Blog - Category: College Tips

Questions to Ask on your Next College Visit

Colleges offer open houses and campus tours all year long. But summer can be a great, low stress time to schedule a campus roadtrip. Nothing beats getting your feet on the ground to decide if a college is the right fit for you, so don’t wait to schedule one (or three). Absorb the tours but wander off the beaten path. Talk to students in the bookstore. Go to the campus coffee shop.

Is this a place you can picture yourself? So much of campus tours are about feel but it can be an overwhelming process. There’s a lot to absorb. Take lots of notes and snapshots to refresh your memory in a few months.

If you need a kick starter on things to ask, here are some questions to pose to yourself and your tour guide:

College and Campus

  • Is the size and location of the campus appealing to you?
  • Is the character of the campus appealing to you?
  • Do the programs and majors offered fit your potential career interests?
  • What type of orientation introduces a new student to campus life?
  • Are there stimulating social and intellectual opportunities — lectures, debates, concerts? Are they well attended by faculty and students?
  • Where do most students live — on or off campus?
  • What percentage of students return the following year?
  • What is the graduation rate after 4 years? 6 years?

Teaching and Advising

  • What is the average class size?
  • Who teaches first-year classes — professors or teaching assistants?
  • How much exposure to top faculty will students have in their first two years?
  • How extensively does the college rely on part-time or adjunct faculty?
  • Are faculty members available to talk to first-year students about their academic disciplines and provide career guidance?
  • What kind of email availability and office hours do professors offer?
  • How many students are assigned to an academic advisor? Will the advisor be a professor?
  • Is good teaching valued and used as a criterion for tenure and promotion?
  • Does teaching include more than lecturing? Are students encouraged to work together, to discuss topics in class, to do self-directed independent projects?
  • Can students work with a faculty member doing academic or scientific research while they are undergraduates?
  • Do students participate in a senior seminar or design a senior project to demonstrate mastery of their major field of study?
  • How is technology used in teaching and learning?

Support Services

  • Does the college have a program to identify students having academic or personal issues, and programs to help them?
  • Are tutors, skill centers, writing assistance, counselors provided?
  • What kind of tools, resources and training does the library provide?
  • What kind of technology (Wi-Fi, laptops, computer labs, etc.) is available?

Beyond the Classroom

  • What happens after class and on weekends?
  • Do students take advantage of athletic, cultural, religious or other campus events?
  • What kind of off-campus or study abroad programs does the college offer? What percentage of students participate?
  • What internship or career exploration opportunities are available?
  • What kinds of student organizations are on campus?


  • How does the college demonstrate a commitment to diversity?
  • What opportunities are there for community service and/or religious activities?
  • How do students treat each other?


  • What services does the career development office provide?
  • What kind of careers do alumni have?
  • Do alumni help identify opportunities for recent grads?
  • What kinds of networking opportunities exist for alumni?

As you map your college roadtrip, include a few of Michigan’s top 14 private colleges and universities on your list. The colleges are purposefully smaller and emphasize community over crowds. Often comparable in cost to Michigan’s public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates, outstanding faculty who help students forge their own paths, and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

The Final Stretch: Tips to Finish your Winter Semester

After having a week off for Spring Break, experiencing a post Easter Sunday food coma, and with March Madness coming to an end, there’s not much left to distract you until the end of the semester. Which means you have only one choice: start studying for finals! <<Que the dramatic music “Dun-Dun-Duuuun!>>  It’s always hard to get back into a routine. At the end of your spring semester, it can be especially hard to regain focus. HELLO SUMMER! Here are a few tips to ensure you finish the semester strong and can fully enjoy your summer.

  1. Make a List

Sounds simple, but make a list of assignments and goals that are both personal and academic, and use that list to motivate you.

2. Plan

Planning your path can help you accomplish your goals strategically and manage your time efficiently. Most importantly, you won’t forget anything.

3. Reward yourself with some breaks

Celebrate your accomplishments. Treating yourself with study breaks to avoid information overload will keep you sane and motivated to work towards your goals.

4. Talk to your teachers

Its okay if you’re having trouble understanding some of your coursework or need some . Tap in to the great resource you have in your teachers.  Take the time to talk to them and ask for instruction and guidance. They are there to help you and will appreciate the effort on your end.

Follow these tips and we’re sure you’ll feel like this by the end of the semester:

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Study Proves Affordability of Michigan Private Colleges


You’ve probably heard it a million times. Private education is elite because only the elites can afford it.

The myth doesn’t come from nowhere. On average, advertised tuition at private colleges often exceeds public ones. But that doesn’t into account massive amounts of aid that lowers actual costs and decades of recruitment efforts that make world-class education affordable to everyone.

