JUNE 2018
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How to Pick a College –Part Two: Understanding the Environment

By Robert LeVine

In Part One of this two-part feature, we explored how academic and curricular structures affect the college education. In this article, we highlight a most underappreciated factor – the environment outside the classroom – that significantly influences college and lifetime success.

A starting point is to appreciate how much more time will be spent outside a college classroom than was available in high school. Each day, high school students spend seven or more hours in class. In college, classroom time is usually limited to two or three hours per day, and some days you may have no classes at all. How does that extra time affect your education?

Not all learning happens inside of classrooms. We recommend that students view college as a collection of assets that they do, or do not, use wisely for four years. Two “non-academic” influences should be carefully considered: educational opportunities and environmental inspirations.

Classes are one educational asset, but so are places like libraries, laboratories and museums. Human resources such as professors and fellow students provide interaction and learning from diverse thoughts and backgrounds. Extracurricular activities can also provide valuable experiential learning, and don’t forget off-campus assets – including internship possibilities and the influence of the industries around the college – as important opportunities for learning. The environment – whether city, college town or rural campus – will affect your acquisition of knowledge and development of skills.

Inspiration – or lack of inspiration – affects student performance. We all do better when we are happy, not depressed. If you are inspired by the energy and resources of major cities, living in a smaller environment will eventually leave you flat. If you like the outdoors, attending school in a concrete metropolis may suffocate you. If you like a certain kind of music or performing art, consider studying in that genre’s capital. If you like competitive sports, pick a school with a great intercollegiate program or near a successful professional team. If you like the water, be near the water. Give yourself the opportunity to recharge and refuel.

You’ll need inspiration on-campus, too. We grow through social and intellectual interaction, so understand how you will – and won’t – interact with other students. Is the university residential for all four years, or will you live in an apartment? What is the group personality of the student body? Is the school primarily academic (one where the students prefer studying over everything else), or do the students also focus on extracurricular activities? How important are fraternities and sororities? Does a prospective school sponsor the things you enjoy? Do other students care about your passions?

People look at rankings and reputation to determine which colleges offer the best “education.” However, the question should be which schools offer the best education FOR YOU. Not every great school is great for everybody. At America’s most acclaimed universities, many students succeed in extraordinary ways, but those schools are also known for high rates of stress, depression and suicide. It’s a matter of proper fit.

When evaluating prospective colleges, recognize that name brand is not the same as education, and education is more than just academics. Investigate the curricular structure of each school, not just the asserted quality of its academics. Also research the on-campus and off-campus environments that will influence you for four years. Picking an educational home is not about their success; it’s about YOUR success.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email BobLeVine@SelectiveCC.com or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com



By Anu Varma Panchal

One recent Friday, I took my 13-year-old daughter to a nail salon for a pedicure; we had an unexpected free morning and this seemed like the sort of thing mothers and daughters did. She chose a sparkly purple polish. The woman who did her nails was cheerful and friendly and chatted about summer travel plans.

After we left, I asked my daughter if she had had fun. She hesitated. “Yeah, but…” But what? I asked. “I kind of felt bratty,” she said. Why? Because, she said, she was just a kid, and she felt weird sitting there high up in a chair while an adult washed her feet and painted her nails. But on the other hand, she reasoned, we did pay and tip, and that was the way that lady made her living, so that made it okay — didn’t it?

My response was a mix of pride, defensiveness and confusion. Pride, because I felt like she recognized privilege but maintained a humble attitude. Defensiveness because I had sat angst-free in my chair scrolling through my phone (and have now-guilty memories of lying on a sofa as a teen while a servant worked on her knees beside me, mopping the floor by hand). Confusion because — well, what was the right response?

When I was a kid, money talk was discouraged in my home, the implication in my family culture being that a strongly stated desire for material goods was sort of yucky. My notions of money remained unformed for years. My freshman roommate taught me how to write checks and open a bank account, and although I eventually landed a job and internship, I always knew I could call my dad when funds ran low. In the ultimate retro move, I married young and promptly handed over the financial reins to my husband with relief. My husband’s childhood and subsequent relationship to money was completely different. He was 11 when his family immigrated to the United States, and he never had the luxury of not knowing to the penny how much everything cost to run their house. He was acutely aware of the value of a dollar and played an almost adult role in financial decision-making when he was a kid, and there is today no ambivalence in his attitude towards a hard-earned income.

In our community, I see too often an awkward straddle between two extremes. We may enroll our kids in sports and arts and encourage them to follow their dreams, yet often with the unstated expectation of a high-status career at the end of it all, mostly because many of us don’t discuss the financial bridge to the future with little kids. I rarely talk to my children about the basics: how much our lifestyle costs, how much we earn, and how to set financial goals.

“Figuring out how much to pay for a college education is one of the biggest financial decisions people make in their lifetime, and parents often leave the final call to a 17-year-old who has never purchased anything more expensive than a bicycle,” writes Ron Lieber, author of “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart About Money.”

When children are small, disparities may not be obvious, but definitely as they hit middle school, teens start to notice friends’ parents’ cars and vacations and who had an extravagant birthday or got a new phone. By their high school years, some seniors will learn that their college aspirations are limited by economics while other kids’ options are not. By glossing over explanations of these disparities out of awkwardness, we may be losing an opportunity to talk numbers, expectations and acceptance. Talking money is usually more complex than a number game; it’s a mesh of feelings about our childhoods, our view of our status in society and our aspirations for the future, all pretty intense feelings that we don’t always want to confront —especially when it might mean explaining to our children why we have to deprive them of something.

I don’t know many desi parents who give their children an allowance, much less tie it to chores, nor do many of us expect them to give up time spent on extracurricular activities to get a job. But in his book, Lieber discusses some interesting strategies from families he interviewed. For example, when one couple’s teenage daughter insisted on expensive name-brand jeans, her parents got her a debit card loaded with a fixed amount from which she could buy any clothes she wanted for the school year, with the catch being that her entire budget was what was on the card. By the end of the year, the spendthrift had become a savvy shopper. Another family assigned their 11-year-old son a monthly chore: checking their credit card bills against their paper receipts, which gave him a clear picture of the family’s spending habits and priorities.

“What we make and how we make it is so essential to our lives that it seems wrong on the most basic of levels to shroud it in mystery and silence,” Lieber writes. “And if we’re talking about money all along — answering questions as they come and giving our children the proper context — knowing our incomes will just seem natural, and not a surprise or a privilege at all.”

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of www.YourEditingSolutions.com

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