Who You Really Need to Talk to On a College Tour


College Tour, Application, College LIfe

You and your high school student have been touring school after school.  After a while, all those admissions officers and tour guides start to blend together.  You’ve heard enough of those ‘Our college is awesome’ spiels to last a lifetime.  I get it.


But there’s probably people you haven’t talked to at colleges.  People that aren’t part of the official tour.  And no, I’m not talking about students.  Sure, students can offer great advice about what the school is like.  But what about your peace of mind?  How can you be sure that a college will take care of your child?


Go to the dining hall.  Yes, really.  I want you to stop and talk to the workers in the dining hall.  Say hello.  Mention that your kid is considering this school.  Ask them questions.  You’ll be surprised what you find out.


See, these are the people that will be feeding your child every day.  They are the familiar faces that make students feel at home.  I will never forget the greeter in my dining hall – a sweet old woman named Barb who called everyone “honey” and always asked how your day was going.  She could make a bad day better.  I can’t stress how nice it was to have a kind, familiar face at the end of a rough day or when I was feeling really homesick.  We all loved Barb, because it felt like she really cared about each and every one of us.  


My dad says he knew that I picked the right school when he talked to one of the men who worked in the dining hall.  He reassured my dad that they would take care of me and the other freshmen.  No, they might not be there to help with things like roommate drama or a bad grade.  That’s for RAs and professors.  But they would be there to offer a little bit of moral support in the form of a smile and a kind word or two.  And on a bad day, that can go a whole heck of a long way.


These are the people who show the school’s commitment to the type of people they have on staff.  Meeting people who love their jobs and like interacting with students are a much better sign than grumpy people who hate their jobs.  As my dad says, “That’s who your children are going to interact with as much as their instructors.”  And that’s true – especially freshman year, when large lectures are much more common than small classes.


And it’s not just the people who work in the dining hall.  Talk to maintenance workers.  After all, they’re the ones that will be solving problems like a broken faucet for your child.  And believe me, when you’re already stressed about grades and being away from home, something like a broken faucet can tip you over the edge.  Knowing that there will be someone caring to fix the problem is a relief.  College is one step, but giving up Dad’s ability to fix everything is another one that they might not be ready for yet!


So on your next college tour, keep a lookout for people you can talk to who aren’t a part of the official tour.  Get their opinions, ask them a few questions.  They’ll tell you what you really need to know.

How to Pick the Right Classes

Classes, College Classes, Class Schedule

If you really want to succeed in college, you need to learn how to pick the right classes for you.  It’s all about figuring out your learning style – and I’m not talking about whether or not you’re a visual learner.  This learning style is about when and where you learn best, and what your motivations are for learning.  It’s also about using your resources to make the best decisions.  Ready to discover what works best for you?

1. Forget about High School

I mean it.  So many people think that just because they got up early in high school, they’re going to be able to do the same in college.  Or that scheduling a full day of back-to-back classes is going to be easy, because that’s how high school was.  They’re wrong.  Completely and utterly wrong.

Why?  Because college isn’t high school.  Well, duh.  Of course it isn’t.  But so many people forget about this, or think that the difference isn’t really that great.  But it is.  You have to motivate yourself – no one else is going to do it for you.  Your mom isn’t going to bang on your door when you oversleep.  

College classes require more work, more studying, and, often, more group work.  A full day of classes is not only exhausting (believe me, I’ve done it!), but it doesn’t leave you the room you need to study or work on assignments.  And then there’s the friend factor:  are you really going to want to be holed up in your room while all your friends hang out?  

So do yourself a favor and throw away your high school expectations.  It’s time to get serious about how to do well in college!


2. When do you work best?

This is probably the biggest factor.  Some people are morning people.  Most college students aren’t!  Even those of you who are morning people may find that you aren’t in college – because staying up late studying or hanging out is definitely a thing!  I used to get up with no problem at 5:50 in the morning for high school – in college, getting up two hours later than that could be a struggle.  So figure out what time you can realistically get out of bed and to class, and plan around that as best you can.  I’m not saying that you’ll always be able to avoid those dreaded morning classes, but you might be able to take fewer!

Another thing to consider is when you start to get worn out on school.  I found that anything after 4 in the afternoon was difficult for me.  I was tired, hungry, and ready to be back in my dorm room.  Some of my friends found that any class after 3 was basically a waste for them because they just couldn’t focus any longer.


