Pivoting From Pandemic to Purdue

Pivoting From Pandemic to Purdue

2020 was a tumultuous year that not even the most clairvoyant of planners could’ve expected. And even though this goes without saying (and you’re probably tired of hearing the phrase ‘in these unprecedented times’), the pandemic had wide-reaching and unpredictable effects, and the college admissions process was not immune to these effects. Even the best and brightest of students had to navigate a confusing mess of ACT cancellations, rapidly-changing university policies and uncertainty about what the future of post-secondary education would look like. Despite this uncertainty, our students refused to give up or be beaten down by a global pandemic.

College Planning Pandemic Pivot 2One such student is Kyle Bascom, a soon-to-be Purdue Boilermaker who kicked the pandemic’s proverbial butt and fought hard to regain control over his college destiny. Kyle is living proof that perseverance is key in dealing with what is always a difficult college admissions process, and we were lucky enough to sit down with Kyle on Tuesday to learn more about his resilience through an already difficult endeavor made even more difficult by an unexpected crisis. Here are our key takeaways from that conversation. The full video interview is available for free here! 

It was really, really stressful for EVERYBODY.

Every single one of us has been tasked with blindly navigating an unplanned crisis since early last year, and although some of us have felt the effects of the pandemic more than others, the truth of the matter is that everybody had to pivot. Many of us feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us and we’re stressed, exhausted and confused. It’s okay! You’re not alone in this, so just take a step back and a deep breath and just do the next right thing. Yes, Kyle came out on top when the dust had settled, but in his own words the process was ‘very, very stressful.’ ‘Nuff said…

“Have fun and enjoy it while you can!”

Kyle dealt with a tremendous amount of uncertainty and upheaval throughout this process, but he kept his cool throughout and just kept getting up whenever he was knocked down. His advice to current high school students: “You just gotta keep livin’ man…L-I-V-I-N.” Okay, maybe that’s a Matthew McConaughey quote, but it’s essentially what he was saying. Never forget that this is about outlining the next season of your child’s life, and if you follow Mr. McConaughey’s advice, it can actually be FUN. Although this past year was particularly capricious and stressful, lots of people still managed to find the silver lining, and it’s all about seeing this process for what it is. You don’t have to torture yourself to be successful in this process, and if possible it should be looked at as an exciting time full of endless possibilities and opportunities. The world is your oyster!

Hindsight is 20/20…especially in 2020.

Here at OnCampus, we’re in the business of ‘removing unknowns’. This process is made significantly easier when you’ve already sat down as a family to discuss your child’s college trajectory and figure out what steps need to be taken to find, be accepted to and afford the University of You. Nothing puts a bigger smile on our faces than seeing students and families that have decided to seize the day and take on an active role in the college search process. Kyle and his family are living proof that staying ‘active’ throughout this process does pay off, and they actually drove as far as Sioux City, Iowa, just so Kyle could take the ACT! In our experience, it’s hard to get beaten down by the system when you keep getting up every time. Although we’ve all lost a considerable amount of control in our respective spheres of influence, one of the ways to regain some control and plan ahead is to schedule a free consult! The best way to stay active is to actually be proactive, and the best problem-solving is always done before the problem arises. It’s always better to put in the blood and sweat now to avoid tears later on down the line! Schedule your free consult with Tom here, we’d be more than happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Hilary is an all-star!

While she is the mother to our children and I’m contractually obligated to praise her, Hilary really does serve an invaluable role within our system. Throughout our conversation, Kyle couldn’t seem to help himself from bringing the focus back to her and how helpful the essay work they did together was. It was clear that she’d really made a positive impact on his college process. Here’s Kyle on what it was like to work on essays with Hilary: “I worked with Hilary

college-planning-pandemic-pivot-3

on my essays and that was so helpful. I was so stressed about my essays. My big thing is once I get a couple sentences on paper I’m fine. I just can’t get that first sentence down and the fact that she was able to help me do it so quickly was extremely helpful and then giving me the layout for the UW essay as well was also very helpful. Once I had that layout I wrote it very easily and I feel like I did pretty well on my essays.” This from a hardlined logical-mathematical type who excels in STEM but just needed a little guidance when it came to more abstract, nebulous fields like writing…and obviously, he crushed it.

