When you’re selecting a college, there are many considerations. We’ve written about ways to decide if you should go back to college or not, and we’ve outlined some of the overarching questions to ask before you choose a college or university. If you’ve made the decision to go back to college, and you’ve narrowed your search down to a handful of schools that meet your needs, you’ve most likely come to the most difficult part of the process. How do you choose between schools that offer similar program styles, similar experiences, and similar degrees? One important factor is the instructors that will teach and guide you through your college experience.
It’s not easy to become a college professor or instructor and those who do teach rightfully earned their positions. However, your expectations should be high when considering your future teachers. Here are a few key factors to keep in mind:
Educational Background: Most higher education instructors have a degree themselves, and many have a post-secondary degree such as a Master’s or a Doctorate. These are all important things to look for, but also pay attention to how your instructors’ degree can help you with your education. Does it directly relate to what he/she is teaching? Can you learn things from you instructors’ educational experience that might not be directly related to your degree program? How is one instructors’ education different from another, and how might that have an impact in the classroom? These are important questions to ask and important considerations that can effect your experience.
Real-World Experience: Some people will tell you that your instructor’s real-world work experience is even more important than their educational background. Do they know what its like to work in the field you are interested in? Do they have any first-hand experience to help you learn about what to expect and what things are most important to be successful in your career? Real-world experience can be crucial to your instructor’s understanding of the ins and outs of the degree you’re working to obtain, and extremely important to how quickly you’re able to comprehend what will be expected of you once you graduate.
Passion for the Subject: Passion can’t be measured by a certificate on a wall, or by reviewing a resume. This is something you’ll have to gauge on your own. The good news is, it should be fairly easy to see. Does he/she seem engaged when you talk to them about your career? Do they get excited when they talk about what you’ll be learning and the career you’re preparing yourself for? Do they keep up on industry news and share it with students? Are they generally enthusiastic about their own job? Pay attention to these things as well. You’ll know and appreciate it when you see it.
People Skills: Finally, when you have the chance to meet your potential instructors, pay attention to how they interact with you. Just like choosing a college that fits your lifestyle and appeals to how you learn, instructors are no different. That’s not to say you’re going to like or be friends with all of your instructors. But things like how they listen to you, and if they are able to relate to your own personal situation, can be important factors in your college experience.
There are many variables when considering college selection. Once your choices are narrowed down, it can make a big difference to take an intelligent look at the people who will instruct you. Finding ways to set yourself up for success is a big part of choosing the right college for you.
We often talk about finding the college that is right for you on this forum—a school that meets your professional goals, learning style, financial situation and personal obligations outside of pursuing a degree, from raising and caring for children to holding a full time job. One aspect of identifying the right college is considering how the college is accredited.
Accreditation is a process that most colleges and universities go through. Career-focused colleges like Westwood College, large private universities like Emory and Northwestern, state schools like Colorado State University, community colleges and other institutions of higher education go through accreditation processes to ensure that they meet standards for education and serve their students well.
Colleges and universities are accredited by national and regional organizations that set standards for educational institutions and conduct intensive reviews of schools to ensure that they meet standards in areas ranging from the quality of the faculty to the content of what is taught in the classroom. There are also specialized accreditations that relate to specific professions to make sure that the college or university is doing a good job of preparing students for that given career. These specialized accreditations are found in a variety of program areas such as nursing, education and design.
National accreditation is overseen by organizations that are affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education. If you look up the accreditation process for colleges on the Department of Education’s website*, they describe it in a way that I think puts it nicely: “If an institution is accredited by a recognized agency, its teachers, coursework, and facilities, equipment, and supplies are reviewed on a routine basis to ensure students receive a quality education and get what they pay for”.
One of the most practical is that national and regional accreditation enables students to access federal loans and grants, which many of our students utilize.* Another important benefit for students is that it affirms the value of students’ degrees when they go out into the job world to start their careers. Accreditation also has profound but less obvious benefits to students in the way it shapes their learning experience.
Accreditation ensures that a college keeps the needs of students front and center in their priorities. That sounds obvious, but anyone who has been in education a long time knows that many things compete for attention in an educational institution. The best institutions strive to keep their focus on students and their academic experience, and the accreditation process provides a roadmap to ensure that students are getting what they need to be successful.
National accreditation agencies typically accredit institutions which specialize in instruction and training for a profession or careers. Regional accreditation agencies accredit institutions that are community colleges and state universities generally located in their respective geographic region. Both national and regional accreditation agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation). These institutions review student performance by the level of support they receive as well as the teaching ability of the faculty and structure of the curriculum.
Provost and Chief Academic Officer
* Financial aid available to those who qualify
Over the past 100 years, the college experience has drastically changed for new university students. The technological trends, amazing innovations, and interesting economic shifts have had a great impact on how one goes about completing their college education and achieving their desired degree. Examining the various trends and technological innovations of higher education over the years is extremely interesting.
