Tag Archives: how to get the most out of college

How College Can Help You to Live a Good Life

atkins-bookshelf-education“The unexamined life,” noted the wise Greek philosopher and teacher during his trial (recorded in Plato’s Apology), “is not worth living for a human being.” In that context, Richard Light, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author or Making the Most of College (2004), poses the following questions to college students: What does it mean to live a good life? To live a productive life? To live a happy life? What if the answers to these three questions contradict with one another? How can a student use his or her time in college to help answer these questions?

To that end, Harvard offers freshman a seminar titled “Reflecting on Your Life” developed by Professors Light, Howard Gardner, and Dean of Freshman Thomas Dingman in 2011. The structure for the seminar encourages deep thought and discussion over three (or four) 90-minute sessions a week apart among 12 students, led by advisors, faculty members, or deans. Light explains, “[There] are five exercises [out of about 16] that students find particularly engaging. Each is designed to help freshmen identify their goals and reflect systematically about various aspects of their personal lives, and to connect what they discover to what they actually do at college.” The exercises for the students are summarized below.

Exercise 1: Make a list of how you want to spend your time at college. What really matters to you? Then make a list of how you actually spend your time each day over the past week. Then compare the first list with the second. How well do your commitments actually match your goals?

Exercise 2: Make a list of what you do in your spare time? How can these activities or interests influence your decision of your major in college? Is there something you enjoy that you are not considering as major or career track?

Exercise 3: If you could become really good at one thing versus being pretty good at many things, which approach would you choose? How does this influence your strategy towards college?

Exercise 4: Circle the five words that best describe your core values. The words are: peace, integrity, wealth, joy, happiness, love, success, recognition, friendship, family, fame, truth, authenticity, wisdom, power, status, influence, justice. What if some of the five you select conflict with one another? What do you do?

Exercise 5: Apply the parable of the happy fisherman to your own life. Here is the parable: “[A] happy fisherman [lives] a simple life on a small island. [He] goes fishing for a few hours every day. He catches a few fish, sells them to his friends, and enjoys spending the rest of the day with his wife and children, and napping. He couldn’t imagine changing a thing in his relaxed and easy life. A recent MBA visits this island and quickly sees how this fisherman could become rich. He could catch more fish, start up a business, market the fish, open a cannery, maybe even issue an IPO. Ultimately he would become truly successful. He could donate some of his fish to hungry children worldwide and might even save lives. “And then what?” asks the fisherman. “Then you could spend lots of time with your family,” replies the visitor. “Yet you would have made a difference in the world. You would have used your talents, and fed some poor children, instead of just lying around all day.”

The parable begs the questions: is it more important to you to own little, accomplish little, yet be relaxed and happy, to spend time with family? Or is it more important to work hard, use your talents and skills, perhaps making the world a better place in the process?

This last exercise, notes Light, provokes some very spirited debates; he explains: “Typically, this simple parable leads to substantial disagreement. These discussions encourage first-year undergraduates to think about what really matters to them, and what each of us feels we might owe, or not owe, to the broader community — ideas that our students can capitalize on throughout their time at college.”

Indeed the seminar, “Reflecting on Your Life” has a profound impact on college freshman. Light elaborates: “At the end of our sessions, I say to my group: ‘Tell me one thing you have changed your mind about this year,’ and many responses reflect a remarkable level of introspection. Three years later, when we check in with participants, nearly all report that the discussions had been valuable, a step toward turning college into the transformational experience it is meant to be.

Fortunately, thanks to the egalitarian nature of the internet, you don’t have to attend Harvard (and spend more than $350,000 in tuition) to benefit from Professor Light’s work and research — the Facilitator Guide: Reflections is readily available for download (see link below). No doubt, Socrates would enthusiastically support this deep reflection as students embark on a journey of higher learning and self-discovery.

Read related posts: Getting the Most Out of College
The College Admissions Mania
The Parable of the Carpenter’s Son
The Best Books for Graduates: 2015
What Makes a Great Mentor?

What Makes a Great Teacher?
What Should you Teach Your kids Before They Leave Home?

Education Reform
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses

Education or Indoctrination?

