The Difference a College Experience Makes

Greetings from sunny Boiling Springs, North Carolina!  It is final exam week at Gardner-Webb University and summer is nearly upon us.  For the high school students and parents reading this blog, this means that the majority of college decisions have been made and most of you are ready to start counting down the weeks until your college experience officially begins.

With this reality in mind, I thought that a new Gallup poll released yesterday would be of particular interest to “On the Right Path” readers.  The study, “Life in College Matters for Life After College”, revealed in statistical form some basic truths about the college experience that should be widely stated.

In the spring 2014 study conducted among some nearly 30,000 U.S. adults with at least a bachelor’s degree, results showed a strong correlation between the undergraduate college experience and both post-grad workplace engagement as well as overall well-being.  Notably, the factors that correlate with a positive post-grad life experience relate directly to the more qualitative, human elements of college and much less to more superficial aspects of university life (e.g. admissions selectivity and name brand prestige).

In what can only be interpreted as a startling indictment of the American higher educational system, a paltry 27% of those surveyed strongly agreed with the statement, “My professors at [college] cared about me as a person.”  Thus, it came as no surprise that an equally feeble 22% could agree strongly with the statement “I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams.”

In a world where “bigger” is continually branded as synonymous with “better”, this can almost assuredly be attributed to the continually less personalized feel germane to large state universities.  As more and more teaching responsibility is delegated to inexperienced, overworked, underpaid graduate students and farmed out to massive online lecture halls, it should come as no great shock that students are feeling less and less connected to their instructors.  Consider thus this stark reality: college is becoming more and more expensive across the board, yet the level of personal investment in success has likely never been lower.  This inverse relationship is a reality that students should not be forced to accept.

The negative ripple effects of this unengaged college experience are felt for years after college, the study shows.  The study found that graduates were more than twice as likely to agree to feeling “engaged at work” if they had a mentor in college who encouraged them to pursue their hopes and dreams.  The study also found that students were nearly 2.5 times as likely to feel engaged at work if the college they attended was “passionate about the long-term success of its students.”

In an age where job satisfaction has never been more important, the study went on to demonstrate that participants were over 4.5 times as likely to “thrive in all areas of well-being” if they felt engaged at work.  Thus, the conclusion is clear: if a student was inspired and felt supported during college, he or she is more likely to feel engaged in their career, and that same student in turn is much more likely to thrive in all areas of life, both in and outside of work.

While my personal bias is readily apparent, I fail to see how any truly impartial observer could view this study as anything other than a strong vindication of the approach to higher education employed by Gardner-Webb University and other similarly structured institutions.  As questions continue daily as to the exact value of a college degree in today’s world and which model of education (public vs. private, narrow job training vs. liberal arts) is more credible, the results of this survey add to the mounting evidence that the small school, liberal arts model provides extremely tangible value to its graduates.

As an undergraduate student at GWU, I continually felt the tangible presence of people in my life who were personally invested in my success.  From our President down through each member of our support staff, this student-centered focus continues today.  The more successful our students are, the more successful Gardner-Webb is.  And while other schools continue to focus on superfluous distractors, we never waver from the core belief that our mission is to invest in individual students and prepare them to enjoy uncanny success in the 21st century.

As I write these words, I cannot help but feel tremendous excitement for both the soon to be graduated class of 2014 and the incoming freshman class of 2018.

Until next time, be sure to remain firmly on the right path…

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Campus Visits: A Necessity

Happy Spring to each of you from Gardner-Webb University!  After a winter that seemed like it would never end, here’s to the upcoming start of the baseball season and to the Masters golf tournament, both sure signs that warm weather is just around the corner.

As the calendar turns to April, we have officially arrived at the time of year where high school seniors across the country who are still uncertain about their college plans will have to decide where to spend their college years.  Thus, this is a time of the year often liberally peppered with stress and anxiety.  However, I believe it should be a season of fun and excitement!  The hard stuff (years of high school exams and papers, the SAT, college essays, scholarship interviews) is over and the fun stuff (buying your college’s sweatshirt, going to accepted student days, selecting housing accommodations) has just begun.

Many students who are at a loss for how to best narrow their list from the final two or three options to the final choice would benefit greatly from taking one simple action.  While reading online articles, perusing websites, listening to friends, and soliciting for advice from trusted adults are all useful tactics, none is quite so valuable as the one thing that, more than any other single factor, determines where most students decide to spend four years of their lives: the campus visit.

