Thursday, May 18, 2017

Advantages of Public University Honors Programs and Colleges

Last week I attended a stimulating and impressive panel of honors presentations by students at a small liberal arts college.  These inter-disciplinary presentations included such fascinating topics as a feminist analysis of Beyonce’s Lemonade and an investigation into environmental human rights’ abuses in the Philippines.  The panel was attended by supportive faculty and faculty mentors, fellow students and even parents.
If only students at public universities had such access to faculty mentoring and intellectually nurturing environments. . . .
Well, they do.  Many large public universities also offer honors programs designed to bring a more liberal arts college approach and curriculum to high achieving students. 
Editor John Willingham of Inside Honors: Ratings and Reviews of Public University Honors Programs  has rated (rather than ranked) 60 honors programs and colleges around the U.S. to evaluate their benefits and overall quality.  His website, “Public University Honors,” which updated the list of programs also includes a page of questions and criteria to consider when choosing among different programs. 
Another site to visit when comparing honors programs is Peterson’s, which differentiates programs from colleges, the latter of which are often, but not always,  better established and more fully developed integrated programs.
In my experience and background as a faculty member and academic advisor, I believe some of the most important criteria to look for in an honors college or program are:
*priority registration
*small classes taught exclusively by faculty members
*inter-disciplinary course offerings and projects
*honors classes offered all four years in the curriculum, not just to freshmen and sophomores
*a required capstone thesis or project
In our California University system the University of California campuses offer Regents Scholarships and acceptance into honors as part of admissions—no separate essay or application is required.  As the universities have become more selective over the past few years, so have the honors programs.
One program particularly well rated by Willingham is at University of California, Irvine, which has what is called a “core” program as it emphasizes interdisciplinary seminars for the first two years followed by courses in 15 key academic disciplines.
Though not rated by Willingham, the Weber Honors College at San Diego State University is also well regarded.  In addition to offering a wide array of inter-disciplinary courses, it requires a study abroad experience for all participants.  Honors housing is another attractive perk.  Applicants for this program send in an additional application and essay along with the regular CSU application.
Several other states offer strong honors programs as a means of recruiting top students.  The Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon is noted for its undergraduate research and thesis program, its study abroad opportunities and the number of merit scholarships awarded.
As you assemble your final college list this summer, be sure to consider the benefit of honors programs and colleges, as an important criterion of your search.

University of Alabama—worth a look for cost conscious and pre-med students

Recently, I returned from a visit to Birmingham where I had the chance to tour the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and to learn about recent enrollment and program trends at UAB, the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
While most west coast students shy away from southern institutions, these two schools deserve a second look.  Here’s why:
This is the state’s flagship school and has used it prowess as hosting the most successful college football in the nation to fund its academic programs and recruitment of a more academically prepared and diverse student body.
Our tour was led by a young undergraduate honors student from Maryland who took us on a bus route past many new academic and athletic buildings, a fitness center expanding to house an award-winning wheelchair athletes program, and new residence halls.  Our guide is an MIS or Management and Information Systems major and he spoke of the reduced class size, priority registration, honors seminars, and faculty mentoring available to him through the honors program. 
Other noteworthy academic programs we learned about include nursing, communications (the university actually houses and staffs a commercial radio station) and a five year STEM BS/MS degree. 

Naturally, the school boasts a strong school spirit not only for football fans, but also baseball,
soccer and even club sports. 

One of the university’s best lures for out of state students is the generous merit aid it offers along with the growing number of students attending from other states and regions, more than 50% of the undergraduate enrollment.

This university’s medical center and graduate programs are growing by leaps and bounds.  An urban campus, it also attracts an ethnically and socio-economically diverse student body overall.  Consequently, it is becoming more of a residential campus than it was previously.
California students who are interested in pursuing medical school should take a look at UAB with its close proximity to UAB hospitals and doctors. UAB also has an Early Medical School Admission Program guaranteeing entrance to the medical school after four years of undergraduate student.
Finally, as an out of state public university, its fees are quite reasonable and much lower than many peer institutions.

So if you’re interested in pre-med or searching for merit aid to reduce your college tuition, y’all might want to take a look. . .

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tour of Dominican University of California

Last month in the midst of February rainstorms a few colleagues drove to San Rafael for a tour of Dominican University.  This small, Catholic heritage school of only 1800 students nonetheless offers excellent options for students interested in education, health careers, dance or business.

Dominican is well known for its direct entry nursing program that begins either in fall or spring semesters.  It boasts a high pass rate for nursing boards of 84-89% and offers financial aid as well as scholarships to well qualified students.  In addition to nursing, there is a 4 +1 Occupational Therapy program and a new Physician’s Assistant program is opening soon.  The university has invested heavily in labs and facilities for its health programs—these are worth viewing during a campus tour.
Other popular 4 +1 masters programs include business and education.  Elementary education/liberal studies majors can earn a credential within 4 years or stay another year either for a masters or a special education credential.  Secondary education students often take 5 years to complete their degree and credential.
Overall, the dance program is Dominican’s most competitive and specialized.  The school is affiliated with Alonzo Lines and dance majors—only about 15 are admitted each year—take a daily bus to San Francisco for training.
While on campus, we toured the usual buildings—classrooms, the student center, library and ate lunch at the cafeteria.  The students and the atmosphere appeared friendly and approachable.  The Spanish style architecture is appealing.  Our guide did confess that on-campus housing is below par and weekend social life is pretty quiet.  Our guide emphasize, however, that she loved the close knit community at Dominican and felt it was providing great opportunities both for learning and extra-curricular life.  We met with an associate admissions dean who described other “gems” of the school: a robuts study abroad program in which 6-8 faculty members lead programs annually, internships for all students, integrative advising that exposes students both to academic and professional advisors, and a thesis requirement for all majors.

We left campus a little soggy for our tour in the rain but felt we had discovered a local liberal arts school well worth consideration—especially for students interested in the programs highlighted above.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Spring Checklist for High School Juniors

Spring semester junior year in high school is a good time to begin more deliberate preparations for college.  Many checklists are available online from College Board, Peterson's and other sources; here are a few recommendations I would like to make from my experience as a college professor, academic advisor and independent educational consultant:
--Research possible careers, majors and colleges using tools on Naviance or other search
--Schedule a family meeting to discuss college finances, financial aid and scholarships, and an overall timeline for the college application process.
--Meet with your college counselor at school to discuss the college application process and make a preliminary list of schools.  Also make sure you and your counselor discuss your fulfilling A-G requirements for CA universities.
--Make a plan to prepare for and take standardized tests.  It’s a good idea to take the SAT/ACT twice in order to improve your score.  Many counselors recommend taking both tests once, and then repeating the test you score best on.
--Consider hiring an independent advisor, if you attend a large, public school or need extra guidance.  Ask friends for recommendations or check the online directory at Higher Education Consultants Association for a list of local consultants.
--Begin planning summer activities and employment early.  The summer after junior year is a critical time to gain experience in responsibility and autonomy as well as earn money to save for college expenses.
--Focus on a strong academic performance this semester as these are among the most important grades college admissions staff will evaluate.
--Plan to visit college campuses during school breaks or summer vacation.  Sign up for tours online ahead of time.

--Begin keeping a list or journal of possible ideas for application essays.