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 10: What Are Some More of the Decisive Factors in Putting Colleges on Your List?

This week, we’re launching our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by examining some of the decisive factors, or deal breakers, in adding colleges to your list

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
Why urban kids might want to go to college in urban settings
Whether extracurricular activities could really be a deal breaker
Why high school/college partnerships are so advantageous

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This week, we’re continuing our series on choosing where your child should apply to college by examining more of the decisive factors, or deal breakers, in adding colleges to your list.

NYCollegeChat is now available on iTunes, Spreaker, Stitcher, and TuneIn!

Episode 10

As we said in our last episode, it is critical to understand what factors—if any—are the decisive ones for you and your teenager in choosing colleges to apply to. We characterized these factors as deal breakers—that is, a factor so important that it would cause you to rule out whole categories of colleges because of it. In our last episode, we talked about four such factors: (1) colleges away from home or at home; (2) two-year or four-year colleges; (3) public or private colleges; and (4) large or small colleges. In this episode, we are offering five more deal breakers to consider.

1. Selective or Not Selective Colleges?

This is the factor that most guidance counselors bring up first: selectivity. You have probably heard people say that a student should apply to a “safety” school that he or she is sure to be admitted to; a couple of “reach” schools that would be great, but might be beyond or just beyond what the student’s high school record warrants; and then some others in the middle that the student has a reasonable chance of being admitted to, but not guaranteed. That is common sense.

As for a safety school, keep in mind that some public community colleges and some public four-year colleges can serve as safety schools for some students. We will talk more about that for students in New York City and New York State in the final episode of this series, which will focus on the public City University of New York (CUNY) and the public State University of New York (SUNY).

As for “reach” schools, keep in mind, that applying to colleges is time consuming and expensive (unless you have application-fee waivers from the colleges, which are sometimes based on family income and sometimes based on the student’s academic achievements). Applying to “reach” schools that are significantly more selective than a student’s high school grades and SAT or ACT scores would warrant might just be a waste of time. Should you rule out applying to the most selective schools, given the chances that being admitted are slim, even for the best students? Is selectivity a deal breaker for you and your teenager?

2. Urban, Suburban, or Rural Colleges?

Is the community setting a decisive factor for you or your teenager? Obviously, there are advantages and disadvantages to urban, suburban, and rural settings, most of which are common sense.

For example, some students like the idea of going to a college in a city because of the general excitement that cities offer, the many cultural opportunities that are available, the diversity of the people and the likely diversity of the college students, and the ease of getting around by public transportation (in some cities more than others). Some parents hate the idea of sending their teenager to college in a city because of safety issues, too many distractions from studying, and the likelihood that city living will be expensive.

On the other hand, for example, some students and parents like the idea of a rural campus, perhaps in or near a small town somewhere, where students are safe on and off campus, the environment is unspoiled, the campus itself is idyllic, there are fewer distractions from studying, and living costs are relatively low.

Some students are dying to get away from the type of community they grew up in, and others cannot imagine fitting in or being comfortable in a new physical and social environment. So, is the type of community setting a deal breaker for you or your teenager?

3. Colleges with Certain Majors or Certain Activities?

In our first series, Understanding the World of College, we discussed colleges that are known for their academic specialties, like music or art or engineering or business. Some specialized colleges teach only that subject—like Berklee College of Music. Others have strong specialized schools or colleges within a larger university—like the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. Others have strong departments in certain fields—like the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University or the modern languages departments at Middlebury College.

If your teenager has a particular field of study in mind, then you will need to find a college that offers or specializes in that major. Some majors are easy to find and are offered by most (though not all) colleges—like English and mathematics and history. Others are harder to find, especially technical majors—like architecture and engineering and computer science. Although many students will change their minds about a major after a month or a year or even two years in college, those going into college with a clear idea of what they want to study will probably need to make the availability of that major a deal breaker in putting colleges on their list.