For further reading: Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Mind by Richard Light (2004)

Getting the Most Out of College

atkins-bookshelf-educationIn May 2014, Purdue University in partnership with Gallup and the Lumina Foundation published the Gallup-Purdue Index (GPI), titled “Great Jobs, Great Lives,” the largest representative study of college graduates in American history. The GPI surveyed more than 30,000 college graduates to measure “the most important outcomes of higher education… and provide higher education leaders with productive insights for meaningful performance improvements.” The results provide hope for students and parents alike, who have seen the cost of higher education spiral upwards, placing so many prominent colleges completely out of financial reach. Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University shares the good news: “Our survey clearly indicated that it wasn’t so much where you go to college as much as how you go to college — what you extract from the campus experience.” For the 21 million students from the U.S. who applied to college in 2014 — and did not get into Stanford or Harvard — you take great comfort in knowing that you can actually get a great college education, have a rewarding career, and lead a happy, productive life.

An analysis completed on April 8, 2015 indicated that there are six key factors that correlated to performing dramatically better on every measure of long-term success and graduating on time (and therefore, on budget). The findings were consistent regardless of the differences among four-year colleges: public vs. private, large vs. small, and highly selective vs. less selective. The six experiences, referred to in the study as the “Big Six,” significantly enhance the college experience and lead to engaged individuals (an individual that is involved in and enthusiastic about his or her work and is loyal and productive) who thrive in well-being (as measured in five dimensions: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical). The six most important college experiences are:

1. Having at least one professor who made them excited about learning
2. Feeling professors cared about them as a person
3. Having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue goals and dreams
4. Working on a project that took a semester or more to complete
5. Having an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom
6. Being extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations during college

John H. Pryor, lead researcher for the GPI underscores the importance of learning by doing by way of internships and collaboration with professors: “Making connections between classroom learning and real life applications of that learning is key in preparing college graduates for that great job. There is a need to increase the exposure college students have with experiences that enrich their academic learning by making internships and partnerships with faculty and industry and organizations available to all students.”

The GPI also reported these notable findings:
• 3% of students reported having all six of these experiences.
• 63% of students reported having at least one college professor who made learning exciting.
• 25% of students feel they did not experience the Big Six experiences and fail to thrive in their lives and careers.
• Of the alumni who experienced only 3 out of the Big Six, 43% believed that college prepared them well for life after college.
• Graduates who had experiential and deep learning such as a job/internship, long-term school project, and were very involved in extra-curricular activities and organizations, had double the odds of being engaged at work and slightly more are thriving.
• Graduates who finished their degrees in four years, double their odds of being engaged.
• 6% of graduates strongly agree they had a meaningful internship or job, worked on a long-term project, and were actively involved in extra-curricular activities.
• Graduates who took out between $20,000 and $40,000 in undergraduate student loan debt are thriving in their well-being compared with those with no school loan debt.
• 26% of graduates without any student loan debt started their own businesses.
• 16% of graduates who took out student loans of more than $40,000 started their own businesses.

The message of the study is clear for college students: be proactive, get connected and involved, graduate in four years, and do not take on too much debt. So what can colleges learn from this study? Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, responds, “Knowing that on-time graduation rates are connected to six specific experiences, universities can focus on improving the student experience. Higher education institutions have a unique opportunity in their hands to positively influence the lives and careers of their future graduates while preparing them for the 21st century workforce.” Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup education adds: “If we are concerned about graduates’ feelings of preparedness for the real world, their engagement in their work, their overall well-being and their on-time graduation rates, then we ought to redesign what the requirements of graduation entail. If it’s merely course credits and exams—without any of the crucial emotional support and experiential learning—we fail. The good news is we have an idea of what the winning formula looks like. Now we need to help parents and students understand how to make the most of college, and redesign accreditation and higher education values, models, and reward systems accordingly.”

Read related posts: The College Admissions Mania
What Makes a Great Mentor?

What Makes a Great Teacher?
What Should you Teach Your kids Before They Leave Home?

Education Reform
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses

Education or Indoctrination?
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me
Too Much Homework is Bad for Students

For further reading: www.purdue.edu/newsroom/gallup/

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