3.  Where do you learn best?

Some people thrive in small classes.  Others loves the anonymity of lecture hall classes.  You’ll have a mixture of both in college, but it’s good to know what to aim for.  I personally loved small classes.  It gave me the chance to get to know the professor, and ultimately that’s how I started working with one of my professors on my honors thesis project.  Large classes were too overwhelming for me, and as soon as I could, I stopped taking them.

Have you considered online classes?  I took several online classes in order to free up time in my schedule, and I loved them.  If you are a highly motivated student, taking an online class might be a great way to fit in a class that you couldn’t otherwise.  But if you don’t do well communicating fully online and learning on your own, this would be a bad choice – even if it sounds appealing.


4.  Don’t choose your schedule based on your friends.

I can’t stress this enough.  Yes, it’s great to have a friend in a class with you.  And if you’re both interested in the class, go ahead and take it together.  There are plenty of benefits to taking a class with a friend.  You can split the costs of textbooks and study together.  But don’t base your entire class schedule around making sure you have friends in most or all of your classes.  You’ll end up in classes you don’t want to take – or, worse, you’ll be distracted by your friends and not get a good grade in the class.  It happens to the best of us!  


5. Know why you want to take the class

And don’t just say, “Because it’s required.”  That’s not good enough motivation for most people to do well.  You chose this major or minor for a reason.  You’re not going to achieve your goals if you view classes as a thorn in your side instead of stepping stones to obtaining your degree.  So think of a good reason why you want to take the class – to practice your speaking skills, to get better at a foreign language, to learn something that will help you in a future career.  You can use that motivation halfway through the semester when you’re wondering why you took the class to begin with!


6. Make sure to check required courses!

This may sound obvious, but you want to make sure you’re checking your requirements at least once a semester.  (Or, if you’re like me, all the freaking time).  It’s important to know that you are taking the right number of classes and at the right pace in order to graduate on time.  Do yourself a favor and go check right now.  See where you’re at.  If you need to, start making a plan on what to do to catch up.  If you’re currently on track, good job!  Now keep checking every semester to make sure you stay that way!


7. Talk to your professors

Are you uncertain about what classes are good for you?  Are you thinking of minoring or majoring in a program but don’t know if your skills and knowledge base are ready?  Guess who knows you and your abilities:  your professors.  Professors have office hours for a reason.  Make an appointment to talk about which classes to take.  (Just please don’t go right before a big test.  You’ll never get in, and your professor won’t have enough time to really help you!).  

I was debating at one point on whether or not to bump my Spanish minor up to a major.  I was struggling a bit in my current class, but I loved the language.  I could not come up with a decision on my own.  I went to see my professor.  Not only did she help me with the topics I was struggling in, but she took the time to go through with me the classes I would need to take for the major as well as which ones she thought I might need to prepare more for.  It was immensely helpful!


8. Use Rate My Professor

You’ve probably already heard this advice, but it’s worth repeating.  Rate My Professor is a great website to learn about the teaching styles, homework load, and expectations of different professors and classes.  I always used it when picking classes.  

I do want you to be careful when using it, though.  I tended to throw out the overly negative or positive reviews.  I wanted to see what the average student thought of the class.  The other thing to consider is something I’ve talked about elsewhere – take into account your academic strengths and weaknesses.  As someone who would much rather write a 10 page paper than study for a test, I tended not to worry when a review said that the professor required a lot of essays.  But that may not be how you like to learn.  Pay attention to those details!


Are there any other things that you consider when picking classes?  Do you have an awesome secret weapon when it comes to talking to professors?  Let me know in the comments!



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10 Questions to Ask Your Roommate

Questions to Ask Your Roommate


Unless you’re rooming with your best friend, chances are you’ve been waiting for your roommate assignment practically since you got your acceptance letter.  Now that it’s finally here, what are you going to say to them?  And what do you do if they sound like your worst nightmare?


(True story:  The first time I talked to my freshman roommate, she described herself as “pink zebra print and a little bit Barbie” and then asked me how comfortable I was with nakedness.  I’m pretty sure I hung up with her ready to give up on going to college all together.  Turns out, we got along just fine.)


