Choosing A Major

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Must Have Items On Your College List – Part II

Two weeks ago, I talked about how to build a great college list and then last week I introduced the first four of eight “must-haves” you should consider when creating a college list. Today, in Part II, I’m going to cover types of admission, chance of admission, graduation rates and cost.

Types of admission
There are several types of admission and how much you love a school will often dictate how you end up applying. Here’s a rundown of the major types of admission to consider:

1. Regular decision is the process by which you apply by each college’s published deadlines. By doing so, you will receive an admissions decision by April 1st though there is no obligation to commit until the May 1st response deadline.

2. Early decision, also known as ED is where you can apply early and receive your decision early – typically by mid-December. The price for this early decision is that you commit to attending the college and agree to withdraw all other applications. You can only apply ED to one school and, since this is a binding acceptance, you better know that this school is the right one for you on all fronts.

3. Early action, or EA, also allows you to apply early though, unlike with ED, you are under no obligation to accept the offer of admission. You can submit other applications, wait for their responses and then make a decision by May 1st. Essentially, you can play the field. There are variations of EA policies, so be sure to check with each school individually on their restrictions.

4. Rolling admissions is where students are admitted on a regular, or rolling, basis. The schools will make decisions until they have met their requirements for the new freshman class.

We’ll talk more about these different types of admission in a week or two.

Chance of admission

It’s important to get a feel for your chance of admission so that you have appropriate expectations about each school before you add it to you list.

That’s right. BEFORE.

Do your research by using websites like the College Board’s Big Future to understand whether or not you are a competitive applicant when compared to students who have previously been admitted. You know Harvard and Yale are a reach for just about everyone, but do you know if Quinnipiac is a reach? By selecting the SAT & ACT Scores tab on the Applying section, you would see that the middle 50% of admitted and enrolled students score within 520-590 on the Critical Reading, 540-610 on the MATH and 540-610 on the Writing. Under the Academics tab, you can compare your high school courses against the courses Quinnipiac expects to see from its applicants. Now, where do you stack up and what do you think of your chances?

Graduation rates

College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, right? Well, for the most part, graduation rates are actually quoted for six years instead of four. So, if you’re planning a budget based on four years’ worth of tuition and fees, you want to know that the schools you are adding to your college list can actually help you accomplish this. Want to know the four, five or six-year graduation rates for Boston College? You can find them at College Results Online. Want to know how Boston College’s peer institutions fare in the graduation rate category? You can find that information by simply clicking on the Similar Colleges tab.


There’s a lot to say about cost and the factors that go into it, but for today I want to talk about understanding that the price in the window, is not necessarily the price you end up paying.

Tuition and fees have risen over 400% since the early 80’s. But like everything in your college search, doing some homework ahead of time can really help.

What’s important to understand is that a lot of schools discount their tuition– especially private schools. This adjusted cost is called net price and it can, and will, be different for families based on the qualifications of each applicant, how much money a school typically throws at its new students and your EFC. EFC stands for “Expected Family Contribution” and it is the amount a college will expect you to contribute towards your cost. The higher your EFC, the more you will be expected to contribute and the less aid you can expect to receive. Since last fall, colleges have been required to host net price calculators somewhere on their website. You can use the calculators to enter your personal information and get an idea of what the net price might be for you.

The calculators are far from perfect, but if a school’s cost is going to be too much for you, it’s always better to be disappointed before you apply rather than after you have been accepted.

If you have any questions about building a great college list, please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you!

You can also email me directly at


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Must Have Items On Your College List – Part I

Last week, I talked about how to build a great college list. Over the next two weeks, I’d like to take it a bit further and talk about some of the “must haves” you should consider as you research schools and build a great college list. Today, in Part I, I’m going to cover campus size, location, majors and student life.

Campus Size
Size matters, right? You bet it does! For example, a large public university like UConn has an undergraduate student enrollment of nearly 18,000. That’s a big school though not nearly as big as Ohio State where 43,000 undergrads attend!  And that also means that a lot of freshmen courses are likely to be taught in large lecture halls – we’re talking 200 students or more in a class here. The other downfall is that these courses will often be taught by TA’s instead of tenured faculty. Why? Because at large research universities, there is more focus on research and graduate programs – not undergraduate instruction.