It never ceases to amaze me how many students will seriously consider attending a school that they have never officially visited!  No one in his or her right mind would buy a car they did not test drive, purchase a house without having it inspected, or pick out a prom dress or tuxedo without trying it on.  Whey then would it make sense to commit to a school without taking the time to go visit the campus?

A campus visit is a prime opportunity to tour the campus, sit in on a class in an area of interest, meet with faculty, hang out with current students, and eat in the cafeteria.  Ultimately, this is the time where students and parents can assess for themselves the “culture” and “feel” of the campus.  What do the students do for fun?  What academic and career services are available for students?  How is the food?  How are the residence halls?  What is the campus vibe?

All are perfectly legitimate, valuable questions that can be answered with a campus visit.  As I encourage all visitors to Gardner-Webb University to do, use the campus visit as your opportunity to ask tough questions and to expect, in fact, demand that your highest expectations be met.  College is a major investment of time and financial capital.  It is perfectly reasonable to expect a return on investment.  Thus, I reiterate the challenge to take the time to visit (and visit thoroughly) colleges considered before making the decision of where to ultimately attend.  It will be time very well spent!

GWU is hosting one more Accepted Student Day on Friday, April 11th.  This is a fantastic open house event that is specifically tailored to the needs and interests of accepted students.  You can find more information about this event at www.gardner-webb.edu/accepted.  For an even more personalized visit experience, simply give us a call at 704.406.4498 or send an e-mail to visit@gardner-webb.edu.  As a special incentive for those who have not yet taken the time to check out campus, GWU is now offering a $500 scholarship to students who come visit campus for the very first time!

I look forward to seeing more and more of you on campus over the next few weeks!  With the temperatures turning warmer and skies turning sunnier, there has never been a better time to check out Gardner-Webb University!

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Financial Aid 101: A Refresher Course

Greetings from Gardner-Webb University!  I hope everyone is staying warm during this unseasonably chilly burst of wintry air.  As the calendar turns to March, most of us typically associate this time of the year with the NCAA basketball tournament and getting the lawnmower out of the shed and ready to roll for yet another grass-cutting season.  However, this time of the year is also significant from its standpoint as the official kickoff of the financial aid season for many colleges and universities across the country.  With March 1 typically representing the “priority deadline” for FAFSA completion and processing at many schools, I thought it would timely to review some general financial aid basics.

The FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the catalyst for much of the financial aid awarding process.  The FAFSA, which can be completed online at www.fafsa.gov, is a basic measure of a family’s income and savings and is used to determine a family’s EFC (expected family contribution).  This EFC, expressed in dollars per year, represents the US Department of Education’s best estimate of what a given family unit can afford to send one student to school for one academic year.  This EFC then serves as a sort of litmus test for determining what sort of need-based aid a student can be eligible for.  Generally speaking of course, the lower the EFC, the greater the likelihood of being eligible for need-based aid opportunities.  Families can request that their FAFSA results be sent to as many colleges as they would like.

Federal Pell Grant

Since the mid-1960s, the federal government has offered a basic need-based grant opportunity that today is known as the Federal Pell Grant.  Students who are eligible for a Pell Grant (as determined by the FAFSA) for the 2014-2015 school year can receive up to $5,645 dollars for the academic year.  This money is sent directly from Washington to the designated university on behalf of a particular student.  The precise amount of Pell money a particular student receives is determined by a family’s EFC.  This aid amount will be identical across all financial aid offers from every school a family selects on the FAFSA and will not have to be repaid.

North Carolina Need-Based Scholarship

For students who are residents of North Carolina and will be attending any college (public or private) in their home state, the FAFSA determines eligibility for the North Carolina Need-Based Scholarship.  Enacted recently by the state legislature, this program seeks to do at the state level what the Pell Grant does at the federal level.  For eligible students (as determined by the FAFSA), this year’s NC Need-Based Scholarship benefit will range from $1,200-$7,200 dollars for the 2014-2015 academic year.  This amount will be identical across all financial aid offers from any North Carolina college (again, public or private) that a North Carolina family designates on the FAFSA and will not have to be repaid.

Direct Stafford Loans

All first-time college students who submit the FAFSA are eligible to accept direct Stafford Loan funds.  This is a federally-managed student loan program in which money is sent directly from Washington to the chosen university on behalf of a particular student. Generally considered to be the most basic and simple of all college loans, Stafford Loans come in two forms: subsidized and unsubsidized.  Subsidized Stafford Loans function as interest-free loans while a student is enrolled full-time at an accredited US college.  Once a student graduates (or drops out of school), a six-month grace period begins.  At the conclusion of this built-in grace period, students enter the repayment phase, at which point subsidized Stafford Loans carry a 3.86% interest rate.  In contrast, an unsubsidized Stafford Loan begins to accumulate interest (at a rate of 5.41%) from the time of origination.  However, much like the subsidized Stafford Loan, students are under no obligation to make payments until six months after graduation (or dropping out).  Additionally, these payments can be temporarily deferred for a variety of reasons (including graduate study).

