Say what? Interpreting college communications


Deep, deep down (alright maybe not so deep down for everyone), we’re all a bit excited when we get mail. At times, even our own kids seem to be jealously eyeing our mail. During your students college search, they might end up with more mail than they know what to do with. It’s important to colleges that students, parents and families understand who they are and what they can offer your student. 

Although universities want to impress potential applicants, they also want to communicate effectively with you. We’re happy to help you interpret the value and affordability, real life, innovative and dream messages universities share the most.

Value and affordability

What do colleges mean when they talk about “value?”

One definition of value is the cost to attend — a school might say they’re a good value because their tuition costs are low. Other schools say you should look at the net price, which is the stated tuition minus your student’s projected scholarships and other financial aid. 

Another way to consider value is through the benefits that your student will receive throughout their college experience and after graduation — good career outlook, the health and wellness benefits that come with a college education. When you hear phrases like “investment in your future” they’re saying, “Yes, the sticker price might be a major consideration for your family, but we believe the value that your student will get by earning the degree far outweighs the cost over time.”

Are they for real?

Why do I see “real world” used in college communications?

You’re probably seeing things like, “We offer real-world experiences.” To clarify, college is the real world and students will experience real challenges that impact their lives while enrolled.

What colleges mean when they say “real world” is that along with traditional academic activities, your student will gain practical experience inside and outside the classroom. This can be in the form of work and internship experience, hands-on-research, and other opportunities. It is important to research what different universities offer when they sat “real world.” 

If your student is researching in the lab with a professor, working for a startup that’s affiliated with the university, learning from a working artist or professional musician, or taking advantage of an internship that’s near campus they are using real-world applications of their degree. If this sounds like a fit for your student, they should look for universities that offer these types of real-world opportunities.

Students as innovators

What do universities mean when they say they’re innovative?

Arizona State University takes great pride in being a top school for innovation. Innovation is a process, not necessarily an outcome. It’s a way of approaching problems and a way of approaching a discipline. Higher education, requires consistent reinvention and a lot of new idea generation to address persistent global challenges. We look at every aspect of the university in new ways to improve the experience for students and help empower them to solve problems. 

Schools claiming to be innovative should have very clear proof points of how they’re innovating. And universities should bring your student into the innovation process so that the entire university community is involved — not just distinguished faculty members. Students should be playing an active role in the innovation of their experience. Look for a university where the students can be active drivers of their experience. 

Dreams equal interests

Why do schools say “follow your passion” or “follow your dreams” so often?

Universities are in the business of helping students bring their goals to life, so it’s common to hear phrases like, “Follow your dreams.” Your student is probably a young person who is still trying to figure out what their dreams are, and they might be overwhelmed by this type of messaging. It’s normal if your student is still forming their goals. 

A more general piece of advice would be for students to follow their interests. Those interests might not be refined yet either and that’s fine. Around 70 percent of university students will change their major at least once. A big part of college is about exploring interests, and if your student is fortunate, they’ll find a career path during their time at a university that is truly their dream. But many students spend their college years further exploring and honing those interests. What universities offer is the environment that enables a student to explore and discover for themselves.