Structure is key.

Finding, gaining admission to and affording the right college for you can be a very overwhelming and hectic process, but establishing structure (a timeline, goals, action plans for achieving those goals, etc.) is paramount. When Kyle was asked what he believed the primary benefit to partnering with OnCampus was he explained that, “For me, it’s kind of about taking a load of stress off because I know that I have a date where I’m going to get it done. I don’t have to do it on some Saturday where I wake up and watch YouTube for three hours and then I don’t want to do it. I have a date where I know I’m going to get it done so it just takes that stress off because I’m not waking up every weekend wondering whether or not I have to write an essay.” Most children, and frankly plenty of adults, aren’t great at getting ahead of big projects and breaking them into smaller, more manageable/understandable chunks. Structure is one of the most effective ways to avoid the pitfalls of procrastination and one of the benefits we’re most proud to be able to provide our students.

Hey Kyle, it was a privilege and honor to work with you and Purdue is lucky to have you!

6 Great (and Free!) College Websites Plus Tips for Better College Research

6 Great (and Free!) College Websites Plus Tips for Better College Research

When it comes to researching colleges online, a word of caution. Much of what you find when you start typing words into Google is going to be junk, which isn’t exactly news to you. Instead of Googling “best colleges for future doctors” or “occupational therapy majors,” start with the best resources for information on colleges. These are the tools I use as a professional college planner for my first-step, basic research. Some are better than others for specific search functions, so plug in some criteria and test them out. Use the tools that you like best.

College Search Better College Research6 Great College Information Websites

  1. http://www.petersons.com
  2. https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org
  3. http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  4. http://nces.ed.gov
  5. http://www.collegedata.com
  6. http://www.ucan-network.org

Whenever I turn to a website such as these, I always take the results with a grain of salt and use them only as a starting point. If you find that College X has biochemical engineering, go directly to their website and do more digging to confirm the initial results, and then make contact with someone at the school who can tell you more and answer some questions.

Get Better College Information By Going Beyond Online Research

After you’ve done your research online, including spending significant amounts of time on the college websites for the schools that interest you most, you need to make contact with the schools that interest you. Yes, this means picking up that 50-pound phone and calling someone you don’t know who is probably older than 30 and asking good questions. This is the first step in an ongoing dialogue between you, the prospective student and family, and the college.

Better College Search PhoneBefore you pick up the phone or fire off an email, consider these guidelines for effective college search dialogue.

  1. Find the right person to ask.
    If you have questions about the college in general, ask admissions. If your questions are specifically about majors or programs, find a professor or administrative professional within the department, such as program coordinators. When applying to grad programs in the early 1990′s (read: largely pre-internet) I found myself communicating much more frequently and with greater success with administrative assistants than professors. They were easy to reach because they sit next to a phone, and they knew all the details about how to apply, deadlines, requirements, etc.
  2. Don’t ask for answers that are readily available on the website.
    If what you’re looking for doesn’t jump out at you, ask another family member to search for it, or use the search box that is usually in the upper right-hand corner of each page. It’s a sign of laziness to ask, “How many students do you have at your college?” It also sends the message that you can’t find answers on your own. If you legitimately can’t find basic data, then by all means ask.
  3. Keep your queries brief and professional.
    Whether you’re 17 or 47, a well-written email with a succinct introductory sentence and closing statement works best. A variation on the email template here always works well.
    Hello [salutation if available]
    My name is _____ and I’m a sophomore/junior at [high school] in [town and state]. I’m very interested in [name of college] and specifically in your [major or department]. I have three questions I’d like to ask:

    1. How many of the students in your [academic program] enter the workforce immediately vs. going on to graduate school?
    2. What sets [college]’s [major] apart?
    3. What new classes or facilities could I expect to see if I enroll?

Thank you for your time and attention to these questions. Sincerely,

You may not get an immediate response, but you will get a response. If you don’t try someone else, or call to see if that person is traveling or on leave from the university.

4. Treat this as the first step in a larger conversation.
My rule of thumb is to never ask more than three questions in a single email. Don’t deluge the person with so many questions that she can’t respond in a timely manner. When you receive a response, it’s likely to include a “please let me know if you have more questions”, and while you don’t want to take advantage of that person’s time, you should take her at her word. Thank her for her time and send a follow-up question if you have one.

