Can your teen navigate a big campus like UGA? Or, is a Georgia College a better fit?

When I toured Georgia College with my kids, I felt it would be an idyllic place to learn.

Over the holidays, I talked to several parents of high school seniors trying to decide on colleges. A common concern: Should they push their children to Georgia’s top public campuses, many of which are large, or suggest smaller schools where students are less likely to get lost?

My older kids attended a mix of big (University of Georgia), medium (Emory) and small (Oberlin.) And my youngest – my twins – are now at UGA and Georgia Tech. Where kids will flourish may depend on what I call the cheeseburger test. If your children order a burger with cheese at a busy lunch spot and it arrives naked, will they flag down the server and request a new sandwich? Or, will they hiss to you that it’s fine and stop making a fuss?

The teen who does not want to impose on anyone or make a fuss may face challenges at a big school where students have to sometimes take off their shoe and pound on the table to be noticed. This is often hard for first-generation college students who won praise in K-12 schools for not bothering the adults in the building. But keeping your head down in college can lead to being overlooked and running into walls, especially on a big campus where opportunities abound but are not delivered to your door.

For example, registering for classes at most large campuses resembles navigating I-285 at rush hour. Timing is key, and you have to seize an opening.  It’s a daunting enough gauntlet that students complain to me that the inability to take the courses they need threatens their on-time graduation. (I have to note that 20 years ago I heard this a lot from Georgia State University students. I don’t anymore, which may owe to its celebrated student tracking system.)

When I went to the mass orientation at UGA this summer with my daughter, she ended up with the last slot of the day to meet with an adviser in her major to select classes. It was way across campus so we drove, and I waited in the hallway since we had to dash back to a building on main campus to register. Since my daughter was the final advisee, the advisor walked out with her and chatted for a moment. I asked whether, at this late hour, my daughter would be able to get into all the classes the two of them had chosen or whether she needed a Plan B. She could get into the classes, I was assured.

It turned out my daughter needed a Plan B and C – some of her second and third choices were filled.

When this happened to her again this semester, I asked a UGA administrator why it was so hard to get courses. Her response: “This year has been particularly harder because the incoming class was much larger than expected. The university typically aims for about 5000 first year students to begin each fall. This year, a record number actually showed for orientation and attendance. I think I heard around 5800.”

One smart mom – a UGA grad herself with a grip on what courses students need for what major — shared her son’s orientation/registration saga. Her son was a transferee to UGA’s business school and left his 20-minute advisement session with a collection of classes that his mother felt didn’t make sense. Earlier that day at orientation, they’d heard a dean in the business school speak so she told her son they were going to track down the woman and seek her advice. The dean was in her office and sat down with the young man and reviewed his schedule. She agreed the classes were wrong for him given his strong grades and enrolled him in an entirely different set. (She could override classes marked full.)

The mom told me her son learned an important lesson: You have to be willing to reach out to make things happen and go higher, if necessary. Students at large schools can’t expect resolution to problems with a single email.

 Of course, there are great advantages to big schools, especially for high-energy teens who need an ever-changing array of options. If you child wants to be in a mosh pit one night and an orchestra pit the next, a small school might not work. I talked to a student at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville who is considering switching to Georgia State. She likes the 24/7 energy of a city campus and wants hot and cold running poetry slams, karaoke and German film festivals.

Kids who thrive at smaller schools are often more focused on relationships than experiences; they want to run into their professors on the quad or the campus coffee shop. They like seeing the same classmates; they find familiar faces reassuring. They don’t want to arm wrestle to get classes or plum internships.

I attended large schools for both undergrad and graduate school, but was probably a better match for smaller campuses. (I would have loved a Georgia College.) I think the mismatch was why I rushed through undergrad, finishing a year early.

How common are mismatches? The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found 37.2 percent of college students changed schools at least once within six years.  The center looked at the cohort of U.S. students who began college in 2008 and graduated by 2014. That included 79,422 Georgians, 30,000 of whom transferred at least once, giving the state a transfer rate slightly higher, at 37.85 percent, than the national average. The center did not discern why students transferred; certainly, finances played a role. But I suspect some students simply didn’t feel comfortable at their schools.

My oldest daughter has a master’s in public policy from Georgetown and ran a dual enrollment program at a New York college. In talking with me about this, she made an interesting point. “You have to wonder if the difficulty in the advising and registration process affects retention. These are students who are not securely into their majors and may feel adrift after the structure and support present in many high schools,” she said. “Many freshman would benefit immensely from a significant increase in the time and attention spent on early advising. With dual enrollment we seek to improve the transition between high school and college. The more core classes a student has completed, the more quickly they can jump to major specific courses where they will see the same faces and professors, regardless of campus size.”

With effort, students can create a fulfilling life at any college, but it takes a year in my view to figure out how. Several friends have lamented their college freshman is not excited about returning to campus, especially those with roommate woes. (That is a column for another day.) Most of them will discover, probably sometime in April when the campus is abloom and everything seems possible, that they can make this work.

