Podcast

Episode 177: Why the College’s Cost Matters

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Well, we are just about done. We are on Step 14, the final step in researching colleges on your son or daughter’s LLCO (that is, one last time, the Long List of College Options). And, one last reminder: Feel free to rush online and get our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (available at Amazon). It’s a steal at $9.95!

Step 14 is, to many people, the most important step and even the only step. I find it ironic that we would end our podcast–for now–on this note and that we would give our last piece of advice about college cost. Why? Because cost is the thing I care about least in helping your kid find a great college. Perhaps it is because I do believe that where there is a will, there is a way. Perhaps it is because borrowing money for college is not something that I find offensive–since I can’t think of a better reason to borrow some. Perhaps it is because I know that college can be a once-in-a-lifetime chance–one chance to do it exactly right. Of course, you can come back to college as an adult and be very successful; but why wait, if you could have made it work right at 18? Perhaps it is because I want every kid to get the best possible start in life and because I believe that a great college choice is that best possible start. Well, enough about me.

We hope that college cost is not the most important step for YOU when deciding where your son or daughter should apply, especially because it is very hard to predict what financial aid you might be able to get from a college, from your state government, from the federal government, and from outside organizations. It is also true that financial aid at a good private college on your kid’s LLCO could make that college as affordable as any good public university on the LLCO. But that is something you won’t know before you apply. We understand that paying attention to cost might be a sensible thing to do; it’s just not the only thing.

1. Tuition and Fees

Finding and understanding tuition and fees on a college website isn’t always as easy as you might expect. College Navigator offers a straightforward table of college costs, but it will be for the preceding year–and not for next year, which is what will matter to you.

And by the way, some college websites display tuition and fees separately, while some provide one combined figure. Try to use a combined tuition-plus-fees figure for each college so that the figures will be comparable from college to college.

Furthermore, some websites display information by term (e.g., by semester, by quarter), while others display information for the full academic year. Make sure you know which you are reading! For example, remember to multiply by 2, if the information you see is for just one semester. (I have actually made that mistake and wondered why the numbers seemed too good to be true!)

Question 50 asks students to jot down the tuition and fees for the current academic year or, if possible, for the next academic year, and to record the year, too (so you know exactly what you are dealing with).

2. Tuition Incentives

Remember that some colleges have attractive and even compelling tuition incentives, which they will proudly announce on their websites. For example, some colleges freeze tuition for four years at the price a student starts with as a freshman. Some colleges allow students to take an extra semester for free if the college is at fault for not offering, on an accessible enough schedule, all of the courses needed to graduate on time in four years. Some colleges provide generous discounts to students from contiguous states or to students in the region (like the West or the Midwest or New England). It makes sense to see whether each college on your kid’s LLCO has any tuition discount that could help you at any point in your kid’s undergraduate years. Question 51 quite simply asks students to jot down any tuition incentives.

3. Residential Housing Costs

And finally, there is residential housing cost, which College Navigator provides, but again only for the preceding academic year. So again, it is best to go directly to a college’s website to get this information. Obviously, housing cost is important if your kid is planning to live on campus and especially important if a college requires freshmen to live on campus. Even if you think your kid might commute to a college on the LLCO, it won’t hurt to jot down this information, just in case you all change your minds.

Question 52, the final question on the College Profile Worksheet, asks students to jot down the residential housing costs for room and board for freshman year. Keep in mind that there might be a range of housing costs, depending on which facility the student wants to live in, on whether a student wants a single room, on what kind of meal plan is taken, etc. Have your son or daughter write down the cost for the same type of living situation at each college so that you all can compare college costs later.

4. The End

Well, that’s it. 52 questions! A completed College Profile Worksheet for every college on your kid’s LLCO! Now, you are ready to think about where to apply. It’s a great place to leave you.

Marie and I are always ready to answer your individual questions while the podcast is on hiatus for the next couple of semesters. Please email us. Really. I chat with parents in your situation all the time. To make things quicker, let me give you my personal email at Policy Studies in Education, our longtime sponsor. It is paul@policystudies.org. Now, you have no excuses.

