College Advising, Educational Consulting

What to Know Before You Start at a Large University

The start of the Fall 2019 semester is just around the corner, which means that literally tens of thousands of students are getting ready to start college at one of the many large universities around the United States. If you’re getting ready to attend a large university for the first time — a university with enrollment in the tens of thousands — here are a few things you need to know.

First, think of this transition like moving to a new city. I don’t mean only that you’re leaving your home town and moving to a new college town, but that moving onto a large campus is like moving to a new city in itself. The campus itself is like a small city, and sometimes like a medium-sized city — if you already live in Columbus and are starting at OSU, or if you already live in Orlando and are starting at UCF, that transition into college is still like moving to a new city. So you need to get the lay of the land.

First and most importantly, go to orientation. Don’t blow it off. Listen to every word and take notes. Three years down the line you’ll wish you paid more attention at orientation, so just tell yourself you already regret not paying attention, and then pay attention.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions at orientation. Most people will have the same questions. But, there are smart ways to ask questions and less smart to ask them. The smart way to ask questions is to listen first to the information being presented, process it, and then ask questions about the information just presented. If you have questions about something that hasn’t been covered, wait until the end. It will probably be covered.

Getting the lay of the land means the campus map is your friend. You should get one at orientation, but also download the school app. There should be a great campus map on the app too, and it should be connected to the map program on your phone. Remember, you’ve just moved to a new city, so you need to know how to get around.

You already know that your dorm building and classroom buildings are important to find, and you know you’ll need to know where to go to eat. You know you’ll need the library, but some libraries will be more important than others — most big schools have multiple libraries. Also mark all of the administrative buildings you’ll need. Find the parking lots too. Drop pins everywhere and tag them appropriately.

Campus policies matter, so learn them. Read the Student Handbook. Work within the school’s policies. Learn how the system works, and if you have questions, get help.

Getting help means connecting with your advisor. Use your advisor for help. Know this person. It’s very easy to get lost, be ignored, and not get the help that you need, so it’s up to you to find the right people and ask the right questions.

If you’ve declared a major, connect with your department as soon as you can. Get to know professors and students in the department. Ask their advice for scheduling too, especially the order in which you should take your classes. Some classes will have specific prerequisites, but even the ones that don’t might best be taken in a certain order.

What I’m going to say about your advisor will be true about every single constituent on campus: they are very busy because they have to work with a lot of people. That means:

  • Don’t think your problems are unique.
  • Don’t think your problems are more important than everyone else’s.
  • Don’t think you’re an exception to the rule, but if you truly have exceptional circumstances, let people know.
  • Don’t be a jerk. Be patient, wait in line, when your turn comes up, get all of the information you need. Think about what information you need ahead of time.
  • In fact, be kind to the people behind the desk. They will appreciate it. But, don’t waste their time. Get to the point. There are people waiting.
  • Look for the answers to your questions in the Handbook first. Check the school website for material that you might need to bring with you to any given administrative office for any given reason.
  • Things will take time because everyone is processing a lot of people. That means don’t wait until the last minute for anything. That’s the source of almost all of the problems in my points above.

Do you have any more questions? Contact us. We can help.

Avoiding Student Loan Debt, Cost of Degree, Educational Consulting, Understanding the Market

How Does Our Service Work?

If you’re a high school student, a college student thinking about transferring, a college student thinking about graduate school, or a parent of any one of these, Bright Futures Educational Consulting can help you or your child choose a major and then a college that will give you the best employment prospects with the least debt. That’s our goal.

And, we can do it for students anywhere in the world for a relatively low price.

No matter where you are, you start out with either a telephone or an internet chat. This one hour initial consultation is free. After that, if you choose to retain our services, after you make payment you’ll be sent a link to our proprietary online questionnaire. As part of the questionnaire, you’ll upload a copy of your most recent unofficial transcripts. The questionnaire and transcripts will allow us to make an assessment of your strongest interests, your secondary interests, and then your strengths and weaknesses. It really covers everything.

After we’ve done this assessment, we’ll generate a customized report spelling out your best options for higher education, from choosing a major to choosing a college, along with an analysis of the possible return on your investment for your different degree options.

From there, we start working together — on your application essay, your request for letters of recommendation and, if needed, your financial aid and scholarship applications. Then, you start applying.

Even if you think you’re a weak student with limited options, we can find options for you that you didn’t think you had. Once you’ve started applying, we’ll be with you to advise you and help you all the way until you start college, even up to the point of making sure you’re in touch with the right people at your new institution.

The services you receive are customized — you can save money by only getting help in the areas that you most need it. After that, our consulting service has two tiers. First, in-person and direct, and next, online only. In-person consulting is higher depending upon travel costs. We’re located on Florida’s Space Coast, so anywhere from St. Augustine, FL to Jupiter, FL along Florida’s east coast and then into the Orlando area is our lowest price. Outside that radius, prices go up a bit.

If you’d like to keep costs low, though, you can choose our online only consulting. Since all of our initial consulting and the questionnaire is online, we can conduct all follow up meetings online, and we can send you copies of your consulting report by both email and paper mail.