Prior to accepting Stafford funds, students have to complete loan entrance counseling to be appropriately apprised of their rights and responsibilities as borrowers of federal money.  Students also complete a MPN (Master Promissory Note) which serves as an electronic contract indicating that they understand what obligations they are under as participants in this program.  First time freshman are authorized to borrow up to $5,500 dollars for their freshman year (of which up to $3,500 dollars can be subsidized).  Many families find this to be a useful tool in lessening the more immediate out-of-pocket cost associated with sending a student to college.  It is also a very practical way for families to allow their students to be personally invested in their academic success at the university level.  This amount will be identical across all financial aid packages from every school a student is considering and will have to be repaid.

School-Based Affordability Awards

Many colleges (including Gardner-Webb) incorporate “in-house” need-based/affordability grants as part of completed financial aid packages.  The amount of these grants are calculated individually by the respective universities and represent the portion of need-based financial aid that varies radically from school to school.  Each college uses their own model to calculate how much (if any) additional need based assistance the student should receive directly from the college itself.

Final Thoughts

I hope this refresher course in financial aid basics has been helpful to parents and students alike.  As we approach the financial aid season at Gardner-Webb University, I hope that all prospective GWU students and their families will reach out to the admissions and financial aid offices with any questions or concerns that may come up during this important time.  It is our sincere intention to provide accurate information in a helpful, compassionate, and timely manner.

Thank you for spending a few minutes of your time by traveling firmly “on the right path.”  I look forward to checking in again soon!

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Tips for Making the Most of a Scholarship Interview

Hello from Boiling Springs, NC!  I hope that everyone enjoyed the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and is ready to be back in the swing of things.  The spring semester has gotten off to a great start here at Gardner-Webb as we continue to enjoy what has been yet another fantastic academic year at the Webb.

Now that the New Year is underway, many high school seniors will be traveling to college campuses for an annual tradition that strikes fear into the hearts of students everywhere: scholarship interviews.

At its core, the nature of a scholarship interview is indeed a daunting one.  Each student is invited into a room comprised of some mix of faculty and staff (and maybe even an upperclassman or two) in order to be grilled on a myriad of subjects ranging from British literature to community involvement and every conceivable topic in between.  Hanging in balance is often a lucrative scholarship package sought after by an intimidating number of fellow seniors.  Success in this interview can often represent the difference between graduating with a mountain of student loans and graduating debt free.  Perhaps success in the interview can also be the sole determinant in whether or not a student can attend the school of his or her choosing.

With such high stakes, many students succumb to the temptations to simply unravel in the stress of the moment and, as such, deny themselves an opportunity to put their best foot forward on the primetime stage.  With that reality in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to humbly submit a few brief pointers for making the most of any scholarship interview this winter.  This does not mean that I hold the keys to the hidden kingdom and can guarantee five easy steps toward kissing four years of tuition payments goodbye.  However, after participating in scholarship interviews as a high school student, upperclassman interviewer, and university staff member, I have noticed a few commonalities among those students who put their best foot forward during interview season.

I once heard legendary media personality Larry King express the common themes of what makes a great interview.  For 25 years, King hosted the widely viewed Larry King Live interview program on CNN, in which he conducted candid, often hour-long sit-downs with former Presidents, captains of industry, pioneers of science, and pop culture celebrities.  When reflecting on his distinguished career, he identified four common traits of the most compelling guests he had the opportunity to interview.  I believe his answers dovetail precisely with the common traits I have seen among students who knock their scholarship interviews out of the park.

1.  Love What You Do

Mr. King indicated that nearly all truly compelling personalities have a sincere love for what they do- their careers, their families, and their hobbies.  People gravitate to the sort of infectious enthusiasm that stems from a sincere passion.  I have next to no interest in gardening and could not begin to explain the basic tenets of good gardening.  However, if someone exuding a passion from their pores for the importance of gardening presented such information to me with terrific enthusiasm, I could not help but take notice.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once famously said that “nothing great in accomplished without enthusiasm.”  The sort of love that creates such enthusiasm is contagious.  Whatever you do- academics, church involvement, athletics, or community service- make sure the scholarship committee understands that you absolutely love it!  Each person’s individual passions is at the core of what makes him or her unique.

