David Ball is the Director of Admissions, Recruitment and Student Life at Hawkeye Community College. He has worked in higher education for almost 25 years and spent most of his tenure in the field of admissions at Hawkeye and Kirkwood Community College. He holds an Associate of Arts from Kirkwood Community College, Bachelor’s of Arts from Mount Mercy University and a Master’s of Education from Iowa State University.
Over the years I have observed common mistakes that students make when choosing a college or university. Below are some of those age old myths about the college selection process:
MYTH 1: The best time to visit colleges is after you have been admitted.
Many students have fallen for this myth only to find that none of the colleges to which they were admitted “felt” right when they visited. If possible, visit before you apply and again after you have been admitted. If you can visit only once, make it before you apply.
MYTH 2: Big colleges are best if you haven’t decided on a major.
A lot of high school students think because there are more courses to choose from, a large college offers greater options for undecided students. However, this alone should not be the deciding factor. If you are undecided, the best college is one that has core requirements that ensure you will explore new areas and fields. Also, look for colleges with strong academic advising and career counseling programs regardless of their size. Good advising can help you choose an academic and career path you will enjoy rather than one you think you might like right now.
MYTH 3: College is only for four years.
This is wrong on several fronts: Only about one of five students completes a bachelor’s degree in four years. In fact, only two of five students complete a bachelor’s degree in six years. If you plan to be out of college in four years, determine the four-year graduation rate for each of your college options. The federal government’s College Navigator provides four-year, six-year and eight-year graduation rates for U.S. colleges and universities.
MYTH 4: Your life will be ruined if you don’t get admitted to your first choice college.
Thousands of students each year do not get admitted to their first choice college and most are happy, successful individuals today. Yes, rejection is hard, but you will not be alone. Many students today are starting at community colleges and transferring to the university or college of their choice after obtaining an associate of arts degree. Research shows that community college graduates who transfer, do as well their junior year as native students who started as a freshman at the university or college.
MYTH 5: The quality of the academic program that I am interested in is the most important factor when picking a college.
About two of five students change their major field of interest before they actually enroll in college and about one of two change their major field once they enroll. Look for a college that has your current field of interest, but is also strong in all its areas.
Research on success in college and employment after graduation suggests the best way to master a major field is through a combination of learning theory and active, hands-on learning. The opportunity to do research on your own or work side-by-side with a professor on a project tends to be more valuable than simply taking more courses in the field.