Archive for March 2015

Breathe easy: It’s decision time for colleges

It’s fingernail-biting season, as college application responses are arriving in mailboxes of nervous high school seniors awaiting the biggest decision of their lives.

Traditionally, the last letters arrive on April 1 and conventional wisdom says fat envelopes contain good news, while skinny ones are rejections. That’s not necessarily true, but it doesn’t make the waiting any easier.

Whatever happens, take a deep breath. This is only the start of an incredible journey.

It’s hard to fathom now, after months of preparation and anxiety, but getting accepted into college only gets you to the starting line. It’s what happens in the next four years that really matters.

A growing body of research suggests that making the most of college is far more important than where you went to college. In his recent book, “Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be,” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni writes that job recruiters today are more interested in college grads’ experience than their academic pedigree.

It’s an approach cultivated and cherished at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities. Sure, they’re proud of their academics. And rightly so: They’re second to none, offering small class sizes taught by faculty who are experts in their fields.

But the schools excel at helping students follow their passions. Students are part of a dynamic community that includes influential alumni who can help chart their path, rather than follow the crowds.

Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Arab-American Funnyman to Teach Law at University of Detroit-Mercy

Did you hear the one about the Arab-American comedian who taught law?

No joke.

The University of Detroit-Mercy made news recently by adding Amer Zahr to teach “Arab Americans and the Law” in spring semester. Amer is an unlikely combination of lawyer, comic, author and filmmaker. The newly minted adjunct professor has appeared on “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher,” writes the popular Civil Arab blog and earned a law degree from UofM Law.

Perhaps most important: He’s among the best known in a crop of Arab-Americans who use laughter to break barriers and shatter misconceptions. He’s expected to bring the approach to his class, which explores Arab-American legal issues from the 19th century until now.

“We are thrilled to have Amer join our team who see the law — in addition to its practical application — as an important tool for advancing social and cultural insight and understanding,” said Pamela Wilkins, associated dean of academic affairs for the UDM Law School.

The fit may seem unorthodox, but the University of Detroit-Mercy and other Michigan independent colleges and universities sometimes do things differently. They value faculty — and students — with different perspectives chart their own path than follow the herd.

Sure, faculty at Michigan independents are passionate experts in their fields. But they sometimes zig while others zag. And they’re not afraid to ask tough questions. Here’s a clip from Zahr’s upcoming documentary, “We’re Not White,” in which he asks people to name a famous Arab.

Faculty is one of many differences at Michigan’s 15 independent colleges and universities. They’re smaller and emphasize community over crowds. Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Why your junior year of high school is your first year of college


It’s hard to believe, but at this time next year, you’ll be graduating from high school and starting college in the fall.

Do you know what you want to study? Where you want to study? What type of college, campus and experience you prefer? How you’re going to pay for it all?

Relax. Breathe deep. You’re at the start of a really exciting, interesting and fun time. You have plenty of time to take it all in, plan and make all those big decisions. You just need to get started.

The college search usually starts with clicking through a bunch of websites and leafing through a few fancy brochures. Unfortunately, pixels and pages are no substitute for getting boots on the ground. You need to experience a college campus first hand.

Breathe the air. Wander the student center. Sit in on a lecture. Chat up a few professors. Grab a meal in the dining hall. Stroll through the quad.

Try several colleges on for size
Michigan is blessed with many outstanding college options. There’s the big state universities. The specialized trade schools. And there’s Michigan’s smaller independent colleges and universities. Each has its own unique attributes. Its own unique vibe.

Are you seeking community or looking for a crowd? Do they offer the programs you want to study? Are they flexible when you change majors and then change again? It’s so important to find that right fit.

That fit can make all the difference. Research suggests that the “fit factor” (choosing a college most compatible with your learning, social, and extracurricular interests) is one of the most important determinants of academic success and earning an undergraduate degree.

The best way to choose your own path is to visit a campus or three. Grab some friends. Make it a road trip.

Colleges know how important campus visits are for high school juniors. That’s why so many host special sessions every spring like Spring Arbor University‘s Junior Exploration or Hope College‘s Junior Day or Hillsdale College‘s Junior Visit Day or Alma College‘s Junior Day.

Whichever you choose, visit early and visit often. Life moves by pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around, you just might miss it.

Follow your own path. Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Five tips to make the most of campus visits


Campus visits are so fun it’s easy to forget they’re one of the most important parts of the college application process.

Unlike essays and letters of recommendations, the visits are a chance to actually see and feel what life could be like in the next four or five years. 71% of students – that’s nearly three in four – said visits are the most trusted source of information about colleges, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Even so, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget that the visits are meant to be fact-finding missions about a hugely important decision. With that in mind, here are five tips to make the most of the visits.

Start online
There’s no scratch and sniff yet, but several colleges have virtual tours online. Andrews University‘s virtual tour gives you a Sim City style bird’s eye view. Calvin College has a gorgeous tour on Same with Aquinas College. While Adrian College, Siena Heights University, University of Detroit Mercy, Marygrove College, Albion College, Olivet College, Alma College, Hope College, Kalamazoo College, Madonna University and a host of others have videos and other resources at

Schedule tours
They can get time consuming, so it’s best to do so during high school breaks. Sign up for tours and meetings with admissions counselors. The good folks at the Michigan Colleges Alliance also have a great list of campus tours, open houses and events you can find here:

Deviate from the tour
Take at least three hours to yourself. Talk to students. Arrange to sit in on some classes. Eat at a dining hall. Look at the dorms. Wander through the quad alone. Go to the college bookstore. Wander off campus. Close your eyes: Is this a fit for you? Is this a place you can see yourself prospering? Does it feel right?

Do your research
Pepper people with questions: Is Wifi available campus-wide? What about network access in dorms? What’s the student-teacher ratio in your field of study? How secure is the campus? Read the last several issues of the student newspaper to get a sense of campus issues. Take photos and notes. There’s a lot to remember.

Meet with financial aid counselors
Inquire about aid. In most cases, there’s a big difference between advertised tuition and what students actually pay.

That’s certainly the case at Michigan’s 15 independent colleges and universities, which are often less expensive than public institutions. They boast higher four-year graduation and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

The colleges are located in some of Michigan’s most beautiful towns and nurture students who value community over crowds and want to chart their own path

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.