 

Reader Comments 0

31 comments
segower
segower

Smaller colleges may not have the infrastructure of large universities, but the opportunities they do have are easier for good students to access.Take science research; while a place like Georgia College does not have the massive research infrastructure that research institutions, like UGA and Tech, have, GC undergraduates will find it easier to work with professors in their labs. Most professors at UGA are focused on their research, and working with postdocs and graduate students in their labs. The faculty focus at Georgia College is on undergraduate instruction in and out of the classroom. There's a lot to be said about being a big fish in a small pond. In the interests of full disclosure, I teach at Georgia College!

Tcope
Tcope

I have a friend that is the president of a small, highly regarded private college. He said that when he talks with other presidents of big universities in private they admit they do a horrible job at undergraduate education. The main focus of the big schools tend to be graduate students and research. If you want a good 4 year degree look at the smaller schools where the classes are small and all are taught by professors with a terminal degree in their area of expertise. The problem with most families searching for that situation for the student, is that it tends to be more expensive.

segower
segower

@Tcope I will give UGA some credit for trying to improve undergraduate education. UGA President Jere Morehead has a strong background in and commitment to undergraduate education. He won all of the teaching awards there were when he was in the classroom. Having said this, you're right, and it's difficult to see how much time, effort and money can go to undergraduate education when institutional reputation and faculty incentives are all about research.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Several years ago, when the oldest child when to UGA, I was surprised at how dysfunctional the advisement process seemed to be.  My daughter and I had reviewed the course catalog and had a good idea of the classes she needed to take.  The adviser gave her incorrect information that we were luckily able to fix that day.  Eventually added a second major and an additional year due to class scheduling issues (i.e., you need a required prerequisite class that is only offered at the same time as another required prerequisite class.)  


If Amazon, UPS, and FedEx can figure out the logistics of moving millions of items per week, surely a campus full of PHD's can figure out a class schedule three times per year, ya think?

Nury Crawford
Nury Crawford

It’s a big campus, I’d recommend visiting or enrolling your teen in the orientation session or even a summer program.

GatorDad
GatorDad

It has been 25 years since I graduated college, but I don't remember ever meeting with an advisor, much less having an advisor choose classes for me. I went to a large state university. I do remember looking in the course catalog and signing up for classes. I was a political science major and there was always some class that I could use to fulfill my major or some other academic requirement, even if it was not my preferred class. No one ever had a parent meet with a college advisor or lobby the college for permission to attend a class on their behalf. Has the process really changed that much? This strikes me as helicopter parenting.

gapeach101
gapeach101

@GatorDad I agree with what you said.  But colleges do cause some of this problem.  You know how kids don't want to take 8:00 classes?  Turns out, profs don't want to teach 8:00 classes.  I had a child who entered UGA as a second semester sophomore, and still took a full 4 years to graduate.  She majored in two sciences with lab classes, and they were only offered from 10-2, MWF.  Seems kind of crazy for a university as big as UGA.  She did show up for advisement with her 4 year plan.  That helped.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@GatorDad I never had an adviser, either, but it showed in that I never knew that study abroad existed. I didn't know there were internships. And I didn't know that I had taken some classes I didn't need. The problem now is that an extra year or semester of college -- sometimes caused by bad advising or inability to get needed classes -- could mean thousands of dollars in tuition, books and fees.  A parent whose kid is studying engineering at a state university outside Georgia said her son has to go a fifth year largely due to advisement that was not accurate. 


segower
segower

@MaureenDowney @GatorDad Many if not most universities have transitioned from faculty advising to "professional" advising over the past decade or so. I think the idea was to have more consistency in advising; some faculty were great advisors, some not so great.

Sandy Campbell
Sandy Campbell

UGA's system is very easy to navigate. There is a bus system that is very good and covered by student fees.

Falcaints
Falcaints

My daughter is a sophomore at Georgia College and we love it.  We toured both big and small private and public and she just knew it was here school on her visit.  It was our choice too.

LaraineSS
LaraineSS

I do like the way Georgia College handles first semester class enrollment. As soon as you commit and put in your deposit, your adviser will work out your first semester schedule and email it to you around March (when you haven't even graduated high school yet.) If there are issues (such as senior year AP test scores coming in around July) then you let your adviser know and they will change that class for you. 

I do think a lot depends upon your major and how many students are vying for the classes. At UGA there are so many computer science students that they have trouble getting all their classes. The solution is often to take a hard to get class during the summer or at an unpopular time like late afternoon.

SouthernHope5
SouthernHope5

One of my kids just started at UGA as a freshman...primarily for financial reasons...the older kids wiped us out :) and it's been tough for him & us.  The advising process is really a mess simply because there are way too many students and way too little time...in my kid's case, he was applying to get into Honors for 2nd semester...its an auto-admit if you get a 3.7 (he got a 4.0) and take 15 credit hours.  Instead his advisor signed him up for 14 credit hours (my kid didn't understand how credit hours worked and I didn't realize/doublecheck until it was too late that 1 of the 5 classes had fewer credits) so he received an automatic rejection from the program (and, no, the advisors in that dept will not write back if a parent objects -- okay, i'm that parent).


