“If there’s one mistake my students make [when choosing a college], it’s not listening to their parents,” says Bruce Hammond, director of college counseling at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque, N.M., contributing editor to the The Fiske Guide to Colleges 2006 and author of Discounts and Deals at the Nation's 360 Best Colleges.
Parents can often balance the excitement students feel about leaving home with the knowledge that building a life in a new environment is difficult. They see the personal and extracurricular connections a student will need to be happy and successful in their college environment.
When considering a college for their student, parents should take into consideration these questions that are frequently overlooked in the decision-making process.
#1: Are they your student’s kind of people? Will your student find a place
he or she fits in?
That was a key question for Catherine, a third-year student at the University of Dallas. “I wanted a tight community,” she says. “I wanted somewhere I could build a strong foundation for myself.”
Does your child require a close-knit student community, or are they most excited by the possibilities of a very large student body? Are they looking to connect with peers from a similar background, or do they desire a diverse group of students from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds? You know your child best; assess their needs, personality and comfort level.
#2: Is the office of residential life accessible to the students? Can students
switch if they get a terrible roommate, and how long does that process take?
Students eat, hang out and study in their rooms, and it needs to be a place where they feel comfortable. If the student faces tension or arguments in their rooms, it may cause their grades and social development to suffer.
#3: What is the ratio of residential/live-in counselors to students? How many
hours a day are they required to be available to the students? How are they chosen and by what criteria are
Residential advisers (RAs) are the first line of defense in ensuring your child’s physical and emotional health. They should be trained to spot signs of trouble such as depression, tension among students and eating disorders, and they should know basic first aid. They should also be people that students feel comfortable with.
#4: What are the hours at the student health clinic? What about 24-hour
emergency care? What does the college’s health insurance cover, and are pre-existing conditions included
in the coverage?
Get the answers before taking your son or daughter off your own insurance.
#5: What kind of psychological counseling or support groups are available?
What resources are available for students dealing with stress or emotionally difficult
During the college years, students often have some big issues to deal with. Find out who will be there when you’re far away.
#6: What is the crime rate on campus?
The Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act of 1990 requires all colleges and universities to produce an annual report of their campus safety and security procedures, as well as statistics relating to criminal offenses reported to the police. Request a copy and read it.
#7: Does the school provide student escorts to accompany students walking
home late at night?
Students sometimes have evening classes or study sessions. Make sure that the college or university offers some way for students to get home safely after a long night at the library. If they don’t, it could be a sign that the school doesn’t take the necessary measures to ensure students’ safety and welfare.
#8: What is the average increase in tuition and when are tuition increases next
expected? Does the school have provisions to help students and parents cover the increases?
By asking these questions, you can plan your finances appropriately and not be hit with unpleasant surprises.
#9: Can you pick your academic advisor? How do current students feel about
the advising system?
Students often change majors several times. A good advisor can help a student plan their classes, make career-planning decisions and graduate on time.
“I didn’t expect to have my hand held,” says Kristan Lunardini, 21, a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “But I never realized I’d be totally on my own. Like, there’s this timetable and requirements, they’re always changing, and there’s no one to help you figure it out.”
#10: How competitive is the school and is it an environment your son or
daughter can handle?
Too much stress can cause illness and depression, lead to poor performance and even cause students to drop out. Talk to current students at the school. Ask them how many all-nighters they pulled last semester. Ask them to rate the level of competitiveness on a scale of 1 to 10. Do they have time for themselves? Do they spend their weekends in the library?
A competitive school isn’t necessarily bad and can often inspire students to further achievement. The important thing is to ask whether it’s the kind of environment in which your child thrives.
Choosing the right college can be one of the most important decisions a student makes, and can set the foundation for their post-graduate success. Help your student make an informed decision that will lead to an enriching and enjoyable college experience.