College admissions officers report that after their formal presentations, which cover everything from admissions rates to class size, access to faculty, and alumni involvement, they encourage questions, and usually hear the same three: What improves my student’s chances for admission, Early Decision/Early Action or Regular Decision? (Unanswerable.) What is the most important aspect of an application? (No one piece.) Are the campus and surrounding areas safe? (They always say “yes.”)
College is an enormous investment of time and money. Don’t waste this opportunity to consider some of the serious issues many students find themselves unexpectedly confronting long after they celebrate being accepted. Here are 12 areas of importance, from A-Z:
Academic rigor and supports: How much time do students typically spend on reading and other class preparation? Are students graded on curves? Do you have a writing center to support first year essay and research paper writing? Do you offer learning disabilities support? General tutoring?
Careers and further education: How many employers visit to recruit seniors? Do you provide help with summer placements? What percentage of students go on to grad school? Is there a list of these schools?
Dining: (if your son or daughter has special preferences or requirements): Do you offer organic, locally grown food? Are there vegetarian and/or vegan options? Do you have nut, dairy, gluten, or other allergen free kitchens?
Financial aid: What does the typical financial aid package look like? Is financial aid need-blind? How much student loan debt does a student graduate with, on average?
Gender and minority support: Is there an LGBTQ center? What kind of supports and activities are available for gender, religious, and racial minorities?
Housing: Are first-years guaranteed housing? Second-years? What does the typical first-year living arrangement look like? What percentage of upperclass students live on-campus? What is the average per student cost of off-campus housing?
Internships: What percentage of students get academic year on-campus and community internships? Do you help students find meaningful summer internships? If so, how many employers participate?
Mental health services: What confidential student-run and professional services are available, and how do they coordinate? How many students partake of these services? (Great indicator of how stressful the environment is.) Do you offer meditation, yoga, or other stress management programs?
Research opportunities: Do students have the opportunity to engage in meaningful research supervised by faculty? Off-campus at local institutions of merit?
Senior year requirements: Do you require graduating exams? (Many do, and fail to mention this little detail.) What percentage of students complete a senior project or thesis?
Sexual assault prevention and services: What kind of sexual assault prevention course do you offer first-years? Do upperclass students get refreshers? Do you have a women’s center? How easy is it for female and male students who have experienced unwanted sexual contact to find immediate and long-term support? Do you offer self-defense classes?
Substance abuse policies: What are penalties for violations of substance abuse policies? What percentage of your first-years violate the policies? Do you offer substance-free housing?
As you ask the tough questions, beware of inch-deep answers, marketing slogans, or propaganda. When meeting with other on-campus officials and students, dig deep.
Finally, have these conversations ahead of time:
- Warn your teen that you will have questions about some aspects of academics and college life that the tour won’t address. Their eye-rolling should happen prior to the visits.
- Discuss what they might personally be concerned about and together scour the website to find out if these questions are answered online.
- Encourage them to be ready to ask those that aren’t.