I’m here to tell you to take a deep breath.  Living with a complete stranger can sound scary, but it’s an important part of the college experience.  And believe me, I’ve seen it all when it comes to crazy roommate and stressful dorming situations – but that’s for another post!  Today, I want to tell you the questions you should ask your new roomie to make sure living together goes as smoothly as possible.

1.  Are you a morning or night person?

You don’t want to be surprised when your roommate wakes you up at three in the morning when she’s getting ready for bed and you’ve already been asleep for 3 hours.  Likewise, your roommate is going to be grumpy if you turn on all the lights at 7 in the morning on a Saturday.  It’s about finding a balance – and it’s totally possible.  My roommate and I worked out a system where we had a time when we turned the overhead lights off.  Either one of us could still use our desk lamps and electronics, but we agreed that once the overheads were off, it was time to be quiet in case one of us was trying to sleep.  It worked out great.  

I spent a year living with a total night owl (I’m a morning person all the way!), and we worked out a similar system.  It’s all about finding common ground and being willing to compromise.

2. Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?

It’s college, guys.  Being sexiled happens.  It’s just does.  But knowing that your roommate has a significant other is important so you guys can discuss boundaries.  It’s important to know what each of you is comfortable with.  Maybe you’re fine with the idea of their boyfriend sleeping over.  Maybe it freaks you out.  You need to be upfront and honest with your roommate about this.  

Want to know what happens when you aren’t honest?  Fights.  One of you will feel like your boundaries are being disrespected, and the other will feel that someone they love is being excluded for no reason.  Better to be honest about it upfront so you can work out an agreement.


3. Are you a partier?

It’s college.  Pretty much everyone parties at some point.  Even if you don’t, chances are that your roommate will.  The closest my roommate and I ever got to a fight was when she started coming back from parties and turning on all the lights and having loud phone conversations.  Luckily, we were able to work out a solution.  But if you know ahead of time that one of you is going to be going out some or most nights to party, it’s good to make sure you let the other person know what to expect.  


4. How much privacy do you want?

It’s easier than ever to connect with loved ones from home – but how comfortable are you with your roommate listening in to half the conversation?  And what are you going to do if they’re studying and you want to talk with your mom/sister/significant other?  

Together, you and your roommate need to decide on what is private and what isn’t.  You also need to figure out where you’re going to go if your roommate asks for half an hour to skype with her parents.


5. What drives you absolutely crazy?

Clear this up now, before you end up feuding over half-filled Brittas or messy closets.  It’s good to know your roommate’s biggest pet peeve before you even walk into the dorm for the first time.  


6. What are your study habits like?

Some people work best in the middle of the day.  If you’re like me, your best ideas for papers come at midnight.  (Yeah – totally not compatible with being a morning person!)  Figure out when you work best, and learn when your roommate likes to study.  From there, you can figure out if you can study in your room or if you need to go to the library or somewhere else.

Another thing to consider – does one of you like to listen to music while they work?  Do you like to have the TV on while you do assignments?  Talk about this!


7. Honestly – are you a messy or clean person?

This is where so many fights happen.  Be totally upfront about your cleanliness habits!  It’s okay if you’re a messy person – just promise to keep it to your side of the room and to not let it get out of hand.  I’m a person who believes in organized chaos, so I totally get all you messy people out there.  Just do everyone a favor and keep your mess to a minimum – and throw out old food!


8. What are you studying?

This is a great way to get to know your new roommate.  Maybe you can bond over similar majors or minors.  Compare class schedules and see when you’ll both be in the room and when you’ll each have time to yourself.  Plus, this gives you an idea of what your roommate likes and is interested in.  Go ahead and ask them what they want to do with that major.  You may be surprised what you find out!


9. Who is going to bring what?

This could be a whole post on its own, but let’s talk about it quickly!  It’s important that you don’t end up with multiples of some things and none of others.  It’s also a good way to gauge what your roommate is like – if they don’t want a TV at all, they may be way more sensitive to noise then they let on. If it turns out you’re both bringing yoga mats, you can bond over fitness together!  


10. Is there anything we missed?

Okay, this sounds like a bit of a cop-out, but I promise it isn’t.  There are so many questions that you can ask your roommate, but this is an important one.  Maybe your roommate smokes.  Maybe you are super religious and your roommate isn’t.  Maybe one of you is allergic to peanut butter.  These are things to talk about!


