By: John Kariuki
Many higher education and training institutions, both local and foreign, get in top gear at a time like now when the KCSE results are announced. In deed, even “recruiting agents” for some overseas universities set shop locally around this time of the year! And many of our youths are always in a great rush to get some college education by all means.
But in their hurry, they often take everything in college and university advertisements as the gospel truth. Chances are that some of them are suckered into backstreet outfits, here and abroad, that promise heaven but offer hell because of lack of verification. Money is lost and career opportunities missed when the reality dawns that they have been hoodwinked.
This makes it crucial for both the youths and their parents to verify all colleges. And given the mostly shallow orientation of new students in many colleges, the youth should also learn how to get down on their career paths, fast.
College training is an important part of one’s road to his or her career goals. The choice of college is therefore vital if one is to get things right. To start with, the institution should offer the training that is in line with one’s career ambitions. A re-wording of a course from the normal way we know it could be a clever substitution with something else.
And a foreign college should be in a country where English is spoken as a medium of instruction if you are a Kenyan! Otherwise, you will spend precious time learning that country’s official language before embarking on the training proper.
When an application to join an institution is accepted an actual visit to the college is mandatory. You should not rely on your parents or friends here but you must go in person. Such visits will shed light on some aspects that a prospectus or advert may not say. You can assess the physical facilities like lecture halls, workshops, libraries and hostels.
It is also important to consider where the college is situated. Is it in a quiet countryside or above a nightclub in a seedy street? You should also get to know the local town or market center. The philosophy of a college is vital to know beforehand.
There are some colleges that subscribe to religious pillars and others to extreme liberalism with all categories in between. Gauge for yourself and settle for what you are comfortable with. Cases continue to arise where some youths go to college in town only to end up in drunkenness and promiscuity, courtesy of the prevailing philosophy or lack of it. In one case, some distraught parents found the body of their son in a local mortuary after the youth had gone missing from college for several weeks.
For foreign colleges, make a discreet search at their local embassy or consulate. Every foreign mission has an education or cultural attache who can give one some good background information. Ask the embassy people for cultural tips in the foreign country so that you will fit in quickly. For example, in some Middle East countries there are strict dress codes and conduct of men and women in public. Know in advance if it will be winter or summer by the time you go and carry the appropriate clothes. The embassy staff can also guide you on airfares and interconnecting flights. The Internet is also a source of information that can help when researching a foreign college or university.
A prospective student should also inquire about examining bodies for the various courses in any college. An institution is more credible when affiliated to other recognized institutions and renowned examining bodies. Attachment programmes are important to know beforehand, just as is the range and duration of training modules. Some youths may prefer a flexible timetable that allows for study and part-time working. Others may opt for full time study and even the fast-lane schedule where you forgo long holidays and finish up your course ahead of time.
And lastly consider the fees. A slightly higher than average course fees in some colleges may be justified by the provision of extra perks. These may include textbooks, a better diet, protective clothing and gas masks, auxiliary packages like computer, access to the Internet, driving lessons and comprehensive attachment.
After doing the reconnaissance and joining the college, you must not relax and wait for the institution to turn you into a professional. Instead, you must learn quickly and as much as possible about the place. You can get a feel of the “traditions” from older students, the notice board, and college publications. From these, you can learn the term (or semester) activities, places where activities are scheduled to take place and the names of lectures, instructors and support staff. Knowing your way around a new college and its environs makes you feel knowledgeable and secure and at home.
Most lecturers and instructors give out course outlines in good time. You should study these carefully and know the limits of the course and the expectations of the lecturers or instructors by the end of the term or semester. If a course outline is not available you can ask for one. Where required, college youth should buy textbooks in good time and familiarize themselves with them. You will be at ease when the actual teaching kicks off. Large, expensive and difficult collegiate textbooks can be very intimidating. But buying them early and perusing through them eases this apprehension.
In some instances, new students may need special help to settle down. You can seek this from the faculty dean, head of department or lecturers. Where there is a valid reason, even a change of room or roommate can be effected by the authorities. But new students should first find out the official hours when the dean, heads of departments, lecturers and janitors and so on are available for one-on-one counseling. It pays to ask for “old test files” where they are available for a feel of how examinations look like.
At a departmental counseling, new students can seek the finer details of the careers that they have embarked on. Many lecturers and instructors have a deep insight on the latest development in their respective fields. It is generally assumed that college students already know what their career paths entail. But there are definitely some chaps who study, say, radiography or journalism without the faintest idea where these courses will lead them!
There is no harm in seeking more information on what you are up to so that you can get prepared psychologically or change while the going is still good. Since college education is an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime, you must be pro-active in choosing and verifying the college you wish to study in. A Gambian proverb says that a hunter with only one arrow does not shoot with a careless aim.
John Kariuki is a teacher, writer and career adviser. He contributes to Standard’s Jobs and Careers and Shillings and Sense columns and the Crazy Monday and Business Unusual magazines. He can be reached at