Choosing the "Undiscovered University"

Do you remember your first college search process? You know, that seemingly unending stretch back in high school when you met daily with your guidance counselor, planned campus visits with your family on weekends, and flipped through college brochures from practically every school in the country that magically appeared in your mailbox after you took your PSAT's? If you are a member of my generation, that process was quite a number of years ago. But I still remember it quite well.

The pressure of finding the right school, the rush toward application deadlines, and the anxiety that came when I saw the mailman each day, knowing that he might be holding my future in an over-sized envelope.

The Other Side of the Envelope: The Pressure Admissions Offices Face

During my time working in college admissions, including several years as Dean at both Mount Ida and Stonehill College, I had the opportunity to experience that stress from the other side of the envelope. The pressure was not just on the student to find the right college, but also on every school in the country to find the right student. Every year, colleges and universities across the country pay thousands of dollars to purchase "search names" from companies that gather student demographic data. They begin huge mailing campaigns to the students on their purchased lists as part of their annual recruitment strategy. They build their campaigns in order to "shape" their incoming class, taking into account geography, gender, grades, diversity, extra-curricular activities, test scores, and much, much more.

Although every college in the country is different and their criteria for admissions can vary greatly, admissions offices would be lying to you if they did not admit that the enrollment period brings them some level of stress. They all need to bring in a class, and they all need to find the right students to shape that class in a way that meets their objectives and builds a strong learning environment. The challenge for many schools, though, is that they get lost in the sea of over 10,000 accredited colleges and universities in the country. How does the small, liberal arts college in rural Georgia get their piece of the pie when they're competing for the same type of students as the gigantic university system in downtown "Hot-lanta?" (And you can insert the name of any major city here). This question brings me to the title of this blog entry.

What is the Undiscovered University?

In my opinion, there really is a college or university for every student. The problem is that most students don't realize this, and they all flock to the same schools at top of the US News and World Report rankings each year. Don't get me wrong. I am not knocking the magazine or belittling the work that goes into developing their ranking system each year. It is a great tool to evaluate the different characteristics of each school. In fact, my colleague recently wrote a great blog entry breaking down each of the categories that make up the college rankings. But as she points out, choosing a school and gambling your future simply on a magazine listing is a pretty risky proposition. While listings such as US News can provide a great baseline, keep in mind that the United States does not have a national college ranking system endorsed by any regional accrediting body or government system. There are hundreds of "undiscovered" colleges and universities out there that offer incredible educational opportunities to both traditional students and adult learners. These are the schools that:

  1. Provide a learning environment either online or on campus which allows students to learn at their own unique pace, allowing for genuine work-life balance.
  2. Work with the student to deal with cost, rather than leaving them with unmanageable debt.
  3. Focus on competencies, not simply mass content. In other words, they ensure that each student masters the subject, and not just knows enough to pass the final exam.
  4. Understand that the end goal is not getting students to walk in the front door in September, but instead, helping them to walk across the stage in May.

How to Find the Hidden Gems

So what are some of these schools, and how can you learn more about them? Well, that's the catch. Each student has the opportunity to find their own "undiscovered" school. Like I said, I truly believe that there is a college or university out there for everyone. It just takes a little work. Advisors from companies like EdAssist and College Coach can definitely help you find them, but at the end of the day, it comes down to a student's willingness to spend time discovering schools that they normally wouldn't think twice about.

So whether you're a parent researching schools for your child, an adult learner looking to go back to school, or an employer seeking to find the right programs for your workforce, I would encourage you to spend some time finding YOUR undiscovered school. That random brochure that shows up in your mailbox, the one with information on a school you probably never heard of... might very well be the best program out there.
Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands

Subscribe to the On the Horizon Newsletter