Ten Things You Must Avoid in Picking a College

Mar 9, 2015

College as I once knew it is dying. Schools all over the country face declining enrollments, government intrusion, and loss of vision. 

This can be confusing for parents, like me, who have children getting ready for school. Like many parents, I am asking, Does my daughter need college still? Is it worth the investment?

Not every student needs college, but my daughter does. First, she wants a job where college is still expected of the first hires. Second, she has an academic orientation that will make college an excellent place for her to transition fully to maturity. Finally, she wants to go to college.

As she looks at schools, I am trying to avoid the “rip offs” who do not understand the nature of education, so she can find the good schools that can help her thrive. It will be her choice, of course, but here is what I tell her to avoid:

1. Don’t go to a college that lets you pick all of your courses

If what is called the “core” or “general education” has many options for you, then you know the “core” or “general education” does not really exist. The school has made it a low priority.  Just as in your major, the school should have a plan for your general education. If good, this plan is not going to give you many electives.

2. Don’t go to a college where everyone (or nearly everyone) hates your values

There are no good examples historically or Biblically of Christians who chose to be discipled by non-Christians. Historically, leadership training consisted of discipleship and a mentor who was the kind of person you wished to become.

3. Don’t go to a college where the administrators make a great deal more money than the professors

You can find out what administrators (like me) make on-line. If there is a giant gap between what the professors who will teach you and the administrators (who mostly will not) make be wary. It says a great deal about the priorities of the school and, not in a good way, if the cuts fall primarily on the people teaching you. Ask for the percentage of your tuition dollar that goes to academics. You might be shocked to learn how low this can be at some places.

4. Don’t go to a college where you will have a significant percentage of part-time professors

It is cheaper to hire part-time labor and many part-time professors are very good. Every school should use some part-time faculty to bring voices from outside academia to the school. Sadly, most part-time faculty members are people who yearn for a full time job and cannot get one. Underpaid folk, often working at many schools at the same time, are generally unable to provide the mentoring needed.

If you are going to have over half your classes in freshman or sophomore year with part-time people, not enough of your tuition money is going to teaching.

5. Don’t go to a college where any class has over thirty students (especially online)

 There are advantages to online education, but nothing about technology reduces the amount of time you need for mentoring or the need for a low student/faculty ratio. Ask how many professors are designated to mentor you online. Some schools use online classes as a “cash cow” for their onsite programs. Don’t be the cash cow.

It goes without saying that a giant lecture class should never happen on the ground. Beware a school that has many lecture halls with hundreds of seats and a stage. You will end up needing opera glasses to see the professor.

6. Don’t go to a college where meeting with a professor once a week couldn’t be done if everybody did it

Look around. Don’t go to a school that counts on most of their students not being actual students. If the school doesn’t have enough professors to sustain weekly advising meetings with you and your classmates choose a different school.

7. Don’t go to a college that requires more than a new car payment's worth of debt

Borrowing money can be a good investment. But it can also be slavery.

Most Americans borrow money to buy a car without too much thought. If you can borrow about twenty thousand dollars to go to school and if you then do not buy a new car until you pay off this loan, I believe this to be a good investment. Of course, the value of your degree will partly depend on the quality of the school and the major you choose. Here is a practical question: What percentage of the alumni gives back to the school? That will tell you something about satisfaction. If the number is very low, ask why.

8. Don’t go to a college that spends less than half its budget on the things that interest you

Do you wish to be involved in inter-collegiate athletics? If so, then don’t go to a school that lacks them. If not, why pay for them? Do you want the school to help plan your social life? If so, then pick a school with a very strong student life program. If not, save the money and plan your own parties.

Ask.

9. Don’t go to a college that has majors whose graduates do not get jobs

Ask the employment rate of recent graduates in the majors that interest you. If they don’t know, then you shouldn’t go. Don’t borrow money to find yourself unable to get a good job.

10. Don’t go to a college that mostly hires its own (or only a few other schools’) graduates

There are Christian colleges that are so narrow in terms of their hiring that they cannot mentor you for the real world. Working with the graduates of the same teachers cannot give you the breadth of perspective you need.

Take a look on-line at where the faculty got their graduate degrees. Too many from the same few schools is a problem. It can even be a sign of fraud.

Not everyone needs to go to college and not everyone should. If you should, then picking the right school is vital. Don’t be afraid to ask your chosen school hard questions. If they resent it, then they are not the school for you.

Find professors and administrators who love their school and job and you won't be sorry. 

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John Mark Reynolds

John Mark Reynolds

John Mark Reynolds is the provost of Houston Baptist University. Prior to joining HBU, he was the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought. John Mark and his wife, Hope, have four homeschooled children: L.D., Mary Kate, Ian and Jane.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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