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March 15, 2012

For Juniors:

When visiting schools, make sure your child fills out a card in the admissions office! A student’s “demonstrated interest” is an important part of the decision process for schools and that card shows that he/she took the trouble to come visit.

Even better is if he/she can meet the admissions officer who handles your home state.  This is where the firm handshake, good eye contact and expressing an interest in the school goes a long way – the admissions officer may very well make notes and start a file.

Plan to take notes on a form that you bring with you – either during the visit or immediately afterwards in the car. You may have to convince your child that this is necessary but believe me, after a while they all start to seem alike (I mean the schools, not your children).  Without some kind of standardized form it will all be a blur after you’ve seen a bunch of schools.

Make sure you’re comparing the same variables at each school. Something as simple as a rainy day or an annoying tour guide can sway a student’s initial impression. Don’t let this be the only reason that your child likes/dislikes the school!

During the tour, try to hang in the back and let your child be up front near the guide. If you ask all the questions, your child won’t; they’re the ones who need to be engaged in this process.

At the end of the tour, try not to pounce by immediately asking if they like the school or by sharing your own opinion! This is an exciting time, but it can also be stressful. Kids may just need to sit with their thoughts; let them tell you their opinions when they are ready.

For both Juniors and Seniors: 

In addition to all the important considerations such as the programs offered, study abroad and internship opportunities, extracurricular activities, student body make up, geographic location, size, etc., make sure you are asking about the following:

Student/faculty ratio: The school may tell you, for example, that it’s “15 to 1.” But some schools include administrators in their faculty count. Also, schools with research (graduate students) may have a very low faculty-to-student ratio for research purposes but a high ratio for undergrad classes. On average it may come out seeming low.

So, ask about class sizes – especially for undergraduate introductory classes.  Think about if it’s okay for your child to be in a big lecture hall or if they need small, discussion-oriented classes to thrive.

Find out how many teaching assistants vs. professors teach the undergraduate classes.

Class availability: Are students typically able to get into the classes they need for their majors, or is it common for students to need more than four years to graduate due to classes being filled? There are stats on how many years students take to graduate. (See for info on 4, 5 and 6 year rates.)

Returning students: Look at the stats at the above website regarding the percent of freshman who return for sophomore year. (called retention rate) If that number is low, you’ll want to know why.

Merit aid.  Does the school give merit aid for students in the top 25% of its applicant pool? (Money you don’t have to pay back!)

For Seniors:

A second or third visit is great when feasible (this is a BIG decision).  I highly recommend staying the night on campus if that is offered through admissions or if your child knows a current student.Also, see if your student can sit in on a class, eat on campus, hang out in the library and talk to other students.  This should be done without you there (they won’t be going to college with you!).

Ask the hard questions of other students:

  • What do you like/not like about this school?
  • Would you apply here again? If not, why not?
  • What type of student is happy/does well here and which students are not a good fit?
  • Do the professors know your name?  Are they available for extra help?
  • What does everyone do on the weekend – how many kids go home?
  • How much emphasis is there on studying, partying, Greek life, sports, community service, etc.?

For Students with Learning Challenges:

In addition to all the areas mentioned above, you need to look into the availability of support services. If your child received services in high school, they will not automatically be renewed in college. There needs to be recent documentation of testing (within 3 years) and your student will need to initiate a request for services through the Office for Disability Services (or whatever it’s called at a given school).

All schools will offer some level of support when it is requested and approved but there is a wide range of available services offered at different schools. Some will be included with tuition and some will require a hefty additional fee. It is not required that a student disclose a disability or learning difference but they will not receive any support services (other than services such as tutoring that are available to all students) if they do not do so.

It’s a good idea to drop by the Disability Services Office and check out the support offered and the extent/qualifications of the staff. This is all confidential and is separate from any interactions with the admissions department.

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