Eight Tips to Consider Before Selecting a College
National College Decision Day, May 1, is right around the corner. That means the pressure is on for students to commit to a college or university if they have not done so already. But choosing the right college can be a difficult – and stressful – decision. That is why we teamed up with Admissions Consultant Hanna Stotland to put together a list of eight things to consider when choosing a college or university.
It is now spring break season. But for parents of high school juniors, this is typically not the normal spring break. Instead of ski trips or beach vacations, many families are schlepping (and sometimes there is no better word than schlepping) high school juniors to college campuses across the country to see what might light a spark. The choices can be overwhelming: big ten university or small private college? A college located in a big city or one situated in a small town? A school with a particular religious affiliation or a secular university rich in diversity? Spring break college tours can be even more stressful when you add in the refrain we hear each year: “this year is the most competitive admission year ever.”
You might ask: why would two lawyers and a college consultant team up on a piece about considerations for selecting a school? The answer may not be obvious to parents, but we think the answer is important. As student defense lawyers, we see many students who struggle in college for various reasons. We can’t count the number of times we hear students tell us that they made the wrong decision about where to attend college and that they want to transfer. When this happens, we connect our clients with college consultants for advice on the transfer process. So, we asked Admissions Consultant Hanna Stotland to pair up with us and contribute to our list of tips that we encourage families to consider before selecting a college. Here are our eight tips for how to choose a university:
Tip #1: Be Honest About How Far Your Student Can Be from Home.
Susan and Kristina: It’s okay if your child is not ready to fly too far from the coop. You don’t earn a badge of honor for sending your child across the country to college only to have to bring the student home in just a few weeks when loneliness has taken hold. While it’s normal for all incoming freshmen to feel homesick and to miss their families, homesickness is different from being truly ready to manage coursework and living without support. There’s no shame in starting college closer to home and then transferring at a later time if another school is a better fit.
Tip #2: Eat in the College Dining Hall!
Hanna: It’s tempting to try the town restaurant scene, but it’s so much more valuable to see students in their natural habitat – especially students who were not hand-picked by the admissions office. The quality and variety of the food matters, of course. However, I mostly want families to observe whether there’s obvious race-based or Greek-life-based segregation; whether a lot of students are eating alone; whether the students look happy, etc. Consider encouraging your student to crash a table of strangers and ask if they can join. The current college students are often warm and welcoming to visiting high schoolers – and if they aren’t, that tells you something, too.
Tip #3: Make Sure the College Culture Aligns With Your Student’s Values.
Susan and Kristina: Sometimes, it’s apparent that the values of a student don’t align with the culture on campus. Is the student artsy in a sea of athletes? Would the student feel more engaged in a politically active campus culture or one that is more focused on career development? Does your child want a liberal arts education or is the student looking for co-ops and practical internship opportunities? While college is a time to explore, it’s important for students to find “their people.”
Tip #4: Practice Makes Perfect When It Comes to College Visits.
Hanna: Visiting colleges is a skill that you will get better at with practice. You will quickly learn to recognize which selling points are rare and special, and which ones are repeated at tour after tour (study abroad, blue light phones, washing machines that can text, etc.). Don’t just be a passive listener. Take advantage of the opportunity to ask current students (like your tour guide) about their experience. My favorite question is: what would you change about the college if you could? A student who can’t identify any flaws is either not very thoughtful or has such a marketing mindset that I don’t trust them. I also like to ask: what were you looking for in a college, and how did you know this was the right one for you?
Tip #5: For Pre-Med and Pre-Professional Students, Make Sure the Environment is Challenging, But Not Crushing.
Susan and Kristina: The ultimate crash and burn is for a student to get so worried about grades that the temptation to cheat becomes a reality. We have worked on many cases where bright students succumbed to temptation and later failed a course or, worse, were suspended from college after cheating on a paper or examination. Colleges have access to great anti-cheating software, and teaching assistants have become quite skilled at catching cheaters. We see that the pressure not to get weeded out from Organic Chemistry is just too much. It’s important that students consider whether a particular environment might be too competitive.
Tip #6: Visit When College Students Are Bustling Around Campus.
Hanna: If at all possible, visit when the college is in session. If you can only visit during break or over the summer, take that into account when you assess the vibe on campus. A big urban public university like the University of Wisconsin is lively year-round. Lots of students will be on campus for summer session, and there will be tourists and locals there, too. But a rural liberal arts college may give a very misleading impression if you visit when the students are away.
Tip #7: If Your Student Has Mental Health Challenges, Make Sure There Is Accessible Counseling Assistance Either on Campus or Close to Campus.
Susan and Kristina: If your student suffers from anxiety or depression, make sure that there are the right support services either on campus or close to campus. We know that this should be obvious, but we have heard from many parents that in our COVID world, many college counseling services are impossible to get into and that the students don’t know where else to go for help. You don’t want to be looking for help in the middle of a crisis. Be prepared and make sure that there is suitable support before accepting an offer of enrollment.
Tip #8: If Your Student Is on the Spectrum, Make Sure There Are Support Services Specifically Designed to Address the Needs of Students With Autism.
Susan and Kristina: We have seen many colleges tell students on the Spectrum that their office of disabilities services can help the student obtain accommodations. While that is often true, make sure you know exactly what types of accommodations that your student will need to be successful. Maybe offering a note taker or time and a half will be enough to level the playing field. However, many times we know that students on the spectrum struggle socially and might need to have social skills support specific to issues that arise in college.
We understand that choosing the right college can be stressful. For more college selection tips or further information, please contact Student & Athlete Defense attorneys Susan Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org; 216.736.7229) or Kristina Supler (email@example.com; 216.736.7217).