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

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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

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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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