Episode 173: Why the College’s Housing Matters

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Well, we are up to Step 10 out of the 14 steps of your kid’s summer homework. So far, so good. Keep checking our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students for further detail and more examples (it’s still available at Amazon).

Step 10 calls for your son or daughter to investigate on-campus housing options, which could make some difference in where to apply and where to enroll if you are planning for him or her to live in college housing. Some students, of course, will be commuting to campus, so these questions might seem less important; however, plans change, so housing is still worth a look–both freshman housing and upperclassman housing.

By the way, there are some colleges where the majority of students live in campus housing well past the freshman year, including colleges that actually have a multiple-year housing requirement. What are all those colleges–and their students–thinking? So, send your son or daughter to each college’s website to answer Questions 28 through 31 on this topic.

1. Freshman Housing Requirement

Question 28 asks students to check off whether each college on their LLCO (that, is, their Long List of College Options) requires freshmen to live in on-campus housing. Why would there be a freshman housing requirement, you might ask? Here’s what we wrote to students just like your son or daughter:

Let us start by saying that we think you should live on campus as a freshman if at all possible, given whatever financial constraints your family has. As a matter of fact, many colleges actually require it–for both good and not-so-good reasons.

A really good reason is that living together in campus housing (whether that means traditional dorms or residential “houses” or something else) does promote a kind of camaraderie among students that is hard to develop any other way. Living in close proximity to others in your same situation often provides a system of support and friendship that many kids at college want and need–whether that comes from studying late into the evening/morning together or eating together or walking back and forth to classes together or meeting each other’s friends and just hanging out together. Perhaps a not-so-good reason, though an understandable one from a college’s point of view, is that colleges need to fill those dorm rooms and bring in the revenue that comes from filling them.

The importance of living on campus is similar to the importance of going away to college, in our opinion. Both provide you with a way to spread your wings in a relatively safe and protected environment before you are ready to be completely on your own. Living in campus housing requires you to figure out how to eat, study, do laundry, clean up, sleep enough, and manage money–without having to deal with the safety and transportation and utilities issues that come with off-campus housing and without the comparative ease of living at home.

So, even if you are going to a college in your hometown or within commuting distance of home, try to live on campus–especially if you can afford it, but even if you need to use scholarship funds or loans to cover it. Why? Because it is an integral part of the college experience–especially if you are attending a college close to home.

2. Types of College Housing

If you have visited any colleges so far in your search, you probably already know that not all residential facilities are created equal when it comes to attractiveness, comfort, convenience, supervision, and security. But prospective students should also remember to think about what residential life will be like not only as freshmen, but also as upperclassmen with more and/or different housing options, including apartments nearby, but off campus, and perhaps fraternity and sorority houses.

The residential facilities that a college provides are usually well described–even bragged about–on a college’s website, can be seen on virtual campus tours on the website, and can certainly be seen firsthand on a college visit. College tours love to take visiting kids and parents to look at dorms, even when they are of the most ordinary kind. While we don’t think any student should choose a college because of its housing facilities, we do think it is reasonable to put housing in the scale when weighing choices, which might mean taking a college off his or her LLCO if the housing options seem terrible.

Your son or daughter might expect to find at least these housing options in his or her research:

Traditional college dorms, with long halls of double and single rooms and a huge bathroom shared by everyone on the hall, usually with upperclassmen serving as residential advisors to provide some level of supervision and support for students

Apartment-style suites, with several bedrooms and a bathroom–and sometimes with a living area and a kitchen–for four to six or so students, usually with a residential advisor nearby

Residential houses, which sponsor both social and academic activities for residents, often have one or two faculty families living with the students, often have their own eating facilities where everyone dines together, and have their own sense of community pride

Many colleges have a mix of housing facilities, including off-campus apartment buildings owned and operated by the college. And then there are some colleges that do not offer housing at all–including many two-year community colleges–and that expect students to commute to campus.