2.  Explain It Well

Be able to explain your love for painting, the church youth group, camping, etc. in a way that can be easily understood by everyone and anyone.  Do not get bogged down in the inertia of hyper-specific features of an activity.  Just stick with the overall importance of the activity that gives a person a window through which to view your passion.  An example would be, “I love swimming.  I love swimming because it’s just me and the water- no rules, no borders.  Swimming is a competition between me and the water and it brings out the very best of my competitive spirit.”  As one advertising executive famously said, “make it simple, make it memorable.”  Boil your passion down to its core and enthusiastically share it with the committee.

3.  Have a Sense of Humor

Few things break the ice out of an initial meeting quite like humor.  If you have a brief, humorous story to share about some activity listed on your application- work it into the interview!  Humor is at the core of almost everything we as humans do.  An added bonus if the humor is tastefully self-deprecating.  Such comedy shows a refreshing willingness to not take yourself too seriously.  This will be a breath of fresh air for any committee in a day where every interviewee is making a conscious effort to be as impressive as possible.

4.  Be Genuine

This is the most important part of all.  No greater mistake can be made than saying things in the interview simply because you think the committee wants to hear those things.  Much like in the “Miss America” pageant, there isn’t much value in saying you want to end world hunger when the previous 15 contestants all said the same thing.  The best interviews are the ones where the person being interviewed acts naturally.  If you have a genuine love for helping people, then let that love shine through with specific examples and anecdotes.  Saying trite things like “well, I want to go to college to make a difference” won’t carry much weight with a committee that will likely hear an identical chorus of the same thing throughout the day.  Be genuine!  It makes any interview stand out from the pack.

I hope you find these tips to be of some use during the upcoming torrent of scholarship interviews.  Of course, remembering to dress well and eat a good breakfast the day of the interview never hurts either, but I believe students who follow this recipe will make the most of their interview season.

For those of you interviewing for Gardner-Webb’s University Fellows scholarships this year, I, along with the rest of the admissions office, look forward to seeing you on campus in a few weeks.  I wish everyone the very best of luck.  And remember to have fun!

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A Few Thoughts on Academic Anxiety

Allow me to extend a warm greeting from a chilly (but sunny) Boiling Springs, NC!  I hope all of you enjoyed Thanksgiving and are looking forward to the Christmas holiday that’s just around the corner.

As we enter the month of December, high school students across the country are busy finalizing college applications, working on scholarship essays, and preparing to take fall semester final exams.  In this torrent of challenge, it is quite easy to see how these tasks can elicit a rather sizeable feeling of anxiety.  Without question, all of the above activities are important.  Students can understandably begin to feel that they are under constant scrutiny.  Do they measure up to their peers?  Are they smart enough, involved enough, and interesting enough to be part of a certain student body?  Are they charismatic enough to warrant consideration for a prestigious scholarship (and what will happen if they are not able to secure such an award?)  And, in the more immediate future, how easily can one enjoy the Christmas season with the short term pressures associated with finishing the current academic semester on a high note?

As someone who works in higher education, I sometimes think it is unfortunate that today’s students feel so much pressure, both internal and external, to be unique, special, and different.  Somehow if a current high school student is not maintaining a 5.0 GPA, volunteering 40 hours a week, winning 4 varsity letters, and racking up superlative awards in the high school annual, then this student is an abject failure.  With more and more folks applying to college, more students achieving at a high level, and a greater sense of competition in the classroom than ever before, many students undoubtedly feel like throwing up their hands and giving up.

In light of these basic observations, I thought it would be appropriate to consider a few apt realities of this season of heightened academic anxiety.  Firstly, no one’s life has ever been irreparably damaged by not earning admission into the school of their choosing.  One of the first things I am certain to mention to every high school student I meet with is that there is no such thing as a perfect college, any more than there is such a thing as a perfect restaurant, football team, or business.  Everything in life is naturally riddled with inherent imperfections.  Some organizations are better than others at minimizing their flaws, but the reality is that no entity on this earth functions with perfection all of the time.  This time of the year, I think it is reassuring for students to be reminded that there are any number of schools in the United States that can provide what will basically be a successful college experience.  Therefore, let’s all make a pact to not put pressure on one another to find some elusively perfect college this fall.  Relax and enjoy the process of finding a school that will add value to your life for the next four years and beyond (and not to mention provide some great memories along the way).