Think about what kind of classroom experience you want to have as well as what kind of relationship you would like to have with your professors. If you want smaller class sizes, instructors you will get to know and form relationships with, then you will want to think about smaller schools. The University of New Haven (4,600 undergrads), Fairfield University (3,800 undergrads) and Providence College (3,800 undergrads) are examples of schools where classes are smaller and taught by faculty instructors.

Stay home or go far away? Tired of your small town? Feeling like you want to go out and explore the world a bit? I get it. I also get that sometimes the greater world is so unfamiliar that students who do go far away end up transferring to a school closer to home after their first semester.

Help yourself out now by thinking about what it means to go away to college. Is it important to you to be close to your family or are you okay with just talking to them by phone, email or Skype? When you do want to go home, how will you get there? Is your college near an airport or train station? Travel expenses, especially flights, are very real and need to be factored into the “how much is this school going to cost us?” equation.

For some of you this will be an easy one. If you want to go into mechanical engineering, nursing or video game design then you search for schools with these majors. But, if you’re like me when I was in high school and you have no idea what you want to do, it can get a little more complicated.

If you’re not sure what you want to do, you have a couple choices. First, you could always contact a counselor you know to help identify your VIPS – your values, interests, personality style and skills. Once you have a better handle on what you’re good at, what you’re interested in and why, you can concentrate your search on majors that are more likely to be good fits for you.

Your other option is to apply to colleges as an undeclared major. If this is the route you choose, you need to make sure (Note: NEED, not WANT) you consider schools which will provide you with options and the resources to explore them. Sometimes, taking some time to figure it out can be the best cause of action. Just don’t take too long. Some programs can only be completed in four years if you take the right courses in the right sequence from day one. Delaying that start could mean a fifth year or more of college and more money out of your pocket for tuition and fees.

Student Life
“I transferred because the school turned out to be a suitcase campus.”

This is what a student recently told me about why she was transferring out of the school that, as recently as this time last year, was her dream school. The school she had fallen in love with (without ever visiting once prior to applying) had a very small residential population and she found out the hard way that, due to its rural location, there wasn’t a lot to do on the weekends. She wanted more out of her college experience and was moving back to Connecticut to lick her wounds and start over.

College life is a balance of working hard and playing hard. Problem is I see so many students focus on what majors a school offers while neglecting to form an opinion about the social life on campus. There’s two ways to correct this problem. First, while you’re on a campus tour, ask questions about student activities and social events but ask them in a way that earns you a valuable answer. For example, asking your tour guide an open-ended question like, “Can you tell us a little about  what you’ve done over the last couple weekends?” is going to tell you a whole lot more about campus life than asking a closed-ended question like “Is there a lot to do on the weekends?”

Get details, not “yes” or “no” answers.

You also want to pay attention to flyers and announcements that are hung up around campus. What kinds of events are happening and would you be interested in going? If you are, talk to someone from the admissions office to see if you can attend as a non-student. Chances are this is a very easy “yes” on their part, but it’s always a good idea to demonstrate your interest. In other words, you’re showing the college that you want them just as much as you hope they want you. Plus, there is no better way to feel out the social climate of a school than to jump right in and try it out yourself.

The other way to gather information, especially if you don’t have the opportunity to visit in person, is to read the student reviews on College Prowler and Unigo. Both allow college students to upload reviews of their schools, the topics of which range from accessibility of faculty to how much students party throughout the week.

Next week, we’ll talk about types of admission, chance of admission, graduation rates and cost.

If you have any questions about building a great college list, please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you!

You can also email me directly at


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Why Your Major Matters….Sometimes

Why Your Major Matters SometimesI’m writing you from upstate New York this weekend. My wife’s grandparents live in Rochester and we decided to take a long weekend to visit them. Following my own advice, I took some time out of our vacation weekend to visit two colleges. Since we were right in Rochester, I chose to take a tour of Rochester Institute of Technology on Saturday and then, on our way back home to Connecticut, we plan on stopping off at Ithaca College. My wife is alumna of Ithaca, so it will be nice to see it through her eyes.

While touring RIT on Saturday, I was reminded of an article I saw recently that talked about how it really doesn’t matter what you choose for a major. In most cases, unless you need pre-professional training to be a nurse, accountant, speech language pathologist or an engineer, this is true. Just look around you and talk to the people you know – I will bet that most of them don’t even hold a degree that is directly tied to the work they do. And this brings me to what I want to talk about today. Sometimes, your major really does matter and a recent article in the U.S. News offers several reasons why a degree in a technical field such as computer science, software programming, or engineering really can matter.