Questions 29 and 30 ask students to check off the types of housing that a college offers and, then, to jot down any interesting housing information, including any statistics about how many students live in campus housing and how long they stay.

3. Commuting to Campus

When Marie and I worked at the high school we co-founded in Brooklyn, most of our students who went on to college ended up commuting to a college in one of the five boroughs of New York City. We understand what commuting is like, and we urge families to think about a few things that are sometimes overlooked.

For example, if your son or daughter will be commuting, think about whether he or she would be using public transportation and, if so, how frequently those buses, trains, or subways run during the day and at night–and how late at night, if he or she is staying on campus to do a group project or to study at the library. Think about what traffic and parking would be like if he or she were driving a family car to the campus, including late at night. Think about what the commute would be like in bad weather. And don’t forget the cost of commuting as well–unless the college is within walking distance, of course.

Questions 31 asks students to jot down what the commute would be like if that is in your family’s plans.

Well, that’s it for housing. We are almost there. Join us next week for Step 11. It’s one that parents won’t want to miss.

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Episode 172: Why the College’s Schedule Matters

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Today’s episode is about Step 9 of your kid’s summer homework. All 14 steps are being explained in our series of episodes this summer and have been explained, with more examples and details, in our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Workbooks are still available from Amazon if you want one for your son or daughter.

Step 9 looks at the components that make up the college schedule. For many colleges, these questions will produce a rather traditional response, something like this: a fall semester and a spring semester, each running about 15 weeks. There will also be a summer term or two, and there might even be a super-short winter term between the regular terms. But there are also innovative scheduling options that your son or daughter has probably never heard of and might find attractive. Tell your kid to go to each college’s website to answer the three questions on this topic.

1. Term Length and Course Length

First, let’s talk about the length of academic terms and, therefore, of college courses. They might be more varied than you think. This is what we wrote, in part, to students in the workbook:

Some students like to study something over many weeks because that allows them time for calm reflection and for breaks every once in a while. Other students like to study something over a shorter time period because that keeps them better engaged and focused and allows less time for forgetting. Some students can do very well when asked to concentrate on subjects or projects intensively in short bursts, but have trouble sustaining interest and attention over longer time frames. Other students are just the opposite.

Whatever your preference is, there is a college for you. You might not want to make college schedule the main reason for choosing a college, but you might find that it contributes to your thinking about how successful and comfortable you might be at a particular college. On the other hand, you might find a college schedule so intriguing that the schedule alone could push a college to the top of your list of options.

Many colleges operate on a traditional fall and spring semester system, with each semester’s lasting from 15 to 18 weeks, depending how you count exam and holiday weeks. There are two semesters each year, and you attend both and take the summer off. . . .

Some colleges operate on a trimester system (three terms a year) or a quarter system (four terms a year), and each college determines how long the terms run and how many you attend in a year.

And then there are colleges that run shorter terms in which students take just three courses at a time instead of the traditional four or five and colleges that run courses of various lengths at the same time in the same semester. Parents: Chances are that college schedules are a lot more varied than you and your son or daughter thought.

Questions 25 and 26 ask your kid to jot down how many weeks courses last (keeping in mind that courses might run different lengths of time at a college) and to check off whether each college on the LLCO (that is, your son or daughter’s Long List of College Options) uses semesters, trimesters, quarters, or something else.

2. Innovative Options

What might that something else be? Well, for example, Colorado College has a unique Block Plan, where students take all of their courses on a one-at-a-time schedule, with each course about three and a half weeks long and taught typically from 9:00 a.m. to noon each weekday. That schedule is so intriguing to me that I would like to go back to college myself.

Innovative scheduling options also come from universities that want to make room for significant cooperative (co-op) work experiences–meaning that students study full time in most terms, but then work full time in one or more terms in order to gain important job experience. (See the workbook for more details.) This is a great option for kids who are career oriented from the get-go and want to make some real money and some real connections in the working world while still in school.

Question 27 asks students to jot down any truly innovative scheduling options among the colleges on their LLCO.