Secondly, when it comes to applying for any number of the rather lucrative scholarships out there, remember one inalienable truth: nothing is quite as compelling as sincerity.  When writing essays for major academic scholarships, certainly highlight relevant leadership experiences, academic successes, and extracurricular triumphs.  However, do so in a way that will help a scholarship committee fundamentally understand the heart of this particular applicant.  Be yourself!  I am often struck by great leaders in business, sports, and politics bemoaning that early career setbacks were largely the product of trying to do things somebody else’s way.  I have heard several coaches say that they didn’t win many games at the onset of their careers because they spent too much time trying to act like how they had been told a coach should act like.  Athletes in a locker room, customers in a store, and certainly, scholarship committee readers are all united by one common characteristic: they can smell a phony from miles away.  Be sincere and be sincerely enthusiastic about what you will add to a given campus’ life, both in and out of the classroom, and be amazed at the good things that can happen.

And finally, when it comes to navigating final exams, always keep in mind a timeless cliché that, though tired, has withstood the test of time for a reason: take it one day at a time.  Sportswriters roll their eyes when coaches say “we’re just trying to play the games one at a time” (their cynicism is somewhat justified- I cannot ever recall a football team playing two opponents on the same field simultaneously).  However, the moral behind the cliché continues to be applicable.  Students who struggle on exams usually do so for one of two reasons: lack of preparation (there is no substitute of course for studying) or test taking anxiety.  The second one is of course rooted in spending too much time thinking about the overall significance of a given test and not nearly enough time on actually taking the exam.  This is akin to worrying the entire way through a job interview with thoughts like “do they like me?” “Was that the right answer to their question?” “Will I get the job?”  These questions, while natural, are counterproductive to the task at hand: answering the current question with sincerity and clarity.  In taking tests during this final exam season, remember: focus on each singular challenge as it comes and don’t worry about the overall picture.  Prepare well and attack the individual problems in a methodical manner.  The end result will take care of itself.

I hope these brief thoughts were of some value to those of you wading though the seemingly endless malaise of entrance applications, scholarship essays, and final exams.  As always, if any of us here at the GWU admissions office can be of any assistance to you during this stressful time, please feel most welcome to contact us!  We stand ready to answer questions and provide assistance to you as you consider the possibility of becoming a part of the Gardner-Webb University family.  Until next time, be sure to remain firmly on the right path…

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Gardner-Webb Gets It Right (Again)

Greetings from a chilly, but sunny Boiling Springs!  I hope everyone enjoyed the Halloween festivities last week with friends and family and is looking forward to Thanksgiving just around the corner.  The changing of the leaves and seasons has served as a daily reminder of just how great it is to call the foothills of North Carolina home.

Coaching legend Vince Lombardi once famously said, “Winning is not a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing.  You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.  Winning is a habit.”  Over the weekend, Alabama head football coach Nick Saban was highlighted on the CBS News Program 60 Minutes discussing how he has come to be a contemporary icon of the coaching profession, winning 3 national championships in the last 4 seasons and poised to capture a 4th title this season.  In his interview, Coach Saban made a point to say that, from day one, he exhorted his players not to focus on wins and losses, but instead to focus on the process.  Saban argues that if each player makes a commitment to doing the right thing every day and every play, the wins will follow.  As such, the life lesson is not to concentrate on the end goal, so much as maintain a narrowly defined focus on winning each day’s activity.  This is the building blocks approach to excellence.

Why is all of this relevant and how does it relate to Gardner-Webb University?  Great question!  Recently, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) released its annual “What Will They Learn” report in which they review and analyze the core curriculums of accredited American colleges and universities.  The ACTA is an educational organization based in Washington D.C. that supports classical, liberal arts education.   Every year, their report is an outstanding litmus test of the comprehensiveness of American higher education’s commitment (or in some cases, lack thereof) to a well-rounded scholastic experience.

Once again, I am very pleased to report that Gardner-Webb University received an “A” rating.  This year’s results were particularly gratifying in that GWU was the only one of the 49 North Carolina institutions surveyed to receive such a rating.  Additionally, GWU was one of only 22 schools nationwide to receive this accolade.  This success is a testament to Gardner-Webb’s outstanding commitment to the liberal arts and to creating and maintaining a curriculum that covers all essential academic disciplines.

Fundamentally, we strive to produce graduates that are “well read and well rounded.”  No matter what profession a student plans to pursue upon earning his or her degree, we passionately ascribe to the notion that is vital to be proficient in the key skill areas of communication (both written and oral), research (problem solving), and critical thinking.   A graduate who can effectively research a problem, form an appropriate solution, compile evidence to support that solution, and cogently communicate the answer to others is someone who will find a home even in the most competitive job markets.

