Finding the Best School for You
By: LTC Kalith Smith, Director of Admissions
Choosing a school comes with lots of questions and a good deal of pressure. Students who get to a turning point in choosing where to attend often have not prepared for the decision, and it can be so overwhelming that you may not give it more than a passing thought before you return to the ‘normal’ schools that everyone else chooses. For many students ‘normal’ is good enough. For some students, they want to find the best possible place to fit their learning needs. A school that will challenge them to achieve while supporting their development as a whole person. Once you start to think about what school best serves you, the variables are numerous. Let me be clear in my personal bias: I hold the belief that education that is ‘one size fits all’ will never be as beneficial to students as an education that allows students to place into courses based on their ability. Working with students to find the courses that best fit their needs also put them in the best position to know what type of college or university fits those needs and work toward admission to those schools.
Today I read Scott and Borgman’s comic strip, ‘Zits’:
Sometimes students need more than just ‘guidance’ when planning for their education, they need a psychologist! When I first arrived in Roswell in 2006 I came here as a guidance counselor. I had been in the business of college admission for close to a decade and it was time for a change. At NMMI we pride ourselves on our college placement and our support of students through their decision making process. By helping many students through decisions on their future education, I have found that emotions take over if there isn’t a written list. This works wonders to help clarify and somewhat quantify your choice of school or the whole decision can end up being very emotionally driven. There is certainly a part of the equation that is ‘feel’, and that is included here, but that can’t be the whole equation. So, as you go through the decision on where you will spend next term or next year, make a list creating a ranking of your top schools that is what YOU want out of college is not as hard as it seems!
Each of us likes to see things spelled out clearly. We love rankings. However, in school selection, the only rankings that matter is you finding the best possible school for you. So, making your own list is quite personal, but the most important part in school selection.
My list would look something like this:
- What do I like to do best?
- I enjoy history best out of my subjects in school
- I like to make good, long-term relationships
- I enjoy music
- I love the outdoors
- I like to be challenged and learn new things
- I like complex ideas and solutions to those complex issues.
- What are my strengths?
- I work well with others.
- I like to plan ahead and make sure everything is in order.
- I am a hard worker
- What are my weaknesses?
- I don’t like it when someone feels they are right all of the time.
- I value other’s opinions even if I don’t agree with them
- I struggle with math unless I see the purpose
With this list, you begin to see a picture of yourself as a student. Now, it can also be helpful to have your teachers and others who know you come up with a similar list, but be cautious if you aren’t ready to listen to what they have to say, it’s better not to ask.
Once you create your list of important factors, you need a way to rank them. My ranking list suggestion is here for my love of history:
- School has no history courses=0
- School offers history courses=1
- School has a full offering of US and World history=2
- School has a full offering with other niche classes (Such as art or military history) =3
- School has a special program or a major in history=4
- The program at the school has a full offering and opportunities to study abroad and visit locations I learn about=5
This provides me with a way to rank the schools, for my own needs, that I am interested in attending. Once you go through all of your points from your list, then you have a ranking of your schools by point value.
At NMMI we rank very high in the percentage of faculty members who have advanced degrees, meaning that we have a very well qualified faculty, the percentage of students on some form of financial aid, diversity of our student body and the number of advanced courses we offer. Those are our top rankings, but what ranking matters to you? There is no ranking for a leadership program, but that may be important to you. Our Ropes Course is a big part of that, again no rankings. Bottom line is what ranks up there for you!
Once you have a list based on what you would like in your school, look at their value proposition. How much will the education cost at each school and how much can you afford? Schools do have aid packages and scholarships to help, but for this practice let’s assume you will pay the highest price possible based on the schools published costs and discounts. Remember, most schools will not offer any aid until you have gone through the admission process successfully. This ranking might look like this:
- I can afford this school no matter how much aid they give me =5
- I can probably afford this school with a little help=4
- I may be able to afford the school with considerable help=3
- I may be able to afford the school with substantial help=2
- I can afford the school if they give me a full ride=1
- I can’t afford this school even if they pay for everything=0
Once you rank the schools based on your fit from the first equation and your ability to afford the education in the second equation, it’s time to schedule some visits!
Visit the top schools that fit you best and you likely can afford.
Finally, after you conduct your visits, give each school a third ranking based on the visit and how the school fits you. This is a ‘feel’ ranking that does take into account how you feel on the campus. Now, double back to the question of can they support your strengths and weaknesses and fit into your initial criteria and you likely have narrowed down your choice.
Of course, I hope that New Mexico Military Institute is on that short list, but our primary objective is to find students who will be successful here and to help those that aren’t a good fit find a great educational home elsewhere.