Well, this was an easy week: three short, but sweet, questions. And I think that these questions could actually make a big difference in a student’s final decision about where to apply and where to enroll, with other aspects of colleges being equal. There is truly something for everyone now in the world of college schedules.

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Episode 171: Why the College’s Academics Matter–Obviously

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Today’s episode is about Step 8 of your kid’s summer homework. That’s 8 out of 14 steps, all of which are explained in our series of episodes this summer and also, with more examples and details, in our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Workbooks are still available from Amazon if you want one for your son or daughter.

Step 8 is about the topic that most people think is most critical to choosing a college–that is, academics. Most people would say that it is what college is all about–or, at least, mainly about; or, at least, hopefully mainly about. Our College Profile Worksheet from the workbook has six questions in this section, which can be answered by reviewing each college’s website.

1. Schools and Colleges

First, let’s talk about the divisions that make up universities, in case your son or daughter has any on his or her Long List of College Options (that’s LLCO, for short). And, by the way, we hope that there are at least two or three. Here is what we explained to students in the workbook:

As you know by now, universities and large institutes (like Massachusetts Institute of Technology) are made up of schools and/or colleges that focus on different disciplines. Some of these institutions are composed of a small number of schools/colleges (say, four or five), but some are composed of quite a large number (as many as 15 or more). Some schools/colleges are only for graduate or professional students, who already have a bachelor’s degree; examples of these are law, medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. Some schools/colleges within a university or institute are only for undergraduate students. And some schools/colleges within a university or institute serve both undergraduate and graduate students. You have to do some careful reading when researching which are which, but you will find all of them listed in the Academics section of a college’s website.

By the time you answer this question for five or six institutions, you will see that lots of their colleges/schools have the same name, like Business, Management, Education, Health Care, Social Work, Journalism, Engineering, and Architecture. Some have quite similar names, like various versions of Arts and Sciences for the liberal arts and sciences school that virtually all large institutions have. But some have really novel and interesting names, too.

You will need to figure out which school/college you are most interested in applying to because many institutions will not let you apply to more than one school/college within the institution. Think hard about that right now, while you are taking the time to read about all of them.

Question 19 asks your kid to jot down the schools/colleges within each institution on his or her LLCO and, then, to check off the ones that serve undergraduate students and double check the one that he or she is most interested in.

2. Academic Departments and Majors

Next, your son or daughter will need to go two steps further: first, to look at the academic departments at each institution and, then, to look at possible majors. This is what we said in the workbook:

Universities obviously have more departments across all of its schools/colleges than smaller liberal arts colleges have. There is often an alphabetical listing of all of the departments in the Academics section of a college’s website.

You can’t possibly write them all down and don’t need to. Just start focusing on the ones that interest you most. Even if you are not sure what you want to study in college, you will need to narrow the field in order to complete most college applications.

We know that this will begin to seem like a lot of detail if you are not at all sure what you want to study. Unfortunately, many college applications will ask you to specify a major. Some applications will also ask you to specify a second choice and even a third choice for a major. We say “unfortunately” because we know that many high school students are not ready to make this decision yet. We also know that many college students change their minds after they choose a major–even after a couple of college semesters. All that is to be expected from college freshmen and sophomores.

Nonetheless, you are likely to have to make a tentative decision about a major in order to complete at least some of your college applications. So, now is the time to start that research.

Getting a head start on thinking about majors will also give you a chance to talk to your high school teachers about your choices. For example, those of you who imagine majoring in biology and going to medical school eventually will notice that large universities have many majors within the Biology Department. If you can’t figure out which exact major(s) would be right for you, you won’t make a convincing case for yourself in your application.

Question 20 asks your kid to jot down at least several academic departments that he or she is interested in, and Question 21 asks him or her to jot down at least several majors that he or she is interested in.