College Search Better College Research 2Between diligent online and offline research, you’ll be well on your way to identifying some colleges that could be great fits for you. For help defining the University of You and exploring great college options based on your unique needs, goals and passions, email me about our College Search services or schedule a free consult here. This is my life and my passion to help students find their best college fit!

College in America versus College in Europe

College in America versus College in Europe

In many ways the European college experience is miles away from college in America. And frankly, we could stand to learn a few things from how they do things across the pond.

how does college in american compare to college in europe

Nadia, Lucas Fatoussi and Tom Kleese during Lucas’ recent visit

Tom recently had the privilege of visiting with Lucas Fatoussi, a former student from when he was a professor at University of Wisconsin-Richland. This is one of our longer blog posts, but I encourage you to take the time to read it for a refreshing, firsthand perspective on how colleges in Europe differ from what we’re used to here.

Lucas was part of a very unique and special program. Each year, about 25 international students would study at UW-Richland. Like his peers, Lucas had completed high school. He was taking the year to study at an American college before returning home for post-secondary education in Switzerland. Lucas didn’t need the classes he took at UW-Richland for college credit. He took them for the pure love of learning and to experience what American college life was like.

After his year at UW-Richland, Lucas returned to Switzerland to study engineering at EPFL or Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, an engineering school that’s consistently top-ranked by many of the leading global ranking organizations. Click here for a very cool virtual campus tour.

Tom said, “Lucas always had a genuine thirst for learning. He was there to experience new things and soak up American culture. To him it was worth the time, effort and cost to delay the start of his formal college education in exchange for a broadened perspective and new experiences in another country.”

Tom and Lucas spent time talking about Tom’s college planning business. Lucas marveled at some of the striking contrasts between American views on college versus European perspectives.

I followed up with Lucas to gain additional insights on how college in America compares with his European experience.

college in us vs europeOne of the most striking areas of contrast was how much where you attend college is tied to your identity here versus in Europe. Lucas noted Tom’s college sweatshirt, (his daily attire), and said that you’d never see that in Switzerland.

Lucas said, “There is certainly pride about your alma mater in Switzerland, but it just cannot compare with how you guys feel about college. When I did my year abroad in Wisconsin, I was absolutely amazed at the intensity around universities, and collegial sport. Even in my small, two-year college at UW-Richland, half the students attended the school’s volleyball game, and everyone was very proud of our colors and mascot (the world-famous Richland Center Roadrunner!).

“We don’t do that here, although it has an enormous appeal. The Wisconsin football game I attended was one of my all-time favorite sports experiences, but it can sometimes feel a bit silly (I mean why would a 300-student university even need a mascot??). For Americans, your alma mater really defines a part of you, doesn’t it? With the exception of Great Britain which I think is similar to the US, we do not identify as much as you do with the institution we attended. For example, I studied in one of the top-50 engineering schools in the world, but I would never, EVER wear a t-shirt with the logo of my school on it. It would be very strange of me to do so (even though I still wear regularly my Badger gear). And in Continental Europe, you won’t find people displaying their alma mater or the college that happens to be in their local community on their Christmas tree or on their cars.

“This has to do with the fact that there are little or no college sports in Europe. I think people are very proud of where they studied, but they wear it as a badge of honor, not as a part of their identity. I am, for example, much more proud of being a physicist than where I studied. The downside of this is that it is less “fun” to attend the universities. But the upside is that people are really focused on what they are studying. I don’t think that going to 6 or 10 football games in an extremely nice atmosphere is enough to make a decision on where to go, I think what you study and the quality of the education should be the reason you choose a college.”

(We couldn’t agree more, Lucas!)

I also asked Lucas about workload comparison in American universities versus what he’s used to in Switzerland.

He said, “It is hard for me to compare, because in the USA, it was more about learning English and making friends. I knew that I could not validate the credit I was taking. But I will say that my first year at university back in Switzerland was hardcore. I had more than 30 hours of classes and had to work almost as much each week on homework outside of class. The university where I studied is investing to allow students to have access to a variety of extra-curricular activities, but also made very clear to us that studying should come first.”

