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#CollegeChoice

  • 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:

     

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    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.
  • USING THE COLLEGE SCANDALS TO HELP STUDENTS

    USING THE COLLEGE SCANDALS TO HELP STUDENTS

    By

    Chuck Cascio

    chuckwrites@yahoo.com

     

          Emerging amid the recent college acceptance scandal is the well-known and oft-whispered reality that parents have been buying their kids' way into college for a long, long time. A donation for a building, a scholarship sponsored, a departmental award underwritten, a legacy acceptance--all have been considered acceptable ways of encouraging a college to give special consideration to a certain student.

     

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         In reality, it is safe to assume that in some cases the students associated with a parental gift or donation to the school were already qualified according to the school's own standards. However, it is also safe to assume that others were not qualified...so their acceptance, it might be argued, bumped a more qualified student who lacked the monetary pull or legacy status from gaining admission. 

        I believe the degree of the recently revealed scandals involving celebrities and cheating on SATs and large payoffs to various individuals falls into a more egregious and disturbing category, and these actions bring to my mind a few reactions and thoughts that should be explored closely by the education community.

        >> Should the students who gained admission through the recent scandals be expelled from their respective colleges? 

         The idea of expulsion has been raised by various individuals in the political, media, and education arenas. My feeling is that unless it can be proven that the student had knowledge of the role he/she was expected to play in the scandal (faking a sport, cheating on the SATs, etc.), then the student should not suffer any consequences. 

         For me, it is hard to imagine a conversation in which a parent would reveal all of the underhanded practices that they intended to utilize. A 17- or 18-year old might be unaware of all that her/his parents are doing; rather, the student might be aware of intense parental interest but view it as significant parental support. If those students are now in college achieving and contributing to the higher-education community, then I say let them continue. They will have enough problems to deal with when they learn of their parents' unscrupulous activities. 

         

         >> How should the adults be punished? 

         Parents, coaches, cheating SAT proctors, and others should face whatever criminal charges are appropriate. But here is an additional consideration:   

         Make the wealthy individuals who put up the money for these illegal activities contribute an equal amount to a fund used to support current or future students who need financial aid. For the most part, the people who participated in this scandal seem to have deep financial resources and extensive contacts. Let's make them use their money, life experiences, and contacts for the benefit of others who are less fortunate than they and their own kids are.

         

         >> A Suggestion for Colleges: 

         Would you consider experimenting with a random selection process for research purposes? Having spent a good bit of my career as a high school teacher and adjunct faculty member at two universities, I came to realize that for many students all they needed to succeed was opportunity. Give them the opportunity to learn, express themselves, and engage in a positive, creative learning environment, and they will achieve in ways that surprise everyone, including themselves. 

         With that in mind, I would like to see some colleges engage in an experiment:   

         Take your pool of applicants and without looking at ANY criteria such as test scores, academic record, place of residence, etc. pick 25+ names and grant them admission. Then track their performance over the years that they are in college. My guess is that the results will show that they perform in very similar ways to the many other applicants who went through the typical college acceptance scrutiny. 

         To be sure, this scandal is appalling. The college application and acceptance systems are overly stressful, create massive anxiety in students and parents, and are so exclusionary that thousands of high school students miss out on the opportunity to engage in the life-changing experience of attending college. So let's move beyond the  rhetoric and shocked reactions the scandal has provoked toward some simple steps that would make college available to more students. 

     

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.