3. Core Curriculum

Now, let’s dig a little deeper into what, if any, core curriculum each institution offers. This is what we wrote:

For the purpose of this discussion, we will refer to this centuries-old curriculum concept as a “core curriculum,” though you might hear it referred to as a “general education curriculum” or as “distribution requirements.” What it means is that all students in a college or in a specific college/school within a larger university or institute are usually required to take one or two courses in each of a broad range of academic disciplines, such as mathematics, or in each of a broad range of groups of disciplines, such as natural sciences, languages and literature, social sciences, and so on. Each college seems to have its own unique way of defining core requirements, and some definitions are more understandable than others.

Some colleges have quite strict requirements, meaning that there are many different requirements that have to be met, which might add up to 10 or more courses before it’s all over. Some colleges have far fewer requirements for either the number of courses or the exact courses that have to be taken. And some colleges have no core curriculum at all.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the purpose of a core curriculum. The concept comes from the liberal arts tradition, where students are supposed to be well rounded in their studies and in their understanding of the intellectual content and issues raised in many fields. People in favor of this tradition would say that students do not know exactly where their careers and lives will take them and that the ability to solve problems and think critically across a range of academic subjects could make a difference in how well they succeed in their careers (likely in their multiple careers) and indeed in their lives. It is no surprise that many liberal arts colleges as well as the arts and sciences college/school within many large institutions would require and proudly support a core curriculum for its students. . . .

Another advantage of a core curriculum is that it causes students to look into academic fields that are rarely taught in high schools–like anthropology or sociology or art history or linguistics. Without require­ments in a variety of academic fields or groups of fields, many students would never take a look at some of these fields and would never know what they had missed.

Now, let’s talk about those colleges that go one step further and require certain courses of all students–the actual courses, not just a number of courses in certain academic fields. . . . When a college decides to require specific courses, it is because its professors feel that those courses are most critical to developing the foundation for more advanced college study and/or to developing a broad understanding of and ability to engage in the modern world. . . .

In our virtual college tour, we often talked about the core curriculum requirements of a college. We did that for two reasons. First, we were truly impressed with some of them, even though we could tell that they would be quite challenging for students. Second, we knew that some students would love the idea of a core curriculum, while other students would hate it.

Question 22 asks students to check off whether each college on their LLCO has a core curriculum and, if so, to jot down the exact requirements listed on the website.

4. Study Abroad Options

And now, one of my favorite topics and one that I feel quite strongly about! We wrote this to students:

When you were making your LLCO, we suggested that you put one college outside the U.S. on your list. We were serious about that. By the way, you are likely to find that the college you picked is actually cheaper to attend than a private college here in the U.S., and you will see that many colleges offer degree programs taught in English.

But, for those of you who don’t want to go to a college for four years in another country, take a close look at the study abroad options available at each college on your LLCO. These days, many colleges have fantastic study abroad programs, which make it logistically easy for you to study outside the U.S. These programs are already carefully set up, and they offer housing and other support while you are there. Some colleges have their own campuses in foreign countries, while others partner with a foreign university.

Some colleges strongly encourage their students to take a semester abroad. And a few colleges even require their students to study abroad. [See the workbook for examples.]

For future reference, if a college you love doesn’t have its own study abroad program, don’t forget about what the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) has to offer. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, AIFS operates a wide range of outstanding summer, semester-long, and year-long programs in over 20 countries on five continents. . . . All of our firsthand experiences with AIFS have been fantastic.

Question 23 on the College Profile Worksheet asks students to jot down the study abroad options that the college offers–both locations and programs, including any important details.

5. Grading Practices

And, finally, here is something we didn’t start thinking about ourselves till more recently, and I regret that. Here is what the workbook says:

We bet that grading practices are not something most students consider before choosing a college–perhaps because they assume that colleges are quite traditional when it comes to awarding final course grades. Most colleges do, in fact, use some kind of numerical scale (typically, with a 4.0 as an A) or letter scale (typically, from A though F). These traditional grading practices might seem just fine to you.

