. To keep an analysis simple, you can use the “Estimated Student Expenses (before Aid)” or the “Net Cost”.

Where to find College Retention Rate and Cost

The Career Coaching for Students™ program has an extensive and comprehensive research portal called Student Resource Central™ with the best of the best links to information on the Web for both college search and career exploration. One of the most informative sites that provides you with retention rates and cost data is the U.S. Department of Education sponsored site called College Navigator.

With College Navigator, you can search for and select colleges based on many variables that are important to you. Once you have a list of schools from the search, add those schools you consider to be “Favorites” to the Favorites List. From the Favorites list, you can “Compare” up to four schools at a time.

Carl Nielson is an organizational development consultant, professional career and executive/leadership coach and creator of the nationally recognized program Career Coaching for Students™ . Career Coaching for Students is available as a district-wide high school program and in group and on-one-one offerings through certified career coaches throughout the United States, Canada and other countries. Contact Carl Nielson at carl@successdiscoveries.com or call 972-346-2892 to discuss specific needs.

The Worst and Best Paying College Majors – Are we asking the right question?


Are you driven by high earning potential? I mean real money. Payscale.com recently published their 2011/2012 salary survey by college major. I guess when you have data you can do anything with it.

For some college majors, for some people, the Payscale.com survey data is meaningful. For it to be useful, it has to be a specialized major that connects (strong correlation) to a specific type of work. For example, it is likely that those who complete an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education are teaching elementary education. In that scenario, the Payscale survey is meaningful and helpful. If you are fully self-aware, understand what a career in elementary education entails (what soft skills, continuing education, etc. are required)  and see yourself as a good fit to the job/career, then you can expect to earn right around the median (geographic differences will explain most of the higher or lower pay range). Money won’t be a personal motivator for that career. However, helping others is a personal motivator for the Elementary Education Teacher career path. What that means is that the job of Elementary Education Teacher rewards “work” that helps others.

If you look at the survey list of college majors, there is one fundamental flaw. The data does not take into account what the person is doing job- and career-wise. Isn’t that the better (more valid) question? How you get there is insightful but not predictive of your potential income as much as “what” you do in your career.

I had a boss back in the ’80s by the name of Don J. Redlinger. He was actually my bosses’ boss. Don was business unit VP, Human Resources. His income, including stock options, put him on a trajectory to being a millionaire. He later was promoted to SVP, Human Resources for the entire multi-national Allied Signal corporation. He was in his 30’s at the time. What degree did Don have? A B.A. in History. Looking at the listing of college majors based on mid-career median income, Don should have been at about $69,000. If he had received a degree in Human Resources, his salary might have been around $62,600. Both are wrong. His degree was a strategic choice along with the college he went to. “What” he was doing was most important and relevant to his income. The industry he was in, and the career path he pursued are much greater predictors of income. How he got to the VP position early in his career has a lot to do with the “total package” which includes your “talent” as well as what you did back in high school, college, internships and early jobs out of college.  My learning – a B.A. degree in History can be extremely valuable across a broad range of careers. Your talent and your strategy determine how well you leverage the degree.

Let’s look at another example – a long-time colleague and client of mine, Freddye Silverman. Freddye has a B.A. degree in  Spanish and M.Ed in Spanish and Education. So what is she doing today, 20+ years since her completion of her education? She is Vice President, Eastern Region at Jeitosa Group International. She is a respected and recognized leader in the HR technology solutions field who has more than 25 years experience as a practitioner and consultant in HR IT.  Freddye also has a teaching background in foreign languages which “enhances her global view”. Prior to Jeitosa she was VP, HR Technology Solutions for Cendant Corporation.

Because she has been a long-time client of The Nielson Group (corporate consulting where we use assessments to coach professionals and executives and assist with evaluating candidates during the hiring process using assessments), Freddye has been assessed using the same assessments used in the Career Coaching for Students program. When she reads her assessment results, she quickly says, “this is who I’ve been all my life“.

We know a great deal more than we did 20+ years ago about measuring personal talent and job matching. In Freddye’s case, what we now know, if used back then, might have suggested she look at a double major, Spanish (foreign language is a passion of hers) and Business Management, specializing in IT project management. Instead of starting her career in teaching (she is “behaviorally” a good fit for teaching/training as well) she might have gone directly into a corporate environment where her income in those early years might have been higher and she would have experienced much greater passion for what she was doing.

Hierarchy of Personal Motivators

Freddye's Personal Motivators

Behavior Insights Wheel

Freddye's Behavioral Style

For Freddye to have remained in teaching (lower pay, help others), her Social motivator (see chart above) would have needed to be much higher and her Utilitarian much lower. While Freddye may not have recognized the forces at work, she has the kind of behavioral style that “easily recognizes and accepts the need for change”. She isn’t one to stay in a situation that doesn’t excite her. She made a career shift early on. Over 50% of the population (including student populations) do not have a behavioral style that can shift as easily and dramatically as Freddye’s.

Many adults are in roles they chose while in college – by default. For those where the choice was a good one (the job’s talent demands fit the person’s talent make-up) it worked out well. For those that weren’t so lucky (around 50%), the chance of watching ten or more years tick off while they feel less than fulfilled and mediocre is high. Choosing a major based on “earning potential of that major” isn’t a good strategy.

We can’t predict the future. But we can do a much better job of helping students look at careers/jobs that match their talent design (behaviors, motivators, sometimes referred to as personality). If a student has a clearer idea of what makes them excited to get up in the morning and how the work they do feels natural to them, they will be much more likely to be successful. Money is one type of reward. There are other types of rewards that are equally powerful and important for success. Look at the job or career-match to your talents rather than the income potential of a major as a first step. Then look at the possible educational strategies that will support your career aspirations. If your career choice is aligned with your talent, any major that allows you to enter that career will work.

Degrees
Degrees
Methodology
Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology for more.

By the way, there is no “best major” for a Sales career (see article about groundbreaking research on top performing sales professionals) yet, sales is one of the highest median income career paths. The type of sales and choice of industry are much greater predictors of potential earnings.

Best and Worst Undergrad College Degrees by Major - Are we asking the right question?

Carl Nielson is a professional career coach, creator of Career Coaching for Students™ and managing principal of The Nielson Group, a management consulting firm specializing in hiring and selection, team effectiveness and executive coaching.