Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Dig deep while choosing college

I’m obnoxious. I’m the guy who sits in the front of the room and asks a million questions, particularly when there’s five minutes remaining in a class that ends at 10 p.m.

I learned in Sister Audrey’s philosophy class the following: “The root of knowledge is derived from an inquisitive mind and if you don’t ask you don’t learn.” Sister Audrey used the Socratic method of teaching. She gave questions, not answers. Then she gave more questions. In her class, I felt like a dog chasing its tail.

Education often manifests years after the fact. Thus I credit Sister Audrey, the guru of the University of Dayton, as foundational to my philosophy that learning is a lifelong endeavor.

Many parents of high school sophomores and juniors are beginning the frantic search for the perfect university for their child. After 38 years of helping students matriculate to college, I’m quite persnickety relative to the questions I ask admissions people in college information sessions. I credit that to Sister Audrey.

A few weeks ago, April Kamar and I took five high school girls — Katerina, Eleni, Cassey, Sabine and Simone — on a college road trip. We should’ve had a movie crew follow us; it would’ve have been a great spoof on “Saturday Night Live.” I gained 10 pounds.

We visited California Poly San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara University, St. Mary’s College, and University of California, Berkeley.

I couldn’t help being me and regardless of the fact I was embarrassing five teenage girls, my insufferable questioning provided a thorough analysis of each school. My intent in this write is not to provide a breakdown of my scrutiny, but I can give you what I believe is a benchmark of what to look for in the university search. However, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Where do I begin? I think of the advice the cat gave Alice, the little girl from Wonderland. Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.

The best rule of thumb as you begin your search is understanding that finding the right college is just as, if not more, important than finding the best college. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

To begin, pay attention to what the ancient Greeks told us. Know thy self! What makes you happy? Is it a rural, suburban, or city school? Big or small city? Have you considered large, medium or small schools? Each will provide a different experience and education. Where do you want to go: East, West, South, or Midwest? How about Northeast or Northwest? Don’t forget the varying climates.

Do you see what I mean? The more you know about your likes and dislikes, the better fit you’ll find.

There are a variety of college classifications. National universities are typically large institutions with a plethora of majors and minors, and offer masters and doctoral degrees. Liberal arts colleges focus on a broad base of courses in the liberal arts. Don’t forget regional colleges. Such schools focus on the undergraduate education granting most of their degrees in specific majors. Don’t forget to consider private, public, or religious schools, each offering a different experience.

I like to find out about schools relative to study abroad, student research opportunities, internships, and opportunities for community services. We are more than cognitive beings. Experiential education can be a major component to learning. Some schools will educate you relative to careerism others have a focus on educating the whole individual.

The process sounds daunting. It’s not. If you read, study and investigate you’ll learn what you need to know. Oh! Don’t forget to read between the lines. The devil is in the details.

Finally, take a tour; make sure you go to the information session. Remember, as Sister Audrey used to say, “The worst question you can ask is the one you don’t ask.”


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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