However, there are some colleges that are anything but traditional when it comes to evaluating student progress. For example, take Hampshire College (an excellent and innovative private college in Amherst, Massachusetts), where students receive written narrative evaluations from professors on their assignments and as their final course grades. No numbers and no letters. . . .

Colleges that use narrative evaluations instead of traditional grades praise their value in teaching their students more about their own strengths and weaknesses, in getting their students to focus on their learning instead of on their grades, and in building better and more stimulating relationships between their students and their professors.

Who knew this was an option? Question 24 asks students to check off whether the college has a traditional grading system and, if not, to jot down the way that student work is evaluated instead.

Well, that brings us to the end of six critical questions about what your kid’s academic life might be at college. And what could be more important than that?

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Episode 170: Why the College’s Class Size Matters

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Well, we are up to Step 7 of your kid’s summer homework, and we are officially halfway there. All 14 steps (7 down, 7 more to go) are explained in our episodes this summer and also at greater length with more examples and details in our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. Remember to order a workbook from Amazon for your son or daughter if you want more explanation and the actual worksheets.

Step 7 asks your son or daughter to consider class size as one indication of what his or her academic experience would be like at each college on the LLCO. In other words, we want students to think about how undergraduate enrollment is distributed into the actual classrooms and seminar rooms and labs that they will be sitting in on campus and how that might affect their relationships with their professors. The College Profile Worksheet has just two questions in this section. You will need to use both College Navigator and each college’s website to find the answers to Questions 17 and 18 on class size.

1. Student-to-Faculty Ratio

First, let’s talk about student-to-faculty ratio, as we explained to students in the workbook:

You should look to College Navigator to find the student-to-faculty ratio for each collegein other words, how many students are there for each faculty member. This is a statistic that we mentioned frequently during our virtual college tour [in Episodes 27 through 53, way back in the early days of USACollegeChat], and we know that it is one that many colleges themselves are very proud of. That’s why it is often included in advertising claims about a college.

While you can usually find this statistic on a college’s own website–typically on the Quick Facts or At a Glance or similar page–you can also spend lots of time looking for this statistic and NOT finding it on the website. Trust us on that! So, it’s quicker to use College Navigator, which presents a college’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio on the last line of the opening section of each college’s profile.

Question 17 asks your son or daughter to jot down the student-to-faculty ratio of each college on his or her LLCO. But why? Because . . .

Most people believe that a student’s education is improved if he or she has more access to faculty members–in smaller classes, during less crowded office hours, and through a variety of activities, such as mentorships, special lectures, and so on. Most people believe that faculty members can and will give each student enough time and attention if they are not spread too thin over too many students. Hence, a student-to-faculty ratio should be as low as possible, ideally in single digits or low double digits–like 10-to-1, or 10 students to each faculty member.

We actually don’t have any evidence that this is true, though it certainly seems to be logical. We also don’t know how valuable a low student-to-faculty ratio is for students who are not particularly looking for this kind of personal relationship with faculty members. Many students attend large universities, have relatively little one-to-one contact with their professors, and still get an excellent education. As a matter of fact, some students actually prefer that.

Nonetheless, if you think that you would benefit from a closer, perhaps more nurturing connection to your professors, then checking out the student-to-faculty ratio makes sense. Or, if your parents would feel better knowing that there is a greater chance that a faculty member knows you and is looking out for you, then searching out that low student-to-faculty ratio is important.

Generally speaking, student-to-faculty ratios are lower at small private colleges than at large public universities, which is not surprising. Small private colleges advertise the college culture that comes with a low ratio as one of the reasons to choose a small private college instead of a large public university. . . .

When you see a very selective private university with a student-to-faculty ratio that makes it look more like a small private college, you have to be impressed. . . .

The bottom line is this: Don’t think much about the difference between a student-to-faculty ratio of, say, 9-to-1 and 10-to-1 or even 11-to-1. Instead, consider that there might be a difference in faculty accessibility between a college with a student-to-faculty ratio of 9-to-1 and one with a ratio of 18-to-1.

