Category Archives: Academic Programs
I was recently asked about the value of studying abroad. Given the expense, the headaches, and the academic planning, such skepticism is understandable. I believe the answer is to understand other people on their own terms. And I would argue that true understanding requires much more than simply being somewhere. While that gives you a feel for the environment that cannot be experienced online, say, real connection calls for involvement.
I choose this word carefully. I did not say “education,” though connecting to anyone without knowing the world around them is difficult. I said, “involvement.” By this, I mean translating the very ways that students now get involved on campus to their international experience. Too many students studying abroad are content to go to class, hang out with their new friends, and travel as a tourist. That’s fine, but it’s both unimaginative and lazy.
So I am suggesting that if you are studying abroad, or plan to, that you think about the things you love to do on campus—play in an orchestra, sing in a chorus, act in a play, volunteer at a local school, work to clean up a local river—and do that overseas. These simple and familiar habits will find a new and exciting environment to help you grow and thrive.
You will meet real, everyday people this way. You can talk to them about your common interests, helping you gain confidence in a foreign language and teaching you what is the same and different about your new neighbors. You will begin to connect with people in ways that will add richness to your intellectual understanding and skills. You can proudly claim to know how your hosts really think, what they really do, and what they really care about. And they will admire your willingness to give, just as they will become your friends, thanks to your involvement with their lives, on their turf.
What better pay off than friendship, engagement and understanding?
In the coming weeks, high school seniors like you will be getting acceptance letters from colleges. This is a really stressful time, filled with hope and anxiety. Where am I going? What will I be doing? Will I be OK? What will it be like? You have lots of questions, but you feel helpless right now, waiting for others to decide your fate.
This is just the time to fight those feelings with a more proactive approach to what happens next.
How do you do that?
- Take stock of your likely options. This is a good time to start a spreadsheet listing all of the colleges you have applied for. Start a column with a rating, say 1 to 5, which captures your estimate of your chances of admission. Don’t sell yourself short, but be realistic. This will help you balance your feelings and calibrate them to reality. You can add other variables as you go.
- Talk to your parent/s about traveling to colleges that have admitted you. You have probably done this already, but working on the details, from directions to accommodations, can help you feel more in charge.
- Map out what you will do this summer. Your life might seem on hold right now, suspended in time. If you can see to the other side, and imagine or plan what a great summer might look like, that can help the clock restart. Plan to do something really provocative and interesting, something that might ignite a new interest or course of study. This doesn’t have to be expensive, like a trip to Italy, but could mean a volunteer position or a road trip with a favorite aunt.
- Most important: dig deeper into the colleges you’ll be deciding among.
This last one needs a lot of thought. Let’s say that you get into four colleges, and that’s terrific. But how do you choose among them? You’ll get a lot of advice on this, but the best I can give is to dig deeper into the experience that awaits you there. Do not stay focused on variables that may have powered your initial list, from the size to the location to the reputation. These are important, of course, but they have little effect on your day-to-day academic experience. So answer these questions, simply by going online or giving a call to each academic advising office:
- How is the curriculum structured? You’re going to college primarily to take classes, so how are they organized? Are there courses you have to take? How much freedom will you have?
- Who are the faculty? Let’s say you’re interested in Political Science. Not every department is the same, of course, because they have different people in them. Who are they? What do they specialize in? Are they studying things that look interesting to you?
- What are the academic programs? Colleges try to offer an interesting mix of programs outside of courses, but what are they? Some offer a January term, so what does that look like? Others have evening seminars, “brown bag” lunch discussions, teas at the dean’s house.
- What are the support services? Academic advising is a critical service, but colleges devote different resources to this and structure it differently. Would you rather get advice as a freshman from a faculty member or a professional advisor? The former knows her department, and that’s either limiting or exciting, the latter offers a wider perspective.
You put a lot of effort into taking tests, getting good grades, and completing applications. Rather than waiting around right now, use that same work ethic to dig deeper into what lies ahead. And your ultimate choice will be a better fit. Good luck!
Today, I am going to the Italian capital to visit the American University of Rome, a small college in the charming neighborhood of Trastevere. AUR is one of a handful of American-styled institutions overseas that include the American Universities of Paris, Cairo and Beirut, along with others like Richmond University outside of London. They offer coursework and degrees just like the kinds you would get in the US, accredited by the same agencies to ensure quality.
Why would you go to these colleges? It might seem strange to go overseas to get what is offered here. You might be skeptical about a liberal education, so why double that problem with going international? Who does that?
The last question offers one of the best reasons to consider this option. The students who choose to get a college degree overseas are a fascinating, adventurous group you would love to know. They are truly international, coming from dozens of countries, with American often representing less than half the student body. Compare that to any of the most internationally minded colleges in the US, where well below 10%, often less than 5%, of the student are from overseas. You can really learn from your classmates if you go to college overseas.
There are other good reasons. Most of these institutions are small, with faculty who have led interesting and unconventional careers. They offer a very different perspective on life and education than you might see in the US, and they are keenly focused on the student. That might contrast with large research universities in the States. You are likely to find mentors that will shape your life forever, rather admire your professors from afar.
Naturally, this choice turns study abroad on its head, putting you overseas for most or all of your four years. If you are hungering for something different, you will be able to really learn a foreign language, letting it infuse you to a point of unconscious comfort. I bet you’re uncomfortable right now with you fluency in French, worried someone will discover you are not prepared for conversation. Now think what happens after years in Paris!
Life in college should change your world view. It’s something I argue in Dean’s List, and the students at the American University of Rome and Richmond University live that idea every day. Take a look, take a risk, and change your life.
The nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools. — Thucydides
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has prompted an exciting series of debates. One of the most interesting is whether this change will be enough to convince skeptical universities to invite (or welcome back) ROTC. For many years, discrimination based on sexual orientation has been held up as the primary reason to resist a military presence on college campuses. Now that this policy has fallen, what next for ROTC?
I think this is an exciting debate because it exposes a deeper set of cultural barriers, thus allowing for a more honest discussion. “Don’t Ask” and its more obviously discriminatory predecessors allowed academics a quick excuse to oppose ROTC. Now we can see that the academy harbors deep suspicions about the role of the military and the use of aggressive power. They might wonder whether violence, however professionally marshalled, is inherently anti-intellectual.
These concerns are serious and valid. We need an open debate that acknowledges that there are dark moments in our history–such as the National Guard shootings at Kent State–that evoke legitimate fears. We should always be skeptical about military power; that skepticism underpins the wise tradition of civilian control.
Such fears and skepticism should be balanced by a clear-minded recognition of the benefits of ROTC. I served as Johns Hopkins University liaison to ROTC for many years. The “Blue Jay Batallion” is one of the oldest in the country. And I saw how young people learned leadership skills, earned needed scholarships, and prepared for public service. These are goods we cannot overlook.
I hope the new debate will be a refreshing blend of honesty and respect. We deserve it.