Evaluating colleges

The "Tyranny of Choice": Confronting the Wall of Colleges

We are delighted to welcome Will Dix as a monthly guest blogger. A former teacher and Amherst associate dean of admission, Dix is now Program Director at Chicago Scholars. Today, Will has some advice for students and parents as they contemplate the many -- too many? -- great options students have when choosing colleges.  And cautions against seeking just one to be your "Emerald City."


Once in a while at the grocery store I’m flummoxed by the varieties of toothpaste to choose from as I try to figure out which one is the best for me. Breath-freshening, whitening, plaque fighting, striped, mouthwash-containing? What do I really need? How are my gums this week? Should I get the whitening one even though it doesn’t have the mouthwash? What size? What brand? What permutation will give me perfect teeth? I start to feel queasy, realizing that any choice I make probably won’t be adequate, but also knowing that, really, it doesn’t matter: all toothpaste has fluoride, all of it will clean my teeth, and whether it’s minty cinnamon or cinnamon-y mint, it’s pretty much the same.


How Do College Students Learn?

One of the most important things to evaluate about prospective schools is their academic life. After all, you will be spending a lot of time in the classrooms of the college where you eventually enroll. There are lots of ways to do this: you can investigate majors, sit in on classes, check out the faculty on ratemyprofessors.com, and even arrange meetings with teachers while you're visiting campus.  Another research tool for applicants is the National Survey on Student Engagement, a survey of students at hundreds of colleges that examines their participation in the classroom and academic life -- including how many hours a week they study, whether or not they participate in internships, and even how many books a year they read and whether they contribute to classroom discussions.  The results are provided to the participating colleges, which may or may not publish them. But check and see if the colleges to which you're applying make their results available. It's a great way to see if that school is a good fit for how you learn. The 2011 NSSE Survey is now available.