HE professionals should also read The New College Guide

The New College Guide:
How to get in, get out, and get a job

Marguerite J Dennis
Old Post Books, 2014

Each new year brings a fresh cohort of domestic and international students, with their parents in support, into the United States tertiary education market. These prospective applicants may begin searching for the institution of their dreams before seriously considering the answers to a host of questions – cost, location, size, majors, degree requirements, amenities etc, that may influence their ultimate institutional choice.

Their parents will undoubtedly have their own list of fundamental concerns – campus safety, distance, retention and graduation rates. The size and array of characteristics of the US tertiary education market makes the individual’s vetting process a formidable task even when assessing these few considerations.

Both students and parents will surely consult relatives and friends in narrowing their search pool. For many, this vetting process may not be well articulated and their subsequent search akin to a random walk.

For prospective international students and their parents considering US tertiary education, the search will be far more challenging as distance and travel cost may foreclose multiple campus visits and other modes of investigation.

With both domestic and international shoppers, the wrong choice based on incomplete information or misunderstandings may be both financially and emotionally costly.

Marguerite Dennis’ book presents 100 questions that students and parents should aggressively seek to answer as they progress through pre-applicant, enrolled student and employment applicant phases.

The questions and their rationale are based on Dennis’ 30 years plus of experience as an admissions and financial aid executive in an array of US universities. Her reader-oriented writing style has been refined by five prior books and a host of articles on admissions and financial aid.

From application to employment

The sub-title prepares readers for the book’s three parts.

Part I, Pre-Application Stage, poses over half of the book’s 100 questions. This balance suggests that selecting the right fit is a prerequisite to negotiating the curriculum and finally pursuing employment.

Dennis repeatedly assures the reader that by faithfully pursuing answers to these pre-admission questions they will find the best institution that fits their unique needs and dispositions.

Part II, Post-Acceptance Stage’s questions will assist the student in successfully negotiating degree requirements and other institutional hurdles within a four-year timeframe.

Part III Post-Graduation Stage’s questions focus on employing the institution’s career planning and placement functions to secure the best-suited first job.

Dennis does not suggest answers to her questions, but rather offers brief rationales for why securing the answer is important.

Many of her questions are complemented by special advice to international students and their parents. They remind international readers of the many circumstances, beyond language, required in selecting an out-of-country institution.

Her approach is not for the dreamer. Answering her questions will require proactive searching. The reader is prompted to aggressively go beyond the all too similar books, the admissions staff’s prepared scripts and campus visits with accompanying routine observation of showcase classes.

Students and parents are advised to develop a long-term relationship with key faculty, administrators and staff. In negotiating each part of the book, they will construct their unique mosaic filtered by their unique needs and dispositions.

Following her advice will be very time-consuming. Dennis advises the careful shopper to independently query a wide array of faculty, managers and staff as well as current students and graduates.

International shoppers are also advised to query fellow country peers on their institutional experiences. Her advice is not for the less than dedicated college shopper and subsequent detective. Even with access to directory information the task will be challenging.

The dream vs the reality

The mass of information gathered should assist the individual shopper in aligning their dream institution with reality. Queries to current dorm residents or financial aid recipients may reveal variance between canned presentations and reality.

Questions pursued before committing to an institution could minimise subsequent disappointment. After degree pursuit starts periodic progress forecasts – and weighing alternative paths through degree programmes, internship opportunities and financial aid options will minimise ugly surprises.

The author offers a systematic step-by-step process to filtering the array of competing alternatives. She is the virtual coach directing the reader to the array of often unrecognised information sources that contribute to a rational college choice.

Her tone is clearly supportive in posing her 100 recommended questions that prospective students and parents should ask as they pursue their search for the best, if not their dream college. All of the questions and where the student should go to find the answers are summarised in a closing chart. The chart could also serve as a check list.

Dennis repeatedly makes the point that by faithfully pursuing the answers to her questions the student will surely settle on the best alternative among the array under consideration. The ultimate decision rests with the student and parents. Dennis skirts the inevitable intangibles that influence the student’s ultimate decision.

Tertiary education professionals may want to consult Dennis as well.

The grind of our daily challenges can blind us to what prospective students and their parents really want and need. What really makes our institution different and appealing? Do our students, graduates and employers share our often self-congratulatory views?

* William Patrick Leonard is executive vice dean at SolBridge International School of Business in Daejeon, Republic of Korea.