Now, there’s a new study that proves the point yet again. Far more students from lower-income families attend Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities than wealthy ones, according to a nationwide study that tracked income and attendance records of more than 30 million students.

At schools such as Olivet College, Siena Heights University, Spring Arbor University, more than 40 percent of the student body comes from families making $65,000 or less per year.

It’s a third or more of the student body at Adrian College, Aquinas College and Andrews University; one quarter at Alma College, Madonna University, University of Detroit-Mercy and Albion College and more than 15 percent at Calvin College, Hope College and Kalamazoo College, the study found.

And the notion that it’s just Richie Riches at private schools? False again. Students from families in the top 1 percent of income ($630,000 or more) comprise a vast minority at Michigan’s private colleges – usually 1-3 percent or less.

We know that’s a lot of numbers. But the point is a world-class private education is within reach.

Students at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities receive far more financial aid, on average, than counterparts at public institutions. At most of our schools, more than 93 percent receive aid, vastly reducing advertised tuition and making it as affordable — or more so — than big state schools.

And unlike public universities, students at Michigan independents actually graduate in four years, giving them a head start on their career — and extra salary — over their public peers.

Purposefully smaller, Michigan’s private colleges offer a vastly different experience. Classes are small. Award-winning professors actually teach class — rather than TAs — get to know students and help them chart their own path to rewarding careers.

And students immediately are part of a network of alumni who are leaders in their fields. That’s because community, not crowds, are cherished.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Top 10 Things High Schoolers Should Do to Get Ready for College


Happy New Year! Time for new beginnings, new hope and, sure, even some new worries. But getting ready for college doesn’t have to be one.

There’s tons of resources out there to help map out the journey. As with any monumental journey, the best bet is to bite it off in short increments and start early.

Here are ten tips to make your transition to college easier.

1. Make a calendar

Goals are easier if they are visualized. Get a giant desk calendar and some fancy pens and highlighters. Stick it on your wall and mark it up with dates for specific tasks like taking the SAT.

2. Practice, practice, practice

Register for the preliminary SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The tests are usually given in October, help you prepare and can be used to enter into scholarship competitions. Best of all: They can be taken in a classroom.

3. Make a list. Check it twice

Write down a list of 10-20 schools to investigate – we think these 15 outstanding independent colleges and universities in Michigan should be on the list. Separate them into categories: Top choices, tier twos and fallbacks. Dream big. Do your research. Talk to counselors and teachers.

4. Research Scholarships

Tons of money is available. Millions of dollars go unclaimed each year. Get your money’s worth from the guidance counselor, do your research and start prioritizing. We really like this one.

5. Letters of recommendation

Most wait until the last minute. Don’t be that guy. Ask early.

6. Campus visits

Colleges offer open houses and campus tours all year long. Don’t wait to schedule one (or three). Absorb the tours but wander off the beaten path. Talk to students in the bookstore. Go to a coffee shop.

Is this a place you can picture yourself? So much of campus tours are about feel but it can be an overwhelming process. There’s a lot to absorb. Take lots of notes and snapshots to refresh your memory in a few months.

7. The nitty gritty

Fall of senior year is typically when the search hits high gear: Taking or retaking SATs or ACTs, writing and perfecting admissions essays, scheduling interviews, exploring costs and financial aid and completing the free application for federal student aid.

Phew. Take a breath. It’s going to be OK.

8. Enter to win the easiest scholarship contest on the planet

Top off your college fund by entering the We Are The Independents monthly scholarship drawing from the Michigan Colleges Alliance. You could win $2K in 2 minutes.

9. Make a call

Decisions, decisions. At some point, fate is out of your hands. It can be an anxious time. But if you’ve done everything on the list, take a bow. Even if you haven’t but have met all the deadlines, take a bow. There’s nothing you can do about it now but wait.

10. Don’t forget to enjoy your senior year
This will be one of the best years of your life. Don’t squander a single second.
And take it from us: Things are going to be OK and work themselves out. They usually do. There’s so much pressure in college admissions, it’s easy to lose perspective. This is about what is best for you and what college can help you get where you want to be.

We understand that at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities. The colleges are 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.


Kalamazoo Promise Makes Private Education Within Reach


Almost everyone nowadays can cite scary statistics when it comes to the cost of college education.

Nationwide, the average annual tuition at private schools has more than tripled in 30 years jumping to $32,405 this year, according to inflation-adjusted statistics from the College Board.

But the cost of an elite private school education is nothing for students in Kalamazoo public schools.