2. Class Size

Next, Question 18 asks your son or daughter to jot down any information and advertising claims made about class size for each college on his or her LLCO. Here is what we said to students in the workbook:

Class size is exactly what you think it ishow many students are in the classroom with you when you are trying to learn calculus or French literature or whatever you are taking. Some colleges are very proud of their small class sizes. Other colleges that think they don’t have very much to be proud of regarding class size do the best they can to make a good case for their own class sizes. You can find this information on many, many college websites, though you might have to look around a bit. Happy hunting!

Or you can search for the common data set on college websites and check out a display of class section sizes under I. Instructional Faculty and Class Size (by the way, you will also find student-to-faculty ratios here). . . .

But, class size is a matter of personal choice–at least it is once you get into college and take a variety of courses so you know what you are talking about. Some students prefer large classes, like a huge lecture by a brilliant professor. Other students prefer small seminars where students get to express their own opinions and talk back and forth with each other and with the professor. Our honest opinion is that you can’t possibly know right now which of these you would prefer. Why? Because you, like most high school students, have never experienced huge lectures by brilliant professors. Are we right?

Well, that’s Questions 17 and 18 taken care of. It was an easy week. But there are 34 questions left and next week’s topic is one of the biggest. So, rest up!

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Episode 169: Why the College’s Enrollment Matters

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Today we are going to talk about Step 6 of your kid’s summer homework, as explained in our episodes throughout the summer and also more elaborately in our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students.  So, order a workbook from Amazon for your son or daughter if you want the longer version and the actual worksheets.

We are up to Questions 8 through 16 on the College Profile Worksheet this week as your kid answers nine questions about student enrollment at each college on his or her Long List of College Options (or LLCO, for short).  The questions are about how many students are enrolled and what their personal characteristics are.

By the way, it occurs to me that your kid could be following along with us and doing the “questions of the week” for each college on the LLCO, but that means that he or she is going back to each college website or College Navigator profile every week as new questions are posed.  That seems a bit inefficient.  On the other hand, when your son or daughter gets accustomed to finding information on a college website or on College Navigator about a certain topic, it might turn out to be efficient to find that information in a similar place on each website or in each College Navigator profile–thus, making the whole process not really so inefficient as it seems.  Of course, you could advise your kid to do some of each:  Go along with us each week for a handful of colleges to make sure it is clear what to do and then, at the end of the summer, go back and finish up the other colleges by doing all of the questions for one college at a time with only one trip to the website and College Navigator profile.  That’s your family’s call.

With that said, although today’s Questions 8 through 16 on the College Profile Worksheet can be answered from a college’s website (especially by looking at the common data set), we think that it is actually easier to get most of the answers by using a college’s profile at College Navigator.  You might think that enrollment is just a matter of a number or two, but you are going to see that there’s a lot more to think about here.

1. Number of Undergraduate Students

Let’s start with the obvious:  number of undergraduate students.  This is what we explained to kids (though the workbook provides additional detail about exactly where to find the right numbers):

Here is one very important thing to remember when you are jotting down undergraduate enrollment for each of the colleges on your LLCO:  Be consistent about what statistic you use.  For example, some colleges include part-time and full-time students in their enrollment count; others separate them.  Sometimes, it is hard to know what students are included.  Ideally, you should use numbers that mean the same thing from college to college so that you can compare the sizes of the undergraduate student body as accurately as possible.

Our vote for where to find that undergraduate enrollment number is College Navigator.  After you search for your college, you will see many categories of data that are available.  Click on Enrollment.  You will refer to this category a lot as you fill out this section of the College Profile Worksheet.

Under Enrollment, you will notice that the figures are probably for the fall of the preceding school year.  Those figures are fine to use, because most colleges do not have huge enrollment changes from year to year.

