Finding colleges that meet your academic, social, and financial needs is important, but there is much more research that needs to be done. Colleges try to answer the big questions in their marketing materials and websites. However, there are some things that are just as important, but not always things students and parents think about when considering colleges. Below is a list of commonly overlooked questions and areas that students and parents should consider when looking at colleges.
- Freshman retention rate. The freshman retention rate will tell students how many of the freshmen return for their sophomore year. A high retention rate usually indicates students are satisfied with their experience at the institution. If the institution has a low retention rate, it may be worth asking why students are not returning.
- Graduation rates. What percentage of students graduate from the college? What is the four-year graduate rate? Six-year graduation rate? While freshman retention rates may be high, graduation rates could be low. Students should find out these statistics, and if the rates are low, ask why.
- Course availability. Many graduates from four-year colleges took more than four years to graduate. Sometimes the reason for this is because students cannot register for the classes they need to graduate. A good question to ask the institutions is if it is possible to graduate in four-years. In addition, it may be worth asking if it is difficult to register for the classes students need each semester. Students should also keep in mind that many of the federal, state, and institutional grants and scholarships are only for four years. If it takes you longer to graduate, the scholarships and grants may not be there to help.
- Academic support. For many students, they find college much more difficult than their high school classes. Some students may need help transitioning to college. Many colleges offer freshman experience courses, as well as resources to help students transition to college, such as classes on note taking, studying, and time management. Other students may need additional help with their academics, such as tutoring. If students need any of these resources, they should check with the college to see if they offer them to students.
- Campus safety. By law, every college and university must have their crime statistics available for anyone who wants to see them. The campus tour guide will talk about the well-lit campus and the emergency phones, but the statistics available from the campus safety/police department will give in depth information about crimes that happens on and near campus.
- Surrounding community. Researching online may not give students enough information about the surrounding community. The college campus might be a serene place to be, but once a student walks off campus, it may feel like a different world. When doing research online, check out area maps to see what is around the area. In addition, check for the city or town crime statistics. When visiting the campus, students should make sure to check out the area surrounding campus. While students will be spending a lot of time on campus, students will need to venture off campus during the school year.
- Transportation. For students who plan on having a car on campus, what is the cost to park a car on campus? For students who will not be bringing a car, is there a reliable public transportation system near the college? Is the public transportation system easy to navigate? Is it easy to travel to the airport or train station when using public transportation?
- Campus housing. When visiting college campuses, tour guides usually show the nicest residence halls. However, it may not be the dorm a student will be placed when housing assignment are made in the summer. Therefore, students should ask about all of the possible residence halls they may be placed in and ask to see those locations. Not all residence halls are created equal, so it is good to see all the options available. This can work to a students benefit when filling out the housing application because they may be able to give preferences as to what building they want to be placed.
- Dining services. Some colleges have multiple dining halls, while others have only one. Students should make sure the college has the dining options they will need while living away from home. In addition, they should pay attention to the hours dining services are available. Smaller colleges may only be open during meal times, while larger colleges may offer continuous service throughout the day. And, don’t forget to sample the food while visiting campus.
- Health services. Everyone gets sick sometimes, including college students away from home for the first time. Some colleges have hospitals on or near their campuses, and others have a health center with a nurse and/or doctor available during the day. Students and parents should find out the health care options on or near campus so that students know where they will need to go if they get sick or hurt while away at school.
- Study abroad. Many students want to study abroad while they are in college. However, study abroad is not the same at every college. Can financial aid be used to cover study abroad for everyone, including students majoring in a subject that does not require study abroad? Will courses taken abroad transfer so that students will stay on track to graduate on time?
- Financial aid. Students and parents love to hear about the scholarships offered by colleges. However, not all scholarships are renewable. When researching cost of attendance and financial aid options, students should learn about the terms of the scholarships offered. It could be very unfortunate for a student to accept an offer to a college with a generous financial aid offer and then find out the second year that the financial aid will be considerably less.
- Career services. The goal of many students is to find an amazing job after college graduation. However, jobs are not just handled out to college graduates. Having a supportive career center on campus can be very helpful during a student’s college career. In addition to helping students find jobs, they can also offer services such as resume writing, interview skills, and career counseling.
Finding a college with the majors and activities you want is usually easy. But, there is a lot more to finding a college. The above items will help you get to know a college a little better and probably help you narrow down your college list.