You read that right.

The cost of Michigan’s 15 independent colleges and universities is zero for students who graduated from Kalamazoo Public Schools and attended since kindergarten. Graduates who attended since at least seventh grade will receive 75 percent of their tuition.

The Kalamazoo Promise is a revolutionary program that is changing lives and putting college in reach for 5,000 eligible graduates since it was launched and funded by anonymous donors in 2005.

The schools now send 85 percent of students to college, whose graduates can expect to earn $1 million more over their lifetime than peers whose education stopped at high school.

And what an education they can get, especially at Michigan’s independents: Adrian College, Albion College, Alma College, Aquinas College, Calvin College, Hillsdale College, Hope College, Kalamazoo College, Marygrove College, Olivet College, the University of Detroit Mercy, Andrews University, Madonna University, Siena Heights University and Spring Arbor University.

The schools pride themselves on helping students forge their own path. Classes are taught by professors, not teaching assistants, with average class sizes of just 17.5 students.

The independents open doors to a host of careers, from business and engineering to education and nursing, supported by a nurturing network of alumni who have become leaders in their fields.

And the independent colleges look like the world around them. One in 4 students at Michigan private colleges and universities is African American, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic or Latino.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

It’s Not too Late to Attend Top Michigan Colleges THIS Fall


It’s that heady time of year again. Graduation season. Time for caps, gowns and a whole lot of excitement.

And maybe just a smidgen of anxiety too — especially for those receiving diplomas who still aren’t sure what comes next.

First, take a deep breath. Then realize: It’s still not too late to attend college in the fall, especially since many of Michigan’s 15 top independent colleges and universities offer rolling or late admissions.

Rules vary by college. But typically, rolling admissions discard traditional application deadlines. Instead, students are accepted until class sizes are met for the following term. That often means that it’s not too late, even in June, to attend one of the finest colleges in the Midwest.

Aquinas College, Albion College, Alma College, Calvin College and Hope College all officially offer rolling admissions, while most other colleges accept late applications. And with firmer deadlines — such as Hillsdale College — still take applications for future semesters, giving students breathing room to chart their next chapter.

Best of all, applying online is free.

Get started by following the links above for those colleges, as well as Marygrove College, Madonna University, Adrian College, Olivet College, Andrews University, Kalamazoo College, Siena Heights University, Spring Arbor University and University of Detroit Mercy.

Like all admissions, there’s no guarantees. But the truth is it’s almost never too late to attend the college of your dreams. Worst case, it may take a little longer. Best case, the world is your oyster.

That’s because Michigan’s 15 independent colleges and universities pride themselves on accepting students who purposefully chart their own path.

National leaders in education, the independents boast graduation and employment rates that often exceed big public schools. Classes are taught by award-winning faculty who are experts in their field. Because class sizes are so low, professors form tight bonds with students and help chart their paths.

Committed to community, the colleges have deep networks of business executives and alumni who mentor students.

Often less expensive than public schools, the independents offer a truly unique and affordable experience that simply doesn’t exist at big state schools.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Sorry, juniors. Winter break is a good time to start the college search


Instead of hitting the slopes or sledding hills this Christmas break, it’s a good time for high school juniors to start seriously thinking about their college search.

We know. It’s heresy to think of such things on break. But the fact is the next year and a half is going to be a whirlwind and now is the time to develop a plan for applying to colleges if you haven’t already.

Don’t freak out if you haven’t. The heavy lifting – essays, recommendations, tests – are still a ways off. But now is the time to start a schedule and chart a to-do list and timeline for the college search.

The good news: Most of this stuff now is quick and about laying a framework for the future. You’ll have plenty of time to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for the fourth time.

So here’s a few easy goals for the college search during winter break.

  • Write out a schedule or timeline of the college search process. There’s tons of resources online, including one from the College Board.
  • RSVP for a campus visit day or two. Keep an eye out for special overnight visits or visit days for athletics, arts or majors. You can find plenty of interesting options on the We Are The Independents campus events schedule.
  • Make an appointment with your guidance counselor to discuss ways to improve the process and any tips s/he may have.
  • Review PSAT scores and look for areas of improvement. They typically arrive in December.
  • Sign up to take the SAT in the spring. Register online or through school. Practice books are available online at The College Board.
  • Start thinking about financial aid sources. There’s a good overview at
  • If you’re in Advance Placement Program classes, register for AP exams when you get back to school.
  • Take two minutes to enter the easiest scholarship contest you can win, the We Are The Independents monthly scholarship drawing from the Michigan Colleges Alliance.