Now that you have a great list of questions, go ahead and ask them!  Get to know your new roommate.  You may be surprised what you find out!

How To Pick a College in 5 Easy Steps

Picking a College, College Decision

It’s nearing the time of year when acceptance and rejection (and those darn waitlist) letters start coming in.  You’ve been checking the mailbox every day.  Suddenly you’ve got a pile of acceptance letters and you realize – crap.  Now I actually have to pick.  It’s Decision Time.

No worries!  Not only am I going to walk you through the ways to decide on the one that’s right for you, I’m giving you a free printable so you can compare every little detail of each school.  

There are 5 main things I want you to think about when you are considering which school to go to.  Some might be more important to you than others, but these are the big ones.  The ones that can make or break your decision.  Paying attention yet?  It’s time to get serious!

Before we start, download your College Comparison Worksheet! Print it out, get your favorite pen, and grab those acceptance letters!

1.  Does this school offer the major or program you are interested in?

It’s easy to be swept up in the promises of big dorms, above-average dining options, or a beautiful campus, but none of that will do you a bit of good if you’re stuck somewhere that doesn’t offer the major you’re interested in.  It’s time to do a bit more research.  Remove the colleges that don’t offer what you’re looking for.  Here’s the important part:  evaluate the colleges that are left.  Are they known for that program?  Do they put resources towards it?  What internships are available?  How big is the department?  

You might find that some colleges have better programs than others.  Write down the colleges that offer your intended major, in order of their program offerings.  Don’t worry, this isn’t set in stone.  But it’s good to have a visual to refer back to.  

But wait.  What if you have no freaking clue what you want to major in?  What if you can’t make up your mind between criminal justice and environmental science and medieval studies?  What if your mind just comes up with a big fat blank when you try to think of a major?  Whatever you do, DON’T SKIP THIS STEP.  If you have a few different majors in mind, rank the schools by how many of those majors they offer.  You can experiment your first year, take a class or two in each subject, and decide from there.  What you don’t want to have happen is to fall in love with the school, find your best friend/soulmate, and then discover that the school doesn’t offer your major and you end up having to transfer (it’s totally okay to transfer, but if you don’t have to, it’s even better!)

For those of you who don’t know what you want to major in AT ALL, don’t fret.  I had no clue either.  I wanted to be a teacher.  Then I didn’t want to be one.  Then I did.  I hemmed and hawed and had no idea what I was supposed to do.  My solution?  Anthropology.  It gave me a great background for so many different fields, and if I did decide to go into education, it was the perfect compliment to that major.  

I’m not saying every single undecided major should go out and become an anthropology major.  In fact, don’t.  But I do recommend you find a school that offers a wide range of majors, especially liberal arts majors.  Like I said before, it’s totally fine to experiment with classes until you find what works.  So for now, look at your list of schools.  Which ones have a big selection of majors?  Highlight five or ten or fifteen that seem interesting to you.  I’m not saying to choose a major (that’s a whole other post!).  Rank the schools by how many majors they have that look interesting to you.  And then put that list aside, because there are other factors that may be more important to you!

2.  Where Do You Want to Be in 4 years?

Maybe you have your career path all planned out.  Maybe you don’t.  Either way, this is a question you need to ask yourself.  Do you plan on getting a Master’s or higher degree?  Are you going to enter the workforce right away?  Really think about where you want to be when you graduate.  Picture all your relatives coming up to you and asking about what you’re doing next.  What do you want your response to be?  (I mean, other than rolling your eyes because you’ve heard this question way too many times already)

Pretty much every college offers career services.  Research them.  See what they offer.  Are there internships that can lead to jobs in your field?  Great!  Put those colleges at the top of your list!  Is there a college on your list that’s in an area you want to live in after graduation?  Going to a school in the same city you want to stay in can give you a bit of a boost in finding a job after graduation.  Are there jobs in your field available near each school?  What are certain cities known for, in terms of jobs and education?  

While I was debating whether or not to be a teacher, I decided that I really didn’t want to go too far from home.  My only exceptions to that rule were colleges that were near where I had extended family.  I knew that ultimately I wanted to land back in Buffalo, and that helped me narrow down some of my choices.