This is part of Gardner-Webb’s own process of equipping our graduates to go out and accomplish big things in today’s world.  If you see the value, as the American Council of Trustees and Alumni did, in embracing a dynamic educational experience that is well rounded and versatile, then I challenge you to schedule a campus visit and find out just what all the buzz is about.  At Gardner-Webb, we have made a tangible pledge to a building blocks of excellence approach.  It is a process that serves our students well as they prepare to impact the 21st Century.

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Quality Teaching Makes a Difference: An Observation of Faculty Focus at Small, Liberal Arts Colleges

Greetings from Boiling Springs!  I hope all of you are enjoying the changing of the leaves, college football, and the coming of Halloween.  This time of the year is undoubtedly one of the very finest to be on a college campus and, in turn, I hope that the thought of being on a college campus this time next year excites all of the high school seniors reading this blog.

As we’re in the heart of the football season, I thought it would be prudent to step back a moment and make an observation about a key difference between athletics and academics.  Regardless of whether or not students would be candid enough to admit this, the reality is that many students tend to view academic quality and athletic excellence in a synonymous light.  As such, a certain segment of the population intrinsically and subconsciously assumes that there exists some kind of correlation between national prominence on athletic fields and scholarly rigor in the hallowed halls of academia.

This is why I will occasionally encounter students who wonder aloud about what would cause a faculty member to willingly teach at a small, liberal arts college in lieu of chasing the fast track at a big, state-supported research institution.  After all, if a high school football star possessed the talent and skill necessary to earn a spot on a SEC football roster, one would feel comfortable assuming that this same player would not be too keen on the idea of playing for a Division III college somewhere in the middle of Iowa.  In this vein, athletes, much like humans in general, are assumed to have an innate desire to pursue the limelight.

So then, the question remains, why would a college professor, who has the freedom to pursue tenure at any institution, prefer to teach at Gardner-Webb over Flagship State University X?  The answer is simple: academia is not centered on the concept of making a name for one’s self.  The most basic goal of any dedicated, accomplished scholar is to make a viable contribution to their field.  And for those who teach at a school like GWU, they have determined (and I would submit rightfully so) that the most lasting, worthwhile way to make such a contribution is to inspire and motivate the next generation of scholars (namely, undergraduate students).

The large state universities, for all of their importance and accomplishment, have created a system where tenured faculty are first and foremost accountable to their ongoing research rather than to their students.  This is why the majority of actual undergraduate instruction that takes place in such schools is carried out by people my age- folks who are in graduate school working on an advanced degree.  Meanwhile, the PhD-holding faculty member spends the majority of time competing for research grants and attempting to publish scholarly journal articles in academic publications.  While this work is certainly valid for many reasons, it does little to enhance the day-to-day life of tuition-paying undergraduate students.

Professors who elect to be a part of a school like Gardner-Webb University do so because they have a sincere passion to serve today’s college students.  They are here to inspire a lifelong love of learning and intellectual pursuit.  The personal interaction they are able to enjoy with students enables mentoring and coaching to take place which can vastly supplement the effectiveness of classroom lecture.

Fundamentally, our GWU professors love to teach and they are committed to having a positive impact on our students.  This is why, even in spite of curriculum vitae that could carry many of them to larger, more nationally-known universities, we are blessed to have such a talented group of scholars on campus.  As I think back to my own undergraduate career, I realize, now more than ever before, how blessed I was to be advised by a faculty member with a PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill in an academic department led by a scholar with her PhD from Duke.  These were accomplished, extremely well respected scholars who had the intellectual acumen and academic hutzpah to be teaching just about anywhere.  Yet, their idealism, passion, and dedication to students carried them to Gardner-Webb University.  As Henry Adams once famously said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

As students are beginning to more aggressively complete applications and consider their options for next fall, let me encourage you all to consider the quality of teaching professionals that gravitate to schools like Gardner-Webb.  To have access to such brilliant minds who are driven by high ideals to be personally invested in the success of every student is a compelling opportunity for today’s incoming college population.  This reality is yet another reason why Gardner-Webb University is uniquely positioned to have a very real impact on our world today.