According to the article, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects over a million new technical positions will be created by 2020. As our world becomes increasingly more driven by technology, data and information sharing, the need for talented individuals who understand how to design, produce, manage and secure these technologies will also increase significantly. In this case, majors do matter. Programs like computer science, information technology, software engineering, computer engineering, and information security can help point you in the direction of an exciting and growing career path. Don’t get me wrong – a degree alone is not going to deliver you to the promise land where you dream job is just waiting for you – having experiences along the way that support your brand as an aspiring technology professional while also showcasing your skills and abilities is what’s going to help you attain the jobs that you want the most.

In other words, you need to get out of the classroom and into a professional environment. You need to be able to show what you can do, not just what you learned. In the world of college, this is called experiential learning and it includes options such as volunteering, research, internships and co-ops. In case you don’t already know, a co-op is a full-time, paid work experience that can offer a student the chance to develop their skills and abilities while making valuable industry contacts.

RIT is a great example of a school where experiential learning is at the core of everything they do, especially in their co-op program, where over 3500 students obtain placements each year. A lot of these students are enrolled in programs similar to the ones mentioned in the article. As early as sophomore year, they are going out into the real world and obtaining valuable work experience and industry contacts. Some of them will complete multiple co-ops and, coupled with a degree that relates to critical needs in the world, these students will find success in their professional lives.

If you have any thoughts you would like to share on experiential learning and how majors matter (or don’t matter), please use the comment box below. You can also email me directly at

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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What’s Your Brand?

The other day I was working with a current college freshman who is majoring in business. Our conversation rolled around to courses he should be taking in the spring semester and when I asked him how many business-related courses he had taken prior to entering college, I was both shocked and impressed by his answer: ten!

Now, most students with an interest in business should have a strong background in math – if they’ve taken calculus, that’s even better – and perhaps they’ve taken a course or two in statistics, accounting or economics. The ones who are really vested in their education at an early age and see the business world in their future will have taken all of the above. However, taking ten courses is another thing altogether. That’s building a brand.

What’s a brand you ask? Well, think about what you are interested in; how much do you really know about what it will take to do well in this program and, ultimately, in the profession? If you want to major in nursing, have you taken anatomy and physiology? For engineering, have you taken pre-calculus or calculus? Have you taken a CAD course? For business, have you taken statistics or accounting? If you’re like this student, have you immersed yourself in your interests to the extent that you’ve taken all ten of the courses related to your major at your high school?

If you’ve been taking this approach all along, if you have been preparing yourself for your major, then good for you! If you’ve taken the preparatory courses your high school offers towards your program, then you are in the process of building your brand. If they were AP or honors courses, even better – you could be in line to receive college credit from whichever college or university you attend.

The point here is that you can choose a major blindly and hope that it will be the right fit. You can operate on assumptions and hope that they will lead you to something. You can be ignorant of the course requirements for a program and assume that you will just make it work. However, you can also dedicate time to building your brand by doing several things:

1.) Take courses in your chosen field

2.) Complete a job-shadow with someone who does what you want to do 

3.) Volunteer your time to a cause or organization related to your field 

4.) Find a part-time job that gets you in the door somewhere where you will learn more about your major or your intended field

5.) Do some online research to see where your chosen major might lead you 

If I was still reading applications for an admissions office, I can tell you that this student’s application would have been one that I got excited about because it would have been readily apparent that his interest in business was authentic and informed. I would have seen that he started taking the first relevant courses as a sophomore and that he carried this interest through to senior year – he had consistency. I would have felt really good about how much more prepared he was going to be because of his prior exposure to the coursework, terms, ideas and issues involved in what is a very chaotic and volatile business world right now.

He started as a sophomore and you might be saying to yourself, “well, I’m already in my junior or senior year and it’s too late to build a brand.”

To this I say, “nonsense.” It’s never too late to start getting invested in that which you are passionate about. It’s never too late to start building a brand towards your future. You just have to choose to start…

Have any thoughts, comments or suggestions on branding? Use the comment form below to tell me what you think!

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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