Sometimes an extracurricular activity is just as important to a teenager—and even to a parent—as the academic part of college. Sports teams are probably the prime example. Your family might be looking for—rather, insisting on—a college with a competitive football, swimming, track, basketball, lacrosse, or crew program and so on. Sports teams could be a deal breaker for both boys and girls, of course. We would like to imagine that other activities would have the same appeal—for example, a great school newspaper, like The Cornell Daily Sun, for a long time Ithaca’s only morning newspaper; or a great glee club, like Yale University’s; or a great drama group, like the University of Pennsylvania’s Mask and Wig Club. But sports teams are probably it.

One more thing to say about sports: If your teenager has not been playing on high-powered high school teams or competitive community teams and has not been in serious talks with college recruiters before you start making your college list, he or she is not going to get a big sports scholarship. Some students harbor the dream that a sports scholarship is the way they will get to college and that professional sports is the way they will make a living after that. If you have a teenager with this mindset, make sure you get a real appraisal of his or her athletic ability from a reliable high school coach or administrator as soon as possible.

4. Colleges with a Special Focus?

Another topic we discussed in our first series was the many colleges that have a special focus—that is, single-sex colleges, faith-based colleges, colleges for students with special needs (like learning disabilities or hearing impairment), colleges with online courses or whole online degrees, the military service academies, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and so on. Any of these options could become a decisive factor in choosing colleges.

For example, your daughter might have her heart set on going to a women’s college. She might be drawn to the long-standing traditions or the leadership opportunities for young women or the social environment or even the famous alumni who attended women’s colleges. If you agree, then only women’s colleges would be on your daughter’s list. Or, your child might have his or her heart set on going to an HBCU, interestingly for all the same reasons we just cited for going to a women’s college—namely, the long-standing traditions or the leadership opportunities for young people or the social environment or even the famous alumni who attended. If you agree, then only HBCUs would be on your teenager’s list.

Clearly, choosing to apply only to colleges with a special focus will limit the number of options your family has to consider. To be sure, some of these choices are more limiting than others. For example, there are more than a thousand faith-based colleges to choose from, but only five military service academies.

5. Colleges with a Special Relationship to the Student’s Family or High School?

This can be a remarkably influential factor for students and for their families in making a college decision. Let’s start with the obvious: You work at a college and, even better, get free or reduced tuition for any of your children who enroll. This factor is tough to discount, especially if money is an issue. Putting money aside, parents likely feel comfortable with and/or proud of the college they work for, and students themselves might feel comfortable going there because they are already familiar with it. Even so, that might not be a strong enough reason to limit your teenager’s college list to just that one institution.

Another remarkably influential personal factor is where family members went to college. Many children attend—or want to attend—the alma mater of their parents or grandparents. We see even first-generation college students strongly considering the college attended by an older sibling. Family college connections can mean a lot—just like any other family traditions. Even so, again, that might not be a strong enough reason to limit your teenager’s college list to just those institutions attended by a family member.

Another personal factor that comes up more than you might think is having family members or close friends living where a college is located. Certainly, a parent who is reluctant to send a child to a college far away from home might be less anxious if a family member or close friend lived there—just in case of an emergency. For a student, too, having some family members or family friends nearby might ease the homesickness that comes with most students’ first days on campus.

The final factor in this category is not personal to the family, but rather is about the student’s high school. Some high schools have a relationship already built with a college, usually a nearby college. A noteworthy example of this is the growing number of Early College high schools, which have a carefully worked out agreement with a partner college typically to provide college credit courses to students while they are still in high school and frequently to admit those students into the college almost automatically, thus allowing a seamless transition from high school to college.

Other high schools have less elaborate arrangements with one or more colleges whereby students can take college courses for credit while in high school, banking those credits to transfer later to whatever college they attend; of course, it is even easier for those students to continue at the college where they have already earned those credits. Any of these arrangements between high schools and colleges can give students a streamlined pathway into that college, thus saving the time and effort and money expended in the typical application process. If your high school has such an arrangement with a college and if your teenager has taken advantage of it, it would be very hard to walk away from choosing that college as your only option—even if it just for the first year or two.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why urban kids might want to go to college in urban settings
  • Whether extracurricular activities could really be a deal breaker
  • Why high school/college partnerships are so advantageous

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