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Episode 176: Why the College’s Admissions Practices Matter–Obviously

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Well, this is where it gets serious. Researching Step 13 will give you and your son or daughter an idea about how likely it is that he or she will be accepted by a college. Of course, no one can say for sure whether your kid’s grades or admission test scores or extracurricular and community service activities or letters of recommendation will be appealing enough to get him or her admitted to a particular college. But several academic hurdles might turn out to be what stands between your kid and one or more colleges on his or her LLCO (that famous Long List of College Options). Your kid will need to use both each college’s website and College Navigator to research this crucial topic and to answer Questions 40 through 49 on admission practices.   Just to remind you, these steps are based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (for further information, get one at Amazon).

While we could talk for days about admissions practices and while many consultants and their websites do only that, we will keep it brief for now. Let’s start with one complication in researching this topic, as we explained to students in the workbook:

You need to figure out whether the data you are examining are for “admitted” students or for “enrolled freshmen.” These two groups are obviously not the same because many students who are admitted to a college do not actually enroll. Since you are trying to figure out whether you will be admitted, using “admitted” student data, when available, is probably the better choice; however, either set of data will give you an idea of the caliber of the applicants a college accepts.

Start by looking up the colleges on your LLCO on College Navigator and going to the Admissions section of the college profile. These data will be for “enrolled first-time students.” Helpful data are presented clearly in this section.

Then check each college’s website. Some colleges do a great job of presenting data on admitted students or enrolled freshmen, and others simply do not. Some colleges make it easy by providing a page of facts and figures about the new freshman class–sometimes called a Class Profile (of students who enrolled) or an Admitted Student Profile (of students who were admitted, but did not necessarily enroll). However, it is not always easy to locate this page (though it is often in the Admission section of the website). If you can find the common data set on the website, you will want to look under the third part: C. First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admission.

Question 40 asks students to check off whether the data they will be using are for admitted students or for enrolled freshmen. In a few cases, it might be both. Remember to try to use comparable data when comparing colleges. For a more detailed discussion about where to find each piece of data we are going to discuss now, check out the workbook.

1. Acceptance Rate

Let’s start with a college’s acceptance rate. Here is what we said in the workbook:

One way to judge the selectivity of a college is by looking at the number of students it accepts compared to the number of students who applied. Let’s call this “acceptance rate.” You should understand that, generally speaking, colleges like to boast that they have a low acceptance rate; that makes them feel more exclusive. There are many ways for a college to manipulate its acceptance rate, such as by encouraging applicants who are really not qualified and who will be rejected when they apply–a practice that is just as mean-spirited as it sounds. There have even been some news stories, opinion columns, and general criticism lately of colleges that seem overly impressed with their own super-low acceptance rates–say, below 10 percent.

Without looking too closely at small differences in acceptance rates (like the difference in selectivity of a college with a 15 percent acceptance rate and a college with an 18 percent acceptance rate), you should know that the higher that acceptance rate is, the better chance you probably have of being admitted. While some well-known top-ranked private colleges have acceptance rates below 20 percent, some well-respected high-ranked private colleges and great public flagship universities have acceptance rates closer to 30 percent. And other excellent public flagship universities have acceptance rates closer to 50 percent. . . . Keep in mind that you will want to have some colleges on your LLCO with acceptance rates around 40 percent or better–just to be safe.

Question 41 asks students simply to jot down the percent of applicants admitted to the college.

2. High School Grade Point Average (GPA)

And this next topic, high school GPA, comes as no surprise. We wrote:

For many, but not all, colleges, you will be able to find the full distribution of high school GPAs and the average high school GPA of the students enrolled in the freshman class by looking [at] the common data set on the college’s website. You also might find it on a Class Profile sheet on the website. . . .

This average high school GPA will be on a 4-point scale. For example, a great college might show an average high school GPA of 3.8, meaning that its enrolled freshmen did extremely well in their high school courses.

As Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses have become increasingly popular and as more high schools have started to “weight” students’ grades in those courses (and sometimes in their own honors courses as well), there has been a rise in high school GPAs. . . .

One effect of all of this weighting of high school course grades appears to be that average high school GPAs of incoming freshmen are on the rise. We can tell this anecdotally by the fact that many colleges we profiled in our virtual college tour, including some not super-selective ones, post surprisingly high average GPAs well over a 3.5 for the incoming freshman class.

Question 42 asks students to jot down the average high school GPA of enrolled freshmen.

3. High School Class Rank

Question 43 asks students to jot down whatever information they can find on the distribution of students by class rank. As you may know, class rank is an issue in today’s high schools. Here is an explanation, written for students:

For many, but not all, colleges, you will be able to find the full distribution of high school class ranks of the students enrolled in the freshman class by looking [at] the common data set on a college’s website; there you will also find the percent of students who actually submitted a class rank. . . .

You also might find class rank information on a Class Profile sheet on the website, where one college we profiled actually publicized the number of enrolled students who were named valedictorian (a #1 class rank) of their graduating class. . . .

There have been a number of stories in the education media lately about school districts that do not want to name valedictorians any longer. Why? Because they have found that the competition for that spot sometimes comes down to a thousandth of a point in that GPA we just discussed. Furthermore, they have found that students are so focused on getting that extra-high GPA that they will actually NOT take high school courses they would otherwise have taken in order to broaden their studies–or should take in order to prepare for college–for fear of hurting their GPAs. That is a crying shame.

Of course, for many years, some high schools have simply not provided class ranks for a variety of reasons, and it is not a requirement from any government office or governing body that high schools must provide class ranks. Similarly, some colleges will simply say that class ranks are not available for admitted or enrolled freshmen.

So, if your kid’s high school provides class ranks, we hope your kid has a high one. But if it does not, maybe that’s just as well these days.

4. Test-Optional or Test-Flexible Colleges

Every so often, it seems that we end up talking about test-optional and test-flexible colleges in an episode. There is always something to say because the list of such colleges keeps growing and because increasingly prestigious colleges are being added to it each year. As you probably know by now, a test-optional college means that students do not have to submit SAT or ACT test scores; a test-flexible college means that students are given a choice among various types of test scores to submit.

However, we have noticed that many colleges that do not require the submission of SAT or ACT scores receive them, nonetheless, from many applicants. Because those scores are usually quite good, according to the data provided by the college, it is evident that students with good scores do, in fact, supply them even to test-optional colleges. How those scores figure into admissions decisions is anybody’s guess. Here is our advice: If your kid has good SAT or ACT scores, he or she should probably submit them to test-optional colleges, even though they are not required.

There are perhaps only a handful of colleges that say that they absolutely do NOT want any test scores sent to them and that they will NOT use them at all for any reason, including well-regarded Hampshire College, which makes a crystal clear statement on its website about this subject.

So, Question 44 asks students to check off whether the college is a test-optional or test-flexible college. This information can turn out to be very important for students who do not have good SAT or ACT scores, but it likely won’t matter at all for students who have good ones.

5. SAT and ACT Scores

And speaking of those SAT and ACT scores, Question 45 asks students to jot down SAT and ACT scores, by subtest, as provided by a college in a variety of ways. For example, the common data set on college websites provides the following test data:

  • The percent of students who submitted SAT and ACT scores
  • The SAT and ACT scores, by subtest, at the 25th percentile of students and at the 75th percentile of students (in other words, 25 percent of students scored at or below the score at the 25th percentile, and 25 percent of students scored at or above the score at the 75th percentile)
  • The full distribution of SAT and ACT scores, by subtest

If your kid’s scores fall above the 75th percentile of scores for a college’s students, that is good. If your kid’s scores fall right in the middle between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile, that would be just about average for that college’s students. But if your kid’s scores fall close to or below the 25th percentile, that would not be nearly so promising in terms of his or her chances of being admitted.

