It’s Important to Research College Faculty

How do you know if a college is a good fit for you?  You RESEARCH it, of course!  When we work with students to help them build their college list, we help them think about what their priorities are, and then find the colleges that match those priorities.

Because a college/university’s PRIMARY purpose is academic, digging into the departments and the college faculty need to be an important part of your research.

So when I’m researching colleges with students, I have them look deeply into the academic department(s) in which they have the most interest.  What does that mean, look deeply into an academic department?  I have my students look not just to see that each college HAS the major they are interested in, but also search for the classes they would take if they chose that major.  What does it mean to be a [fill in your major] major at Top Choice University?  What classes will I take?  What internships might I be considered for?  And finally, what research are the college faculty doing in this field?

This last question is really, really important.  You see, professors in ALL disciplines are ALWAYS doing additional research, either for their next book, their next scholarly article, or their next presentation at a professional conference.  And what they’ve researched in the past is a solid indicator of what they’ll be researching in the future, when you’ll be a student there.

Aside from knowing this really important information that could literally tell you if a college is a good fit for you or not, the added benefit to digging into what professors are researching is that many colleges actually ask you in the application why you think you’re a good fit for them, and why they are a good fit for you.  Checking into what the professors are researching will help you better articulate this fit – which means the more and deeper research you do, the better chance you have of being admitted!

All this brings me to the point of this blog post.  In January, 2023, I was vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii with a friend, and we spent a day hiking down to a really beautiful spot to snorkel.  The water was incredibly clear, and we saw fish you’ve probably only ever seen in someone’s tank.  On the hike back up, I met Dr. Roarke Donnelly, a biology professor at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.  It’s a small liberal arts college, and he was shocked to hear that I’ve actually visited Oglethorpe.  “Dr. D,” as the students call him, takes a group of undergraduates to Hawaii each year during Jan-term to do some conservation research and work.  I asked him if I could do a short interview with him, and he graciously agreed.

Students are often surprised by what we learn when we dig deep into college faculty bios.  For example, most students assume a professor also attended the college at which they teach – and this is almost always not the case!  Professor Donnelly, for example, did his undergraduate work at Lawrence University (small liberal arts college in Appleton, Wisconsin), his Master’s degree at Utah State, and his Ph.D. at the University of Washington.  Often students are shocked that the college faculty at smaller schools, or those not ranked super-high, have incredible pedigrees themselves – meaning even if you don’t go to an Ivy League school, you may be working with professors who did!

Bottom line:  keep an open mind and look for colleges – and college faculty – who really fit your academic interests!  You’ll never know where you might find them!

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