Still Trying to Decide on a College? Eleven Questions to Ask Yourselves
As the family contemplates the next chapter of the graduating senior’s life, tensions, emotions, and anxieties can mount. This exciting and joyful time can generate more tears than you ever would have imagined. The stress is awful, but given that as many as one third of college students don’t go back for sophomore year and almost half of all students who start college don’t finish, the emotions are understandable.
If you haven’t yet made the final decision on which college to say YES to, here are a few questions to ask that could help you gain clarity.
- Are the prospective student’s top three to five academic interests taught at each of the schools? I can’t tell you how many new college students name an intended major that doesn’t exist at their school of choice.
- What is the academic support situation? Is there a robust advising system with redundancies? How expensive is tutoring? What sorts of academic skills are taught at a learning center? Study skills, writing support, time management, research assistance? You need to find out if they have the resources to support students well.
- How many classes can you take in the first two years that have fewer than 25 students? This translates into substantive faculty interaction which means an enhanced academic experience.
- Do all faculty have office hours? How accessible are faculty in your departments of interest? Ask the departmental administrator or peer advisors, if they list them on the web pages. Ditto what I said in #3.
- What are the global programs options? Which are run by the school? Which are run by other schools? Is there a language requirement to go abroad, and if so, what is it? A global experience is one of the most important aspects of a college education. It makes you a better person and a better employee, which employers know!
- What is the non-academic support structure like? Are there resident advisors? What’s the ratio of student to RA? Is there a solid residential education component to dorm life? This will give you an idea of how much support there is for students living on this campus.
- Is there a health care service on campus? What do students say about it in the school newspaper? Do they have comprehensive health services? Or are they outsourced? How long do students have to wait to see a doctor? A counselor? What is their waiting list like? We know that about half of all students seek psychological counseling and many more need medical attention at some point while at college, so it pays to know if the facilities suffice.
- Have you talked to current students or parents of current students? What was your impression of what they said? Did they feel the school offered a solid academic and non-academic experience? The perceptions of others should always be taken with a grain of salt, but can be valuable nevertheless. Especially if you haven’t interacted with anyone but Admissions officers yet. Remember: Admissions is the marketing arm of the institution! They must project a sunny and positive image of the place. You learn more from talking to people who have experienced it and aren’t on the college’s payroll.
- How much is it going to cost at each university or college, and what is the family plan for meeting the financial demands of attaining a degree? Have you calculated travel, books, off-campus food and activities, athletics or fitness costs, student fees? Have you talked to financial aid about appealing if the financial aid package does not suffice? So many families haven’t had the money conversation and then end up in trouble later. Do it now!
- What are their retention numbers? How many students leave after the first year? And why? This is one time I would recommend turning your attention to the US News and World Reports ratings.
- Which is the best fit for the graduating senior? What is your gut feeling?
Remember that looking for a college is very much the same as looking for a home. In fact, it IS looking for a home for your 18 year-old. When you have looked for an apartment or a house, you have had a certain feeling when you walked into ones you could see yourself living in. It’s the same with teenagers and prospective colleges. When they tour the campus, whether in person or digitally, can they see themselves living and thriving there?
I sincerely hope this is helpful and that your decision-making will soon be behind you. There is much celebrating to do this summer!