Until further notice, let us assert that SAT and ACT scores do matter. Sometimes all of us wish they didn’t. And while it’s true that, for some colleges, the scores don’t matter nearly so much, it’s also true that having good test scores is always a plus when applying to most colleges. That’s just the way it is.

And for some, mostly elite colleges, SAT Subject Tests are still required or are, at least, recommended for admission–sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes three, and sometimes certain ones. I imagine that a tough policy on requiring SAT Subject Test scores could mean that a student would not apply to a particular college. On the other hand, if your kid is applying to top-tier colleges, double checking on SAT Subject Test requirements EARLY is critical. Question 47 asks students whether any SAT Subject Tests are either required or recommended for admission and, if so, the specifics about those tests.

6. High School Courses

Finally, let’s look at one last admission standard–one that is less often considered and more often taken for granted–and that is the courses that applicants are expected to have taken in high school, usually listed in terms of credits (or Carnegie units) in each subject area, but also sometimes including specific courses, especially in math and science.

On a college’s website, this information can virtually always be found by starting with the Admission home page. Students will find that the high school course or credit expectations of colleges do, in fact, differ, usually according to how selective the college is. This is a favorite topic of ours here at USACollegeChat, so I am going to refer you to Episode 162 on this topic, which we did quite recently. It says it all! But just to remind you: The courses that your kid takes in high school matter, including the courses that he or she takes as a senior.

Questions 48 and 49 ask students to jot down the number of high school credits/courses that are required by a college and, separately, that are recommended by a college in each subject and, then, to jot down any specific courses that are required or recommended.

Well, that’s 10 questions on college admission practices. I think that’s enough. Stay tuned for next week’s finale.

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Episode 175: Why the College’s Activities and Sports Matter

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Well, listeners, the end is in sight. Today is Step 12 out of the 14 steps we want your son or daughter to take this summer to make his or her search for colleges more effective. Just to repeat, these steps are based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (there is one with your name on it waiting at Amazon).

Step 12 asks your son or daughter to investigate what the colleges on his or her LLCO (that’s his or her Long List of College Options) have to offer outside of the classroom–extracurricular activities, community service activities, fraternities and sororities, and intercollegiate and intramural sports. These activities that help enrich students’ lives outside of the classroom can make the difference between a great college experience and a just-okay college experience for lots of kids. Tell your son or daughter to go to each college’s website to answer Questions 35 through 39 on activities and sports.

1. Extracurricular Activities

Let’s start with extracurricular activities–something that a lot of you will soon know a lot about since you will be facing questions about high school extracurricular activities on college applications. This is what we said to students in the workbook:

Many of you participated in extracurricular activities in high school. Some of you did that because you really enjoyed the activities, and some of you did that because you thought it would help you get into a good college. Whatever your reasons were in high school, extracurricular activities in college will increase your network of friends, give you something worthwhile to do in your free time, give your mind a break from academics, and possibly lead to a career or to a hobby that could last a lifetime. College is truly more than academics.

When we did our virtual college tour [feel free to review Episode 27 through Episode 53 of USACollegeChat], it was astounding to us just how many activities are available on most college campuses, and it seemed clear that a student could start a club for almost any purpose that interested him or her if such a club did not already exist. It was not uncommon to find that large universities had literally hundreds and hundreds of student activities and clubs–truly, something for everyone. There is everything you had in high school, plus so much more–theater groups, music groups, newspapers, yearbooks, literary magazines, student government organizations, agricultural organizations, engineering associations, honor societies, and so on…

Don’t underestimate the importance of activities–either now in high school or later in college. Keep in mind that some college applications ask you to write an essay about your most important high school activity and that many college applications ask you whether you plan to continue with your various activities once you get to college. It’s a good idea to say “yes.”

Question 35 on our College Profile Worksheet asks students to jot down how many extracurricular activities each college on their LLCO offers and to list some that they are interested in.