1. Handwritten to Personal Computers
When was the last time that you were required to write out your 20-page term paper on 8.5 x 11 inch lined sheets, where whiteout was your best friend, and the “neat” strikethrough was something you tried to “hide,” within your paper that took you 15-plus hours to complete?
I am sure the thought of writing 20 pages on lined paper is something that you would rather not deal with, or even like to think about doing, as it would probably drive you nuts knowing about the pain and agony it would cause your hand. With the dawn of the word processor and personal computer around the 1980s, the thought of writing your paper out by hand was considered “a thing of the past.”
Even though the typewriter did have a massive impact on how students completed their written work from the 1870s to the 1980s, it appears that the word processor and personal computer are here to stay and will become the standard in how students complete their written assignments from this day forward.
How does this trend affect the college education experience? Completing assignments on a personal computer makes it easy for students to edit their work and for professors to grade. This flexibility increases the students’ quality of work.
2. Written Tests to Online Tests
As a university student, when was the last time you took a test and what format was it in? You were probably given an essay question where you filled out bluebooks with your answer, or were handed a printed test and instructed to write the out the answers.
On occasion, the scantron multiple-choice test was a useful alternative. The scantron test would give the teacher or professor an easier time grading tests, and give them the flexibility to hand out different versions of the test to ensure that students didn’t cheat while taking it.
3. Blackboard to Virtual Classrooms and Classroom Podcasts
The classroom environment has evolved significantly. For years, teachers used chalk on a blackboard and then classrooms began using transparencies on an overhead projector. Now universities around the country are utilizing new and innovative whiteboards.
As the online revolution continues, more options for achieving a degree are revealed. The dawn of the virtual classroom has taken off. Professors can now record lectures in real time. By doing so, students can sit in front of their computer and watch webcasts of the lecture being given anywhere in the world.
There are even cases where professors themselves are technologically advanced enough to create podcasts of their lectures to help students who miss class. One such example is professor Hubert Dreyfus, who is a Philosophy Professor at UC Berkeley. His philosophy podcast can be listened to by anyone in the world.
How does this trend affect the college education experience? Students and teachers are now using innovative ways to package and deliver content. As long as the classroom environment continues to evolve with new and innovative technology, the student will continue to excel.
4. Computers to the Connected Web
The dawn of the computer changed the way students consumed information, and even more so changed the way they completed their written papers. As the internet came barreling into the limelight, everything changed for the better as colleges, universities, and the attending students became more connected than ever before.
The connection that students and teachers have using the internet is extremely powerful. College professors now have the freedom to place any and all of their course work, syllabus, assignments and class notes onto the net for their students to access and download at their leisure. Students have instant access to all coursework materials and can connect with their teachers through e-mail if any issues occur.
How does this trend affect the college education experience? The internet-learning environment creates flexibility for the student and teacher. Students can study from the comfort of their own home and teachers are able to leverage it effectively to accomplish the goals for each semester.
5. Private Universities to Online Colleges
Back in the early days of higher education, only the wealthy were granted the right to attend the most prestigious universities around the country. Most of the individuals attending these schools came from “old money” and always were a step above the rest of those in society.
As time moved forward, the creation of public universities and community colleges brought opportunity. The dawn of the internet and online colleges created an entirely new industry. Attending an expensive prestigious university may be fun to think about, but realizing that there are other options is the first step to accomplishing everything you want out of life.
Currently, earning a degree isn’t as hard as people make it out to be. There are many options for the prospective student. For most, the online college route is extremely convenient, and allows the teacher and student flexibility and achievement. Before choosing online college, make sure that the online college is accredited and has everything you are looking for!
How does this trend affect the college education experience? Having the freedom to get a degree from an online college really levels the playing field for someone who doesn’t have the time or resources to attend a traditional college. Giving individuals the freedom to choose is the best of both worlds, for the market and the individual welfare of those who choose to go down this path.
As new technological advances continue to spread through our national and worldly culture, every single change will forever transform the experiences that university students have during their four-year undergrad college experience. Although its exciting to think about the effects global technology has on the education system, we can’t forget where we have come from as we progress forward.
Provost and Chief Academic Officer
Welcome to the College and Career Blog, brought to you by Westwood College. Written by real people with expertise in the field of higher education, this blog is designed to help you gather useful information about continuing your education. Whether you’ve just graduated from high school, you’re currently enrolled in college or you’re a working professional considering going back to school to change careers or further your education, we hope this blog will answer some of your questions and inspire you to ask new ones as you choose the educational path that is right for you.
Our goal is to provide you with fresh content on a regular basis that addresses current topics and looks at issues from a variety of angles. We’ll cover topics like financial aid, how to find a job after college, tips and information for job seekers, and general education industry news. We welcome your feedback and invite you to suggest topics or ask questions that we can address in this forum. We hope you’ll come to view this blog as one of the valuable items in your toolbox as you research this important next step in your educational career. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!
Provost and Chief Academic Officer