Characteristics your Child should Consider
First, help your child identify priorities. Next, the two of you should research the characteristics of a range of colleges. Finally, match these up. Here are some college characteristics to consider.
Type of College
Colleges are generally either two-year or four-year. At two-year colleges, students can earn an associate degree. At most four-year colleges, students can earn a bachelor's degree.
Colleges are also categorized as either public or private. Public and private colleges vary in size and available resources. Public colleges are funded by state and local governments, and usually charge lower tuition prices for students who live in their state. That means that the ones in your state may be more affordable for your family. Remember, though, that both public and private colleges offer financial aid from various sources.
- Range of majors offered
- Extracurricular possibilities
- Amount of personal attention your child will receive
- Variety of academic facilities, including labs, libraries and art studios
Location Is your child interested in staying close to home, or eager to experience a new part of the country? Perhaps an urban environment with access to museums, ethnic food and major league ball games is an attractive idea. Or maybe your child hopes for easy access to the outdoors and the serenity of a small town. Talk about what location and environment would be the most comfortable.
Majors If your child has decided on a major already, you and your child can look into the reputations of academic departments in that subject. Doing some online research is a good start. If it’s possible to talk with people who work in that field, that’s even better.
If undecided, your child should pick an academically balanced institution that offers a range of majors and programs. Most colleges offer advising to help students find a focus.
Cost and Financial Aid Today's college price tag makes cost an important consideration for most students. That said, keep in mind that almost every college works with its financial aid office to make sure that academically qualified students can attend.
Campus Life Your child should think about what college life will be like beyond the classroom, and aim for a balance between academics, activities and social life.
Sports and Activities Most students pursue interests other than academics while they are at college. Your child might be considering playing a sport at the intramural or varsity level, or might want to get involved with the campus radio or television station. Remind your child to make sure that any favorite activity is available at the colleges being considered.
Housing and Programs Often, part of the college experience is living as part of a community. Your child should consider which aspects of college life — such as living on campus, or joining a fraternity or sorority — are important.
When considering academics, look for special programs and pick a college that offers many possibilities, such as study abroad or work-study.
Diversity Your child should consider what might be gained from living and learning among students with diverse backgrounds. Ethnic, racial and religious diversity on campus can be a means of learning more about the world. To get an idea of what it might be like, your child should investigate what kinds of student organizations, or other groups with ethnic or religious foundations, are active and visible on campus.
Another option is a single-sex college. There are colleges specifically for men and others specifically for women throughout the country. Students who feel they would thrive in a same-sex environment might want to consider one of these.
Your Child’s Ideal Campus What makes the campus a place your child can feel at home? To help figure it out, ask your child to think about the answers to these questions:
- What extracurricular activities and athletics are available?
- Does the community around the college offer interesting outlets for students?
- Are students welcomed by the community?
- How do fraternities and sororities influence campus life?
- Is housing guaranteed?
- How are dorms assigned?
- What ethnic, religious, and special-interest organizations are on campus?
Retention and Graduation Rates One of the best ways to judge a college's quality and the satisfaction of its students is to find out the percentage of students who return after the first year (called the retention rate) and the percentage of entering students who stay until graduation. Good retention and graduation rates are a sign that the college has good academic, social and financial support systems for students.