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Choosing the Right College...and a Glimpse of Wagner College

Choosing the Right College…
and a Glimpse of Wagner College
by
Chuck Cascio

chuckwrites@yahoo.com

     
     As a former high school and university level teacher, I am sometimes asked for my thoughts about how high school students should conduct their college search. Considerable stress is often evident in the inquiry, as parents and grandparents worry about the increasing emphasis on “name” schools as prestige takes priority over other essential considerations students should be making. 
 
     What are those considerations? Well, based on my own experience in searching for a college and from what I have heard from students over the years, a successful choice largely boils down to three criteria:
     >Comfort
     >Enthusiasm
     >Personal Development Potential
     
     Here is my own story:

 

Unknown

Main Hall on the oval as you enter the campus of Wagner College, Staten Island, NY.
     My father drove me to New York to visit Wagner College on Staten Island, a small school I had only read about. I wanted to go to college in or near New York City, where I was born and where I had spent a great deal of my childhood despite having moved to suburban Washington, DC, when I was about five years old. So the trip to New York was a familiar one, a trip that always filled me with energy.      
     
     Wagner College was certainly not a “big name” school. I had discovered it in one of those gigantic books containing details of hundreds of colleges (Those of us of a certain age remember well what it was like to plow through those books!). I requested and received a catalog from Wagner and liked what it featured, especially the 15:1 student-to-teacher ratio. Even at age 17, one thing about which I was certain was this: Although the excitement of a large school environment appealed to me, large class sizes and too many other distractions would scatter my attention, which would undoubtedly negatively impact my academic performance.
     
     The details and pictures of Wagner intrigued me: Located on a scenic section of Staten Island called Grymes Hill, 400 feet above sea level—the highest natural point on the Eastern Seaboard south of Maine—several buildings on and around the campus had once been “vacation” residences of wealthy New Yorkers who used their picturesque Grymes Hill homes to escape the hectic city life. 
     
     When the school invited me for a visit and an interview with an admissions officer, my father and I made the trip together. My dad, a native of Brooklyn, knew all of New York well, including Staten Island, but he had never previously driven the steep road up Grymes Hill. At the top, both of us were mesmerized as we entered the isolated campus via a tree-lined oval with stunning glimpses of New York's waterways, bridges, ships, and the Statue of Liberty visible between lovely trees and buildings. A feeling grew inside me, one I could tell my father shared: This place was different; it vibrated with a quiet energy, a sense of individuality.
     
     During my interview, the attentive admissions representative asked about my interests and what motivated me to learn and why I thought Wagner might be right for me. I responded with insights that surprised me…and I noticed that the interviewer actually listened as I explained my need to feel engaged while in a classroom, my desire to hear from other students as well as from instructors, my description of learning as a participatory process.
     
     When I returned to the car, my father stood outside intently taking in the sweeping views of New York’s other four boroughs in the distance. "So what do you think?" he asked. 
     
     To this day, I remember exactly what I said to him, "If they will have me, Dad, this is where I am going."
     
     Somehow, a few other schools with student populations several times larger than Wagner's 1,500 students accepted me. But the image of Wagner, the small classes, the proximity to the energy of downtown New York, the closeness that I could sense on my tour of the campus, overroad what other schools had to offer. And when the acceptance letter from Wagner finally arrived, I said, "This is it!" 
     
     My parents were happy because I was happy...and I was happy because somehow I could feel what I believe is most important in making a decision about which college to attend: The fit was right. In Wagner, I had found a campus that made me comfortable, surroundings that made me feel that I could engage in academics and perhaps discover new things about myself. I was right...and attending Wagner remains one of the best decisions I have ever made. Classes were small, instructors were dynamic, students had interests similar to mine, and the opportunities on campus and in the city were endless.
     
     Today, Wagner has grown a bit with 1,800 undergraduate and 450 graduate students, but it maintains a 15:1 student-teacher ratio. Following are a few of the numerous accolades Wagner has received from various college evaluation services:
   
     >It is ranked sixth in the nation on the New York Times' list of “value added” colleges.
     >100% of its students work at an internship or practicum.
     >Its “Learning Communities” programs emphasize experiential learning applied to the real world and supported by deep research.
     >Its theater arts program is ranked fifth in the nation by Princeton Review.
     >Salaries of Wagner alumni rank in the top 14% nationally.
     
     Just as when I attended, the school reaches out to the vast resources of New York City to attract teachers and guest lecturers, to provide internships, and to establish partnerships. And the school has maintained its beautiful surroundings and classic buildings while carefully adding new technology and structures. In short, it still says to me, "This is a place to learn...about academia and about yourself."  
     
     Is Wagner College the right choice for every student? Of course not; no one school is right for everyone. But I firmly believe that the key to making the correct individual college choice is not to be overly focused on prestige or size or name recognition. Rather, students should visit schools and, while visiting, sit in on a class or two, get a sense of how they would fit in, and ask themselves, "Will I be comfortable here? Will I be enthusiastic about learning here? Will this school’s environment help me develop my skills, my relationships, and my unknown talents?”
   
     If there are positive answers to those questions, then I tell students this: 
     Make your decision. Go to your college and enjoy the full scope of learning.

THE END

Copyright: Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint or quote all or segments, write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com.