  • That’s it. Go have fun. Sorry about the lack of snow. Or you’re welcome. Whichever applies.

    And one more thing: Start researching Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

    Like you, the schools are truly unique and exceptional. All prize themselves on their award-winning faculty and providing a college experience that’s unlike those at traditional big state schools.

    Class sizes are low. So students are taught by professors, rather than graduate students. They form lifelong bonds with professors, who are experts in their field and can help students discover their passions.

    It’s one of many reasons the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates. And why graduates of independents are often quicker to find jobs in their fields.

    And despite what you’ve heard, the colleges are often more affordable than state schools.

    Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Summer Homework: Getting ready for college


The hard work is done. The college application process is over. Summer’s almost here. It’s time for relaxing, quality time with the family and — oh yeah — serious high anxiety.

Hard as it is to believe, many experience an emotional letdown in the weeks after high school and start of college. You’ve worked so hard and been focused for so long that it’s easy to start breathing heavily after you finally exhale.

Take another breath. It’s going to be OK. Now make another list of things you need to do before you head off on this grand adventure. Here are five tips to get you started:

Keep reading. It sounds counter-intuitive. You’ve read so much to get good grades to get into college. College is all about reading. So read more? Yep. Your brain is a muscle. College is to high school what Denver is to Death Valley: It’s a higher elevation, so you need to acclimate yourself to longer reading assignments.

Get a job. Even if you think you know that college is expensive, you don’t really know until it’s Friday night, you have big weekend plans and you’re staring at an ATM bank balance of $9.04. Between fees and entertainment and late-night snacks that Mom and Dad suddenly don’t pay for, college requires significant disposable income.

Clean up Twitter. Remember applying for college and removing those embarrassing photos from Instagram? Do it again. This time, it’s not because admissions officers are peeping your Facebook. It’s because future friends are. And do you really want them to know you liked “Bad Grandpa”?

Spend time with parents. You will miss them. No matter what you think. Plan special nights with them together and individually. Make memories and take mental snapshots. Because homesickness is as inevitable freshman year as Taco Night at the dorm cafeteria.

Begin to reach out. Contact your roommate. Discuss who is bringing what. Start researching cheap textbooks. Start dreaming. Nothing awesome began with tiny dreams.

Because soon, you will chart your own path. And whatever you do, follow your passion, an approach that guides Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

Academically rigorous, the schools offer small class sizes. Their faculty are experts in their field and forge lifetime bonds with students who value communities 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.

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.

How to survive Michigan’s switch to the SAT


If you heard a thud in January, don’t be alarmed. It was just the sound of jaws hitting for floor when Michigan officials announced the state was switching to the SAT from the ACT as the college admission test.

Michigan has been an ACT state for as long as most can remember. And it’s been offered as part of the Michigan Merit Exam to all public school juniors since 2007.

The SAT has long been the college admissions standard in other states. Originally an acronym for Scholastic Aptitude Test, today, SAT just means SAT. It has a reputation for being tough. Some think SAT is an abbreviation for Scary Aggravating Trouble or Sick And Twisted.

So the announcement caught many off guard. But don’t panic just yet. The switch isn’t happening until 2016, so it means nothing to high school juniors and seniors.

Freshmen and sophomores? That’s another story: The change coincides with a major overhaul to the SAT that rolls out in 2016. That makes it harder to prepare, but not impossible. Here’s some tips for navigating the change and making your SAT a Super Awesome Triumph:

Take the PSAT this fall.
The practice test likely is the first glimpse to the new SAT. Many schools offer it for free. If yours doesn’t, start saving. It’s worth the investment.

Bone up on your studies.
The new test is expected to better gauge classroom comprehension. So the more you understand, the better you’ll do.

Review the changes.
The College Board, the company that operates the SAT, says the new test will be a better measure of college readiness. Essays will more closely resemble high school writing assignments. Students will be asked to interpret evidence and read a passage, then expound on it. Math will be focused on “real world” applications that involve graphs and charts. And students’ knowledge of “founding documents” — the Constitution and the like — will be tested.

Practice the changes.
Sample questions and a detailed description of the changes are already available online. Take a look at the redesigned SAT here and even try your hand at a few sample questions.

Guess away.
The new SAT will include no penalty for wrong answers. That’s a big change and should change strategies of test-takers.

Take both tests this spring.
If you can afford it. If not, ask school counselors if you qualify for a fee waiver.

Pay attention to details.
But don’t overly worry. Do your work, prepare accordingly and trust your diligence. Things have a way of working out.

It’s an approach that will serve you well at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities, where students forge success by following their own path.

The colleges are 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.