It’s probably best if you think of our service as an investment that’s bound to save you money — thousands of dollars in student loans, wasted time at the wrong institutions or pursuing the wrong majors, and a lot of stress dealing with the unknowns involved in applying to college. Give us a call and see how we can help you in your specific situation. Check out these other links for more information:

Educational Consulting, Learning, Pedagogy

Understanding Course Evaluations

At the end of almost every college course, almost all colleges and universities in the United States have students fill out a student course evaluation, in which students fill out a form that gives the school their feedback about the class, the instruction, and the textbook. There are a recent interesting studies out examining their effectiveness, including one study out of UC Berkeley evaluating the validity of student course evaluations in measuring teaching effectiveness. The results are similar to the results of the many other studies conducted in the past: student course evaluations are not reliable indicators of teacher effectiveness:

Student ratings of teaching have been used, studied, and debated for almost a century. This article examines student ratings of teaching from a statistical perspective. The common practice of relying on averages of student teaching evaluation scores as the primary measure of teaching effectiveness for promotion and tenure decisions should be abandoned for substantive and statistical reasons: There is strong evidence that student responses to questions of “effectiveness” do  not measure teaching effectiveness. Response rates and response variability  matter. And comparing averages of categorical responses, even if the categories  are represented by numbers, makes little sense. Student ratings of teaching are valuable when they ask the right questions, report response rates and score distributions, and are balanced by a variety of other sources and methods to evaluate teaching.

What do student course evaluations measure, then? The authors of this study summarize the findings of previous studies here:

  • Student teaching evaluation scores are highly correlated with students’ grade expectations (Marsh and Cooper 1980; Short et al. 2012; Worthington 2002). WHAT THIS MEANS:
    • If you’re an instructor and want high course evaluations, pass out As like candy.
    • Adjunct instructors, having the least job security and the most job retention anxiety, are most likely to inflate grades to get high course evaluations.
    • Net result: over-reliance on adjunct instructors and on student course evaluations to evaluate teachers leads to grade inflation and low course rigor; i.e., poor educational quality.
  • Effectiveness scores and enjoyment scores  are related. In a pilot of online course evaluations in the UC Berkeley Department of Statistics in Fall 2012, among the 1486 students who rated the instructor’s overall effectiveness and their enjoyment of the  course on a 7-point scale, the correlation between instructor effectiveness and course enjoyment was 0.75, and the correlation between course effectiveness and course enjoyment was 0.8.
    • WHAT THIS MEANS: If students enjoyed the course, they will rate it highly. But enjoyment by itself isn’t a measure of learning. The instructor may just be a good performer.
    • Conversely, lack of enjoyment doesn’t mean the student didn’t learn. The types of assessments and activities that promote long term retention, in fact, lead to low course evaluations. The practices that students like the least actually help them learn and retain the most. See the link right above.
  • Students’ ratings of instructors  can be predicted from the students’ reaction to 30 seconds of silent video of the instructor: first impressions may dictate end-of-course evaluation scores, and physical attractiveness matters (Ambady and Rosenthal 1993).
    • WHAT THIS MEANS: student course evaluations are, more than anything else, superficial measures of instructor popularity rather than teaching effectiveness.
  • Gender, ethnicity, and the instructor’s age matter (Anderson and Miller 1997;  Basow 1995; Cramer and  Alexitch 2000; Marsh and Dunkin 1992;  Wachtel 1998; Weinberg et al. 2007; Worthington 2002).
    • WHAT THIS MEANS: student course evaluations are, at worst, racist, elitist, ageist, and sexist superficial measures of instructor popularity.

So how do we rate teaching effectiveness? I’d recommend the following:

  • Worry less about evaluating the teacher for promotion and focus on gauging effectiveness for the sake of seeking out the most effective strategies for that specific student population.
  • Rely in part on peer evaluations — teachers in the field conducting this evaluation. Field specific knowledge matters, as teaching isn’t just a matter of technique, but of careful selection of content.
  • We still do want to hear from students, of course, so use course evaluation tools that focus on teaching effectiveness, such as those provided by the IDEA Center.

Just for the record, I’ve always been an engaging instructor who generally gets high course evaluations, so I’m not worried about myself here. I am, however, worried about how effectively students are being educated. Reliance on student course evaluations, at present, is working against educational quality.

You can read the study below:

Cost of Degree, Educational Consulting, Majors and Areas of Study, Pedagogy, Understanding the Market

Podcast: James Rovira and the Anazoa Educational Project on Punkonomics

I’ve blogged quite a bit about a number of higher education topics, but what’s my own vision for higher education? I spent some time with Dr. Beni Balak, Professor of Economics at Rollins College, on the phone for his Punkonomics podcast to discuss the Anazoa Educational Project and my vision for higher education. Follow the link to listen to the podcast.

Educational Consulting, Learning, Majors and Areas of Study, Return on Investment, Understanding the Market

Podcast: Are College Students Being Prepared for the Workforce?

Have you enjoyed my blogging about workforce preparation and college education? If you like listening to podcasts, I was interviewed by Tim Muma about that topic on LJN Radio.