2. Community Service Activities

Question 36 on our College Profile Worksheet asks students the same question about community service activities. In the workbook, we wrote this to students (and see the workbook for some great examples):

Many of you participated in community service activities in high school. Some of you did that because you really enjoyed the activities, some of you did that because your high school required it, and some of you did that because you thought it would help you get into a good college. Whatever your reasons were in high school, community service activities in college will increase your network of friends, give you something worthwhile to do in your free time, give your mind a break from academics, and possibly lead to a career or to a way of life that could last a lifetime. Again, college is truly more than academics, and what is more important than doing something to help someone else.

When we did our virtual college tour, we found quite a few colleges that place a strong emphasis on community service, including some colleges that require it. On most college websites, you will find a section about community outreach or community service. See what the colleges on your LLCO believe and have to offer. Then, think hard about the value of these activities to others and what you can learn yourself.

3. Fraternities and Sororities

Let’s move on to fraternities and sororities (and, in the interest of full disclosure, I was a Tridelt in college, as was my mother before me). We wrote this in the workbook:

For some students, fraternities and sororities are a big part of their college lives. They act as a social hub, but also typically offer personal support, academic support, community service opportunities, and often great housing options. Many colleges offer a large number of fraternities and sororities (often referred to as “Greek life”), and many offer a smaller number of them. There are also black sororities and fraternities, which have their own substantial history, traditions, and purposes. Depending on the college, fraternities and sororities play a larger or smaller role in the college environment. Some colleges, by the way, do not offer any fraternities and sororities at all.

Wanting to join a fraternity or sorority might be one thing that has been passed down to you from your parents. . . . If your parents did not go to college or were not fraternity/sorority members, this is a part of college life that you should investigate before deciding one way or the other.

So, Question 37 asks students simply to check off whether the college has fraternities and sororities.

4. Intercollegiate and Intramural Sports

And, finally, we come to sports–both intercollegiate and intramural. This is what we said to students:

For some students, intercollegiate athletics is the reason to go to college, and an athletic scholarship is paying the full cost of the college experience. If you are in line for such a scholarship, good for you. However, that is certainly not the case for most students. So, what about the rest of you?

Well, you can still play on an intercollegiate sports team. Many colleges have 25 or more such teams–some men’s, some women’s, and some coeducational. If you try to research the available teams, you are likely to find yourself redirected to a different website–that is, one specifically for intercollegiate athletics. You will easily find all of the teams, news about them, ticket information, merchandise to purchase, and more. Remember that playing on an intercollegiate sports team is a serious commitment–physically, mentally, and emotionally–and you have to be both talented and hardworking to make most intercollegiate teams.

Of course, intercollegiate sports are not just for the players, but also for the fans. Some students want to go to a college that offers the fun of football weekends, basketball fever, ice hockey fanaticism, lacrosse dynasties, and more. Attending soccer and baseball games or swimming and track meets or gymnastics competitions can become an extracurricular activity in itself. And there is nothing wrong with that!

If you enjoy sports as a hobby (including as a passionate hobby), then look for the intramural teams and club sports that most colleges offer. The variety of sports available can be amazing, and the number of such teams can surpass the number of intercollegiate teams. Many colleges strongly encourage students to participate in these sports activities for a variety of physical, mental, and emotional health reasons. Intramural teams and clubs are one more way to make new friends on a campus–and stay healthy.

So, take a look at Questions 38 and 39, which ask students to jot down the number of intercollegiate sports that the college has, along with any that they are interested in and, then, to do the same for intramural and club sports. Between the activities and the sports, we are determined that your son or daughter is going to be busy and that he or she is going to enjoy the college experience fully.

Now, we are just two episodes away from winding up this summer homework. So, as they say on TV, tune in to the series finale in two weeks!

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Episode 174: Why the College’s Security Measures Matter

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Today is Step 11 out of the 14 steps we want your son or daughter to take this summer to make his or her search for colleges more effective. As you know by now, these steps are based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students (get one at Amazon ASAP).

