Most kids seeking a college will tend to stay fairly close to home. Yet even in Iowa that means families may have to choose between 5-10 good options for their high school senior. Standard wisdom holds that you should look at three factors of “fit” as you decide where to send your student:
Transfers out—over a third of students will transfer to a different institution from where they started, according a recent study. Transfers cost time, money, and emotional energy. As part of the overall “fit” equation, it’s important that you as a family are clear about how well the college you pick meets your academic needs.
Academic success—let’s face it, there’s a lot of cultural baggage around the college experience. Attending football games in the fall, going to parties, meeting new friends and maybe future spouses—it’s all part of the college enchilada. But, there needs to be one primary purpose for college in your search criteria: how well does it enable your student to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to live a successful, meaningful life (and yes, that often means getting a good job, but there’s more to it than that). Too many kids go to college, and usually what we mean by that is that too many kids do not put in the effort necessary to receive good academic training. How you select the college for academic fit makes a difference!
Colleges and universities are not created equally. They have unique offerings for their students, especially in their academic departments. A department is a collection of faculty (professors) organized around a subject of learning, like History, English, or Engineering. The Art department at the University of Iowa is not like the Art department at Drake University. They have unique faculty strengths that extend to the emphasis those schools put on the major. Your student will receive a different education depending on the faculty at those institutions.
So, this post is about how to find the academic strengths of the Iowa colleges and universities around you. You’ll need a method for reviewing the colleges your child is interested in, and you need to know what things you don’t want to get caught up in during the process.
Let’s first address what things you shouldn’t look at in the process or that you can ignore. That’s because these items are either “table stakes” (every college must have them to play in the big leagues) or they’re really hard to make unique to a school.
The method boils down to three steps:
There are a lot of good Iowa schools, and your situation and interests are unique. However, I want to provide a couple examples of colleges in Iowa with particular strengths, and I think you’ll see the method I describe above in action (at least for items #1 and #2).
Coe has an amazing reputation for its size in the world of physics. You’ll note faculty accomplishments and special student opportunities available.
Large, diverse universities like UNI also have specialties, even though they do many things well. One thing UNI is outstanding at is its teacher education program.
This is not a department per se, but rather a focus of the college. Luther is the top school in Iowa sending its students abroad in a variety of programs, and clearly if your student is interested in this type of experience, Luther is one to consider.
To prove the rule above, even though Mt Mercy does graduate programs in Nursing, it has a strong reputation for its undergrad degree.
Finding the right college comes down to getting the right “fit”, and academic fit is a crucial component. By determining what your student is interested in studying, and then analyzing the strengths of prospective schools, you’ll go a long way towards ensuring an awesome college education!
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