Monique Rinere *00 is an expert on all things higher education. As a first-generation college student, she developed an early interest in the topic, and after working with undergraduates as a residential-college fellow during her graduate studies at Princeton, she decided to pursue a career as a higher-ed administrator. As a dean at three Ivy League schools and now an assistant vice president at The New School, where she leads the orientation and career and academic advising teams, she has seen first-hand the challenges new students and their parents face. After bearing witness to these struggles, she began her blog, All Things Higher Education, to share the lessons she has learned throughout her career that can help students and their parents during this process. Monique spoke with PAW in May about the college experience today and the path to sharing her perspective online and in an upcoming book, The Freshman Ten (Penguin Random House), slated for publication in early 2019.
“Even at elite, highly selective institutions like Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I worked, people struggle daily. Every new student grapples with making a successful transition to college ― to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and in school. And the parents suffer, sometimes to an unbearable extent, with letting go and redefining their lives without the child. I cannot count the number of tear-filled conversations I have held with parents who said they found themselves shockingly upset, anxious, and even inconsolable during this period.
“The stark reality is that many if not most families encounter problems they have not anticipated but could have avoided. Things can go well, but students and their parents need to prepare themselves to avoid the common pitfalls that I have witnessed for decades. So I take a holistic approach on my blog in that I talk about how to choose a college and succeed there. Some of my favorite topics are the necessity of connecting your college experience to your personal values and your many imagined futures; the development of tools such as conducting informational interviews, writing great cover letters, and engaging faculty and advisers; [and] the necessity of telling your story over and over again as a way of creating your life path.”
“I write for several audiences. One is the high school student who hasn’t started college yet, one is the college student, a third is the parents, and then I also have written a few blog posts with the audience of other higher-education faculty and administrators in mind.
“Interestingly, I hear from readers via email for the most part who want to follow up in a phone call or in-person meeting to ask questions or talk over their questions and experiences. My favorites are conversations with high school students who are still deciding which college to go to or who have decided and are in the midst of preparing to begin college.”
For students and families going through college application process:
1. There’s a lot of noise out there about the process. Listen to yourself to make the right decision for you and your family.
2. Plan carefully for the cost, and do not take on a lot of debt.
3. Talk to at least a few students on each of the colleges that interests you to hear a wide range of experiences about the social and academic life of the campus.
For new college students:
1. Know that asking for help is a sign of wisdom and maturity, not weakness.
2. Get to know faculty.
3. Approach the curriculum like a great feast and do not assume that specific majors lead directly to specific careers. Do informational interviewing with professionals throughout your time in college to hear people’s stories about how they got to where they are, so that you can think expansively about your own path.