I cite this as an example of the downside of a big college like UGA...you're really on your own as a parent and as a student...which is fine sometimes but I truly miss the care and attention that my older kids had in their smaller private colleges. 



momtwo2
momtwo2

The registration for classes problem also exists for those in medium sized private schools as well.   It would be very nice to have lots of advising up front, especially for those kids who are not going to "ask for the cheese".    What I learned from my now freshman is that you have to be patient for drop/adds.   This is probably why even with duel enrollment and AP credits, it still takes 4 years to graduate.   (also many kids adding multiple minors or double majors).    There are many other issues as well with the GA public college system related to size and prestige.  My second child most likely will also have to go to out of state (there are plenty of schools that offer good merit aid equivalent to Hope).

LaraineSS
LaraineSS

@momtwo2 Yes, the wait list can be frustrating, but if you are at the top of the list there is a good chance someone will drop the class.

gapeach101
gapeach101

Change is hard.  Growing up is hard.  If you've had a helicopter parent, it's harder.  My eldest walked out of her GT orientation with only 3 classes on her schedule.  She was unconcerned.  Having dealt with it her entire high school career, she knew she would come back in August and do what needed to be done to get the classes she needed.  And she did. 


MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@gapeach101 The issue for me is whether the problem with getting classes contributes to kids taking longer to graduate. 

LaraineSS
LaraineSS

@MaureenDowney @gapeach101 It might, but I think a bigger issue is students withdrawing from a class or two.Taking a couple of summer classes is a good way to catch up.

segower
segower

@LaraineSS @MaureenDowney @gapeach101 Right! Even for students with a bunch of AP or IB credit summer classes are  the only way to graduate in 4 years. Note that USG institutions measure success in terms of 6-year graduation rates! There's also a lot to be said for taking a tough science or math class over the summer when the student can really focus on that one class.

segower
segower

@MaureenDowney @gapeach101 Yes. This is a massive issue when you consider the cost of college. Graduating a semester early is going to save parents/students $3000-$4000 in living costs alone!

BKendall
BKendall

Mrs. Downey,

I am curious why you did not write about schools like Clayton State University?



segower
segower

@BKendall There are a lot of great smaller schools in the USG system, including Clayton State, but I think Ms. Downey was just using Georgia College as an example based on that conversation with a GC student. I think she and one of her children also did the GC campus tour a few months ago.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

You are so on target, Maureen, with the fact that it is an individual personality call, not simply the fact that the student will be a freshman in college.


Another consideration to add to your astute list is that if a person (student) prefers anonymity to recognition, the larger the campus, the better.  That way one can be left alone and not have to follow the given norms which will exist within smaller colleges or within sororities or fraternities at universities, if one prefers to be a loner.  One would also need to possess the self-assurance and strong autonomy to go it alone, whatever the age of the student, in a larger university than in a smaller, more closely knit college environment.  I attended both types of college and universities and both types served me well for the particular times in my life when I attended them. 

AJCkrtk
AJCkrtk

@MaureenDowney While I agree somewhat with your comments about the size/relationships available at Georgia College, the assumptions you make about the ease with which students get their  classes/schedules figured out is misplaced. I have a daughter at Georgia College who has yet to get the classes she requested for her schedule and is routinely "wait listed" for classes she NEEDS for her major. It seems they make it impossible to graduate in 4 years. AND getting any advice about what classes are needed is nearly impossible. Similarly, Georgia College says it is because they had too many kids accept admission. But my daughter at Georgia College is not as much of a go-getter as my younger daughter at UGA. My daughter, a freshman at UGA, has had no problems meeting with advisors or getting her classes thus far.



MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@AJCkrtk That surprises me about Georgia College. Why can't she see advisers? It sounds like your freshman at UGA has the right stuff for a big campus. What bothers me is that none of these schools is honest in its orientation; they play down the problems with getting classes and they promise lots of guidance. Is she in a popular program at Georgia College?



bu22
bu22

@MaureenDowney @AJCkrtk  Sounds like a problem to write your legislator about.  If it takes longer to graduate, it costs the school more to educate and its harder to fit students in.  In some other states they are giving schools financial incentives to improve on time graduation to reduce crowding issues.

Georgia College
Georgia College

@AJCkrtk We at Georgia College are sorry your student has had trouble registering for her classes. We would be glad to help look at her schedule and work to address some of the problems she's been having. Please reach out to our Center for Student Success (Academic Advising) directly via email at success@gcsu.edu or by calling 478-445-2361.

segower
segower

@MaureenDowney @AJCkrtk My son and daughter had no problem with advising at Georgia College. I think, though I'm not 100% sure, that the advisors keep some time open during the day for drop-ins.