Question 8 asks students to jot down the undergraduate enrollment of the college.  That’s the easy part.  Here is what we said about my personal pet peeve in judging the size of that undergraduate enrollment:

Eventually, you will have to consider whether the size of the undergraduate student body matters to you.  We think that this issue is given too much weight by many high school students and their parents.  We often hear kids say things like this:  “I think I would like to go to a small school.  The University of (fill in the blank) seems too big to me.”  Of course, a big university might seem overwhelming to a high school senior.  But perhaps that is because most high school seniors have spent no time at all in a large university setting.  We believe that most high school seniors have no rational basis for making a valid judgment about student body size.

And, although it is tempting, we don’t think you can judge the size of a college based on the size of your high school.  If you are coming from a small public high school or a small private school, we understand that you might feel that you would get lost in the shuffle of a large university.  We understand that, for you right now, a large academic setting might be outside your 17-year-old comfort zone.  But that is no reason to assume that you would not do well in that larger academic setting, given half a chance a year from now.

Not a year goes by that I don’t hear remarks like that from students I am counseling individually; and, most of the time, they admit their short-sightedness after I talk them through the argument in the workbook.  So, parents, do the same for your kid.  By the way, parents, sometimes you are the biggest offenders here by imposing your own prejudices about size on your kids.

2. Breakdown by Enrollment Status and Demographics

Often, however, you will find that the types of students at a college are more important the number of them.  Let’s look at a few categories of student enrollment.  These figures are provided in various ways in the College Navigator college profiles in the Enrollment category, including in very-easy-to-understand color-coded pie graphs/pie charts/circle graphs (the workbook tells your kid exactly how to identify which figures to use and offers examples of colleges with various patterns of enrollment).

Here are the breakdowns we suggest that your son or daughter and you consider:

Question 9:  The breakdown of undergraduate students by full-time vs. part-time attendance

Some colleges–especially prestigious private four-year colleges–have relatively few part-time students compared to, say, large public universities with many schools and many diverse programs. . . .

Part-time students are not worse students; however, part-time students do likely lead fuller, more complicated, more off-campus lives than traditional freshmen enrolling right out of high school, especially if those freshmen are living on campus.  As a result, colleges with high part-time enrollment might have a bit of a different feel on campus compared to colleges where almost all of the students are there full time (and, especially, where many of them are living on campus in residential housing).  It’s something to consider.

Question 10:  The breakdown of undergraduate students by gender and any other gender identity information or policies found on the college website or in discussion with the Admission Office

Unless you have been talking about going to a single-sex college, this statistic might not even be on your radar screen.  Nonetheless, it might be something worth thinking about.

If you look at the enrollment statistics for many colleges, you will notice that some are split pretty evenly between male and female students (say, 46 percent vs. 54 percent), while others are way out of balance (say, 30 percent vs. 70 percent).  Sometimes colleges that are out of balance can be explained by their history (for example, they were once women’s colleges) or by the types of majors they are best known for (given that some majors, unfortunately, continue to attract more students of one gender). . .

We should note here that we have not yet seen data reported and presented across colleges on enrollment of students with gender identities other than male and female.  However, if you are looking for a college that is particularly accepting of more diverse gender identities, that is a topic that can and should be pursued by looking further on the college’s website and by calling the Admission Office and asking about relevant data and policies.

Question 11:  The breakdown of undergraduate students by race/ethnicity

Unless you have been talking about going to an HBCU or about seeking out an HSI, you might not have been thinking hard about the racial or ethnic background of students at the colleges on your LLCO.  But it might be something worth considering, depending on your comfort level with members of other racial and ethnic groups in an education setting.  For example, if you attend a racially and ethnically mixed high school, you would likely feel comfortable in a similar sort of college population.  However, if you attend a high school that is not racially and ethnically diverse, it might be even more important to find a college that is–in order to prepare yourself better for the world of work and for life.

We have talked about the racial and ethnic diversity of colleges in our podcast episodes, and we noted that some colleges are not nearly as diverse as we would have guessed they were.  For example, we looked at a geographically diverse sample of nine large and small public flagships, some highly selective and others less selective.  The percentage of black students ranged from just 2 percent to 15 percent.  The Hispanic/Latino numbers ranged from just 3 percent to 10 percent.