3.  What are the costs associated with this school?

This is a big one, guys.  Sooner or later, you’ll have to sit down and figure out what you can and can’t afford.  Maybe you’ve already done this.  Maybe you’re like me – you applied to some schools knowing that you could only go there if you got a scholarship.  

I want you to write down the costs associated with each school you got into.  Room and Board and Tuition are the big ones.  Now look through those acceptance letters.  Where did you get scholarships?  How much are they for?  Subtract the cost of those scholarships from the total cost of attending.  I want you to rank the schools in order from cheapest to most expensive.  

You don’t have to go to the cheapest school.  I didn’t.  (I went to the second cheapest!).  But it’s always a good idea to get an understanding of what’s being offered to you.  I was offered a $24,000 scholarship from Drexel, $5000 from University of Buffalo, and $4000 from University at Albany.  When I did the math, even with the HUGE scholarship from Drexel, the cost was way over what I would be paying at either of the state schools.  So don’t get distracted by the numbers of the scholarships until you see how the math turns out!

4.  What does this school offer that others don’t?

Is there an amazing sports program that you’ve been accepted into?  Are you drawn to the campus in the big city?  Is a school’s small class size appealing to you?  These are all really really really important things to consider.  Forget about things like cost and majors for a minute.  Write down the one thing that makes this school stand out in your mind.  It can be anything!  For me, American University offered a beautiful green campus that I fell in love with.  UAlbany was the perfect distance away from home.  Boston University had amazing study abroad options.  

Have your list?  Now rank the schools in order of how much you love that one thing that makes them special.  Really think about this.  It’s time to come back to reality a bit.  Every school will have something that makes them special, but you really have to love what that thing is.  Who cares about a great sports program if you aren’t into sports?  Tons of study abroad options might be great, but if you can’t afford them, they aren’t a reason to pick a school.  On the flip side, if something makes you say, “This is really cool”, put that school at the top of your list.  Does the political science department offer internships with state assemblymen?  Does the education program offer student teaching placements sooner than other schools?  

5.  How does the school make you feel?

This is the one I think is most important.  If a school looks great on paper, but you show up on campus and think “This place is ugly and depressing and I hate it” – you aren’t going to last very long.  You don’t want to be miserable.  You want to love your school!

Have you gone on campus visits yet?  If you can, go again.  Go in the middle of March when everything is grey and snowy and muddy.  Get a feel for the campus on a day that’s not sunny and bright and perfect, because you’ll be living through both.  

Dorms are going to be an adjustment no matter what, but it’s time to evaluate what you like and don’t like about them.  I realized there was no way in hell that introverted little me could go live in a freshmen dorm that held more students than my entire town.  That just wasn’t going to end up well for me.  But hey – it might be great for you!

Some schools will just feel right when you step on campus.  (It’s like finding the right wedding dress, except with less squealing and a whole lot more expensive!).  Pay attention to that feeling.  Sometimes following your gut is the way to go.

Take some time to talk to students who aren’t tour guides.  Yeah, it can be a bit awkward, but it’s worth it.  Check out the library and dining halls – you’ll be spending a lot of time in both.  Sit down in the middle of a popular hang-out spot and just get a feel for the school.  

Now look at that stack of acceptance letters.  Rank those schools on how they made you feel.  


Ready for the final step?  Get out each of those ranking lists I had you fill out.  Look at the top ranked school on each list.  Is there a common one?  Does one stand out as your top choice?  Or are there ones that consistently ranked low?  Cross those out – they may be good schools, but if they aren’t going to offer what you’re looking for, it’s time to put them aside.

With any luck,
you’ve narrowed it down to two or three schools that really stand out.  These are the schools that make you feel good.  They offer what you are looking for.  The cost is something you can manage.  Great!  Now what?

It’s time to really get serious.  What is most important to you about a school?  Like I said before, how the school made me feel was most important to me.  I got a better scholarship at UB, but UAlbany’s campus felt right.  It also offered the right program – a really great anthropology department.  I was accepted into the Honors College, which meant I could live in special housing with other Honors students and get benefits like signing up for classes earlier than the rest of the school.  All of that combined made me decide that it was the school for me.


Hopefully by now you have your school picked out!  What was most important to you in deciding where to go?  Let me know what you think in the comments!