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Mark Panno

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Streator, Illinois

Parent of Blake, Class of 2007

reality personal touch

Top priority

"People at Ambrose really mean it when they say they sincerely care about their #1 priority: students."

Mark experienced the advantage of St. Ambrose's small classes and individualized education as a student in the 1970s. Then, over more than 30 years as a high school teacher, guidance counselor and superintendent, he helped thousands of students on their way to college. So what did he do when it was time for his own son to pick a university?

In his own words

How did you end up at St. Ambrose?

I started in the fall of 1969. At that time Ambrose was only about 1,200 students. I happened to have some friends in high school who all liked St. Ambrose. Back in those days, you didn't do extensive research about colleges. We went there once, we liked it. My buddies went, so I went. I didn't do a whole lot of research.

After your years as counselor and educator, how did you start the college selection process for your kids?

Well, I did a lot of research on colleges prior to my son and daughter's decisions to move on from high school to the next level of education. I enjoyed getting them involved in the decision, which is important. Students need to decide if college is right for them-and then find a good fit academically and personally.

What are the key factors for people to consider?

  1. The school has to have a major you want. I told my son that.
  2. You have to visit the school. We visited several schools starting after Blake's sophomore year in high school. 
  3. Cost. If you can't afford a place, don't whet your student's appetite. But sit down with someone in admissions first.
  4. Size of the school. Is it comfortable, a good fit?
  5. Location. Do I want my son or daughter being so far away? Is my student ready for that or not?

What's the biggest mistake that families make?

I don't think enough people visit campuses. They rely on the internet, and then during their student's senior year they're like, "Oh, my gosh." Once they're seniors, students should have two or three colleges shortlisted.

What did you learn from your campus visits? Do they tell you much?

When we visited the University of Iowa, we sat in a room with 100 other parents waiting to do a campus tour. But when we went to St. Ambrose, we walked right into the offices of the admissions folks. That's the difference between the big and the small school.

What should families know about financial aid?

When parents see the price tag on a private school, they'll see $35,000 or $40,000. You've got to sit down with someone in admissions and say, "OK, I'm thinking about these schools and St. Ambrose. How can we get this package close to those school costs?" There are ways to do that, especially if your student has had a good career academically.

What did your student rave about at St. Ambrose?

The whole atmosphere. He enjoyed the students and the people. He probably got the biggest kick out of giving campus tours. It was not uncommon for him to walk to the president's office and knock on the door. And the president would say hello. People were amazed that he would go to the president's office. Most of the time, he was on a first-name basis with the president. Blake would say, "What better way to show students that this is a student-friendly campus?"

What should other parents know about St. Ambrose?

I consider it a hidden treasure of the Midwest. Not just academically, but because of what they've done physically to that campus. Ambrose really means it when they say they sincerely care about their #1 priority: students.

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