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Why I Decided to Come Back to Gardner-Webb University

Warm greetings from Boiling Springs, North Carolina!  I am delighted to once again be back at my alma mater, Gardner-Webb University as an admissions counselor.  For those of you not aware, I graduated from GWU in May 2011 and immediately began serving the university as an admissions counselor.  In March of this year, I made the difficult decision to leave a place that I loved in order to pursue an opportunity in the business world.  Now, after much thought and prayer, I am fortunate enough to be able to accept an invitation to come back to Gardner-Webb and once again have the privilege of working in the admissions office.

All of this background information begs the obvious question, “why leave a job at a Fortune 500 company to come back to work in higher education?”  I would like to take a minute to address this point and to also explain its significance for students considering Gardner-Webb University.

When I first worked as an admissions counselor at GWU, one of my favorite thoughts to share with high school students was, “it is important to be the captain of your own happiness.”   In this context, I was often using the phrase to encourage students to consider schools that were in line with their passions, rather than choosing options to appease their friends.  Of course it is important to carefully consider the advice of parents, pastors, teachers, and coaches, but ultimately the student is the only one who has to actually attend the school.  As such, I feel very passionately that the individual student needs to be in the driver seat of decision-making when it comes to college selection.

The reality of life is that each person has so many heartbeats with which to pursue their hopes and dreams.  For me, I came to have a full appreciation of the reality that I absolutely love working with students and that I am honored to have the opportunity to help students understand the unique opportunities that exist here at Gardner-Webb University.  As I have said before, lots of institutions espouse the greatness of their buildings, athletics, academics, etc. (and for the record, we feel very strongly that our buildings, athletics, and academics give us much to boast about).  However, I do not encounter nearly as many universities that spend the majority of their time touting the merits of their most valuable commodity: their people.  While big buildings and class rankings have a place to play in the overall makeup of a university, nothing is as fundamentally important as the quality of an institution’s people.  And while some schools pay lip service to having “friendly atmospheres” and “welcoming environments”, I do not think any say it with the conviction and sincerity that we say it with at Gardner-Webb.

In the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, the protagonist, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), comes to realize that being surrounded by genuine, sincere, quality people is of greater worth than anything that can ever be quantified on a spreadsheet or checkbook ledger.  Truly, a man who is blessed to have many friends is a wealthy man indeed.  One of the core value-added propositions at Gardner-Webb University is that we provide an environment ideally suited for making friends that can last a lifetime.  If you can see the value of making friendships that can change your life, then I would humbly submit that you can see the value of being a part of Gardner-Webb University.

I came back to GWU because it is the ideal cross-section of professional ambitions, personal fulfillment, and quality of life.  Big things continue to happen here.  If you would like to come see firsthand what all the buzz is about, then I would challenge you to invest in yourself by coming to campus for a personal visit.  If there is anything that either myself or anyone on the admission staff can do to help you in your college selection journey, please feel most welcome to reach out to us.

I look forward to meeting future members of the GWU family this year.  I also would like to wish everyone a continued successful start to the new school year

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Small Versus Big

In the world of admissions, we have reached the point of the year when students are slowly, yet surely, beginning to announce their destinations for college.  As financial aid packages start to roll in and additional campus visits are taken, seniors are coming to realize the respective locations they will call home for the next four years.

This is an exciting time for students and parents alike.  However, before students are able to make any definite decisions, they must first themselves some personal value questions.  These are the sort of questions to which no right or wrong answers exist, yet are extraordinarily important in the overall scheme of college selection.  Questions along these lines include, “Would I prefer to attend school in a small town or big city? “Would I like to attend school close to or far away from home?”  And perhaps most significantly, “Do I prefer to attend a small school or a big school?”

As a society, we’re constantly taught that bigger is always better.  A person is supposed to want the bigger house, bigger car, bigger meal, bigger TV, and so on.  I would posit that the premise is not always true in undergraduate education.  Here is the reality: large, state research universities do a lot of things really well.  Small, liberal arts colleges also do lots of things really well.  The two types of schools offer radically different experiences and tend to excel in strikingly contrasting areas.

Large research universities will always have the most expansive, most up to date libraries.
They will, in many cases, have the advantage in terms of sheer number of faculty members, academic facilities, and major programs.  They will have more places to eat on campus.

Small, liberal arts college can offer a much more personalized academic experience, in which faculty actually interact with undergraduate students.  People in various offices across the campus (e.g. student activities, career development, and academic services), while unquestionably having fewer total resources at their disposal than their large school counterparts, have the ability to invest quality time in each and every student.  Ultimately, students at these small universities matter more.