Lucas also commented on the college selection and admissions process in Switzerland, “With a high-school diploma I was able to enter my school without any kind of standardized tests or other exams. I studied science in high school, but I could have entered college in Physics even if I had studied Latin or Spanish. In Switzerland, access to the best university is “easy”, but then the selection and “weeding out” happens during the first year. The educational system is quite different in Switzerland. Not everybody goes to high school. A lot of people take another path early on, an apprenticeship to learn the craft of a particular job. There are also other schools in between. It’s quite complex.

“The first year of university here is usually very difficult, and you can only try two times and then you get kicked out. There is also a rule that says that no matter what you study, if it is at the university level, if you fail three times, you’re out. You cannot enter any other universities. (Again, it is a bit more complex than this, because you have universities, but then you also have other type of “college-level” education, which can be a bit easier to complete). It is not uncommon, for example, to have med students failing (it is by far one of the hardest selections here). They then go to other countries if they want to pursue a med school degree.

“For my degree, the first two years were very challenging, and then, they kind of let you off the hook a bit. You still have to produce work, but the success rate each year is much higher at that point. I remember thinking that my masters degree was much more easily obtained than my bachelor’s degree. I think it has to do with the fact that you get used to work, but also with the fact that it does not bode well for the institution and its international ranking if there are a lot of students failing their master’s degree.”

I asked Lucas about typical living arrangements for college students. He remarked that this is very different as well, “Dorms are not standard over here (at least in Switzerland). There is no ‘campus’ per say. I lived downtown in the city of Lausanne where I studied, in apartments that were not specifically “student apartments”. In a way, it is a bit sad, because I remember how nice it was in the dorms when I studied in Wisconsin. The atmosphere was great, and I’m sure that the campuses of big universities must be extremely fun places. On the other hand, living in the city as a college student, in and amongst people working and doing many other things besides college prevented me from being too disconnected with “reality”. And I still found plenty of student parties to go to, so that really wasn’t an issue!”

Lucas also commented on student-professor relations, “Well while TK (Tom Kleese) was one of the best teachers I had, it mainly has to do with the fact that he was awesome, not particularly because of a different system. I think the relationship can be pretty similar in Europe and in the US. I think the student-prof relation has way more to do with the size of the class. We were 20 per class in Richland Center, but more than 200 where I studied in Lausanne. It is way harder for the teacher to have a real relationship with students in that case. When I was in my master’s degree, classes were smaller, and there was a bit more of a relationship.”

In Switzerland, teaching is a very small part of a professor’s responsibilities. Academic research occupies the vast majority of their time, and they are more likely to get hired based on their academic research than on their pedagogy.” (This sounds similar to large research universities in the US).

A huge difference in European colleges versus American colleges is cost.

Lucas said, “In Switzerland, and in most of the European countries, education is free, or almost free. My family paid 500 swiss francs (roughly $500) per semester. And that was it. We have top-notch universities and it costs us next to nothing, except for the cost of living which can be expensive.

This anecdote will show you how Europeans feel about college costs and the huge divide between American and Europe. I was reading an interview of the president of my university on the subject of tuition increasing in cost. He proposed to pass it from 500 Swiss francs per semester to 2000 for foreigners. This created a huge scandal in student communities here. And after that the media talked quite a bit about this. Everyone was ranting about the fact that school must be free, and that 2000 swiss francs (~$2000) per semester was way too much. The president then explained that they are forced to raise the tuition to be more attractive to (non-European) foreigners. Because when the foreigners see that it only cost 500.- to register in our school, they all think that the school must be of low quality and they therefore go study elsewhere. Isn’t that amazing? I think this connection between being expensive and being a quality school is really sad, and it should not be this way. I’m very proud to be from a country that understands the value of education and invests heavily in it. I know that this “socialist” system is not really how you guys do things, but I deeply think that this subsidized system is a good one. It might cost a lot, and money is sometimes spent on students that prefer to drink beer all day long, but it also allows anyone who really wants to study to get a very good degree without having to pay for it the next 10 or 20 years of their life or trying to get very rare scholarships.”

I found my conversation with Lucas fascinating, and my key takeaway is that the US could benefit from taking a few lessons from European colleges. At a minimum, it’s refreshing to consider the fact that college doesn’t have to be the way we think of it here in America in order to produce amazing, educated, qualified adults who contribute significantly to their communities and the careers within them.