Step 11 brings us to the safety of students on campus and the security measures that a college takes to keep its students safe. Parents: Getting information about security measures on campus is one way to help alleviate your concerns about letting your son or daughter go away to college and live on campus. Information can be found on each college’s website and from College Navigator for answering Questions 32, 33, and 34 on our College Profile Worksheet. You will also notice and definitely hear about security measures if you visit a college and take a campus tour.

Before we go on, let’s say a word to those of you who plan to have your son or daughter commute to campus from home. Safety is an issue for your family, too. You will still need to pay attention to all of the security measures on campus, but you will also have to worry about the convenience and safety of the commute.

As we said last week in our episode on campus housing, what about commuters’ late-night trips home after a meeting on campus or a late class or studying in the library? What about the safety of getting to a remote parking lot to get in the car or the safety of waiting for 20 minutes or more on a subway platform or on an empty street for a public bus? What about commuting in bad weather, especially in snowstorms, when a college campus might close down unexpectedly and public transportation is snarled? Safety issues might be even more important for commuters than for residential students, and the college cannot be responsible for the safety of your kid’s commute once he or she leaves the campus.

1. Security Measures

Question 32 asks students to check off the types of security measures offered on campus by each college on their LLCO (that, is, their Long List of College Options). Here’s what we said about security measures in the workbook for students:

If you are going to live on campus and you have a chance to visit a campus housing facility, notice whether there is an adult uniformed security guard with a sign-in and sign-out book at the entrance of that residential facility. Ask whether the security guard is there 24 hours a day. We know that many college students find these security guards to be a bit annoying, and we know that this amount of supervision is one reason some students prefer to move into off-campus housing after the freshman year. But, we can also tell you that parents love seeing those security guards at the entrances to residential facilities, and we don’t blame them.

Obviously, uniformed guards provide a higher level of security than a reception desk staffed by students who are working part-time jobs or work-study jobs. Some colleges, in fact, do not have anyone at all on duty to monitor the flow of people in and out of residential facilities; students just go in and out with their own keys or cards.

Whether you are on a campus tour or reading about a college on a website, look for daytime and nighttime security measures like these:

Shuttle buses or vans to take students from one part of campus to another, especially when the campus is big

Blue-light call boxes on recognizable stand-alone towers with a blue light on top, which are placed along walkways, in parking lots, or in distant parts of the campus and which let a student in trouble call for help instantly (some are also outfitted with cameras, sirens, and broadcast systems to alert students nearby or to provide more information for the police or security guards)

Students who serve as walking escorts from building to building or from buildings to the parking lots after dark.

Here are some more questions to research or to observe on a campus visit:

  • Are there security guards at the entrances to all of the classroom buildings, libraries, auditoriums, and sports facilities?
  • Are student IDs needed to get in and out of campus buildings?
  • How do guests and visitors get in and out of campus buildings?
  • Is the campus gated or fenced in or walled in or otherwise closed off? Are there guards at the campus entrances?

2. Crime Statistics

Now, instruct your son or daughter to go to College Navigator and look under Campus Security for each college on his or her LLCO. There he or she will find crime statistics for three years, including the number of criminal offenses and reasons for arrests on the campus and, specifically, in the residence halls. Question 33 asks students to jot down any crime statistics that seem noteworthy.

3. News Stories About Safety Issues

And, finally, Question 34 asks students to jot down details from any reliable news stories about student safety incidents at the college. As you probably know, there have been plenty of stories in the news recently about safety issues on college campuses. Some of these stories have brought to light incidents of female students being sexually assaulted or harassed by other students. Sometimes it is not clear what degree of responsibility the colleges in these stories have taken or should have taken for the incidents that have been reported. While it is not fair to blame a college for the actions of an individual student, it is fair to look at whether a college has a culture or habit of being unresponsive to students’ claims and complaints, particularly about sexual misconduct.

Well, this is not such a pleasant episode, but it is an issue that many parents are already thinking about. Better safe than sorry, as they say. Take the time to look at safety and security seriously and then move forward in the college search. And remember, parents, commuting does not make kids safer. Really.

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Episode 173: Why the College’s Housing Matters

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

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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