As I look back on my own college search, I can plainly recall originally being torn about which experience I wanted to invest in.  At some point, in almost imperceptible manner, I came to realize that people at schools like Gardner-Webb were much more personally invested in my success.  As I came for prospective student visits, I noticed that I actually met with university faculty while visiting GWU.  It resonated with me that I, even as a prospective student, could have access to such brilliant minds while students at larger schools often never develop any sort of personal rapport with their professors, even throughout their college years.

Along these lines, I also think it is important to note that the teaching at small, liberal arts colleges is done by PhD-holding faculty members.  These professors are teaching at places like Gardner-Webb, not because they weren’t sought after by larger schools, but because they have acknowledged the refreshingly human reality that they actually enjoy working with undergraduate students.  Professors which matriculate to larger schools often do so in order to focus on their research.  This is why the bulk of the teaching load at such schools is delegated to teaching assistants in their 20’s, who are working their respective ways through graduate study.  The question I encourage students to ask themselves is this: would I rather be taught by someone all of seven years older than me, or would I prefer to be taught someone who has already arrived in the world of academia?  For me, the answer was obvious.

Additionally, small schools encourage the development of personal relationships in ways that are often lost in the shuffle at generic state school X.  This is why Greek life has become such a paramount piece of socializing at large schools- if a student is not part of an athletic team or part of a fraternity/sorority, it becomes painfully easy to become lost in a sea of disinterested individuals.

I feel completely comfortable promising prospective students at Gardner-Webb that if they will come to GWU, buy into what we’re doing and get involved on campus, they will make friends for life.  Lots of colleges talk about the quality of their flashy buildings (although we have our fair share of these as well).  Gardner-Webb faculty and staff like to spend
time bragging on our best commodity: the uncanny collection of quality people that gravitate to our campus year after year.  This reality is why I chose to become part of the Gardner-Webb family in 2007 and why I have been proud to continue to be a part of this family ever since.

Please take these candid thoughts to heart as you consider our original question: “Would I prefer a big school or a small school?”

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A Season For Thinking

Merry Christmas from Boiling Springs, NC!  I hope this update finds each one of you
enjoying preparations for a fun-filled Christmas season.  Gardner-Webb kicked off the season of celebration yesterday by issuing over 300 degrees at Fall commencement.  Congratulations to fellow blogger, Jessica Marie Greer, on being named THE most outstanding female graduate.

While very few of you will be spending part of your Christmas break thinking about your plans for college, it may well be an opportune time to consider something broader: the picture of your future.

Each year, our admissions office distributes a significant number (or, “beaucoups” as my colleague John Blalock would say) of bookmarks at college fairs and high school visits.
These bookmarks list the “Top 20 Keys to Successful University Selection.”  The bookmark is our way of encouraging students and parents to create a game plan for picking the right
college.

Number four on the list encourages a student to clearly design the picture of his or her future. This piece of advice is not meant to place undue pressure on 17 year olds to figure out every idiosyncratic detail of what their lives will be like 25 years in the future.  However, it is meant to cause students to give some basic thought to the sort of life they would like to lead in the future.

When presenting this bookmark to students, I ask them to take a minute and visualize some general aspects of their respective futures.  Essentially, I want to ask themselves questions along the lines of: “In general, what sort of career do I want to have?” “What kind of family life would make me happy?” “What sorts of community involvements/activities are important to me?” “What geographic area would I like to live in?”

Invariably, these sorts of ambitions and desires can and will change.  As one media personality once said, “What you’re going to like at 20 is probably not what you’re going
to like at 30.  And what you’re going to like at 30 is probably not what you’re going to like at 40.”  With that said, it is beneficial for graduating seniors to give some consideration to these concepts.   I encourage every prospective student that I meet to be “the captain” of his or her own happiness- to conceptualize some sort of broad picture of what they want out of life and to then have the discipline, character, and drive necessary to arrive at that end.

Christmas vacation is an ideal time for every high school senior reading this to take some time to themselves and consider these questions.  The college experience and
its ripple effects will play a central role in future career, family, and community activities.  Keep this in mind as you weigh various acceptance letters from different colleges and universities.

As a peripheral thought: number six on our list encourages students to find some models of success and to then give credence to what those models have to say.  It is always a prudent notion to draw on the experience of those who have already achieved success and
ask them for advice on how to follow in their footsteps.  For high school seniors, this means taking the time to ask parents, teachers, guidance counselors, pastors, and so on, for advice on how to make a successful university selection.  Asking for advice on what to do once college begins is never a bad idea either.

Again, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  We here in the admissions office look forward to seeing many more future GWU students on our campus in 2013.

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