What's Your Next Step? Consider All Your Options, Says Expert

Wearing a Stetson baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans, Dean Kohrs doesn’t look like your typical “college counseling expert” — the one who’s going to help you land a spot at Stanford or Harvard Law.

But Kohrs, a community college graduate who later earned his doctorate from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, knows the tricks of college admissions. And he’s on campus at Valencia this week, speaking to students about their next steps after Valencia.

At East Campus on Wednesday, he handed out advice for Valencia students who are interested in transferring to 4-year colleges and universities after graduation.

(Kohrs will be speaking at West Campus on Thursday at 1 p.m. in room 11-202.)

“People often choose schools for the wrong reasons,” said Kohrs, author of the book, “Hacking College.” “They choose colleges because of the football team, because their family went there, because their boyfriend is going there.”

Instead, he urges students to investigate colleges to find out what is best for their intended major. And, don’t rule out private colleges that you think may be too expensive.

When one pre-med student told him she hopes to transfer to the University of Florida, he advised her to consider Stetson University in Deland and Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, both of which would offer her substantial scholarship money, he said. In addition, both schools can easily tell her how many of their recent graduates went on to medical school — ad she might be surprised how high that number is. “Stetson has a well-known pre-med program,” he said, “and Eckerd has two pre-med tracks — biology and chemistry.” The chemistry track is very difficult, he said, but almost every student who graduates from that track is admitted to medical school.

Not everyone needs to leave home to find the best fit. One student who is majoring in event management is in luck — because the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College is one of the leading hospitality/event management programs in the country, Kohrs said.

Although most Valencia graduates head to UCF to finish their bachelor’s degrees, Kohrs suggests students look at all their options.  Even private, exclusive schools have openings for transfer students, he said,  because they are trying to replace the number of students who dropped out after their freshmen and sophomore years.  Because they have plenty of empty seats, Kohrs said, they are looking for students to fill those openings.

Community college students can take advantage of that situation, he said – by earning very good grades and getting involved on campus. Colleges look for students who have proven they can be successful in class and have become student leaders. And exclusive, expensive colleges – from Harvard and Yale to Stetson and Rollins – look for community college students to bring diversity to their campuses.

“You have other options,” Kohrs said. “When we say you can go anywhere, we really mean it.”

Among his tips:

— Consider transferring to small colleges, where you will get the opportunity to work directly with professors on research projects as an undergraduate student (which is rare at large, research universities). By doing research as an undergraduate, you’ll increase your chances of getting into graduate school.

— To research a college’s programs, check out their position in U.S. News &World Report rankings for your major, and ask the college how many of their students in that major go on to graduate school and where they’re headed. Or find out how many graduates are working in their field of study.

— Don’t forget about internships. Community college students should try to land an internship in their majors, Kohrs said for two key reasons: first, so they can discover if that’s the right career choice for them, and two, to give them a leg up on getting admitted to the college of their choice. 

Consider the case of one recent Miami-Dade College graduate who wants to become a geneticist. Eager for a summer internship, she looked online at the National Science Foundation’s summer internship possibilities and applied for an internship – even though it was technically only for juniors and seniors. But with her 4.0 GPA, she was accepted and spent the summer at Yosemite National Park sequencing the genes of giant Sequoia trees. Today, he added, she’s a senior at Stanford University – and was offered so much financial aid that she spent $2,000 on her first year at Stanford and nothing this year.