On the other hand, we know quite a few very selective private colleges and universities where the percentages of black and Hispanic/Latino students exceed these public university numbers.  That is worth thinking about–whether you are black or Hispanic/Latino yourself or whether you simply want to attend a college with a diverse student population.

Question 12:  The breakdown of undergraduate students by student residence and any other interesting facts on the college website about where its students come from

It is useful, we think, to see just how many undergraduate students at a college are from the state where that college is located.  Generally, we believe it is better to go to a college where you will meet students from all over–all over the U.S., but also from all over the world.  Living and working with students of many national backgrounds in a relatively safe and protected environment, like a college, is one way for you to gain the interpersonal skills you will need for a lifetime.

As we have said before, almost all colleges like the idea of having students from all over the country and, indeed, from all over the world.  Many, many colleges proudly say on their websites how many states and how many foreign countries their students come from.  While public universities have a duty to serve the students of their own state, even they like to draw students from other states and other countries.  And remember that you might get into a college far away from home that your grades and test scores and activities could not get you into close to home–because, for that faraway college, you bring desirable geographic diversity.  Think about that.

In case you are wondering, a college’s own website will often break down enrollment even further than College Navigator to give you additional facts, like the five states sending the most undergraduate students or the most new freshmen or the percent of students who come from neighboring states or who come from the region the college is located in.  All of that might be food for thought as you review colleges on your LLCO.

Question 13:  Any interesting information about support services targeted for particular groups of students, especially if you are a member of that group

While support services–like academic advising, personal counseling, and employment assistance–can be useful to any undergraduate student, these support services are often particularly important to groups of students who might find it more difficult to adjust to college life, either socially or academically, especially when they find themselves in the minority of students on a college campus.

If you identify with students of color, first-generation-to-college students, LGBTQ students, students with learning disabilities, or another group, you should take a look at whether each college on your LLCO has support services targeted for you. . . . Why?  Because successful support services can make all the difference between dropping out and graduating.

Question 14:  The retention rate for full-time students who returned to the college for a second year

Retention rate tells you what percent of freshmen come back to the college the next year as sophomores.  In other words, it tells you how well the college keeps its students coming back for more.

There are many reasons that kids leave college between their first and second years, and some of those reasons are certainly beyond a college’s control.  Nonetheless, you probably want to be looking for colleges with a high retention rate–at least 80 percent or better.  Many top-ranked colleges will post a retention rate above 90 percent.

Question 15:  The 4-year and 6-year graduation rates for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees

Graduation rate is exactly what you think–the percent of students who actually graduated from the college.  But there is a lot more detail available in College Navigator than you will ever need to know.

Obviously, we all hope that you will get out of college four years after you start, even though many students don’t do that anymore.  We hope that, and you probably hope that.  But your parents really hope that.  Not getting out in four years will run up your college costs even higher than they are already going to be.  You need to stay focused and get out of college in four years.

The higher the 4-year graduation rates are, the better.  Rates over 80 percent are good, though they might be lower in big universities, especially public ones.  So, judge accordingly.

Question 16:  The graduate enrollment of the college

Whether a college (or, more often, a university) has graduate students at all is an important aspect of choosing a college for some students.  Some students and parents like the idea of advanced scholarship being available on campus and of professional schools (like law and medicine and journalism) being right there–either to add prestige generally or to serve as motivation or even the next stop for a successful undergrad.  On the other hand, some parents and even some college professors think that graduate students distract a college from paying adequate attention to the needs and education of the undergraduates; they also feel that too many graduate students (rather than college professors) end up teaching the freshman-level courses in too many disciplines.

Well, Questions 8 through 16 are a lot to think about.  It was a big week.  If you haven’t done that much thinking for each college on your LLCO, you aren’t ready to decide where to apply.  But don’t worry.  There are 36 questions still to go!  Plenty of time to think?

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