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So your child has graduated from high school and now has their heart set on attending a particular college. When you ask why they want to go to that specific college, the answer you get isn’t what you really wanted to hear.
“Mom, this college is famous for having awesome fraternities and lots of clubs to hang out in on the weekends!”
Now, what do you do? The best way to avoid a potential crisis like this is to start researching colleges as soon as your child starts their senior year of high school. It’s not necessary for 18-year-olds to know what they want to do when they grow up. However, it is important to enroll them in an accredited college with an excellent academic reputation, student resources, and ample opportunities to apply for available scholarships.
1. What is the College’s Graduation Rate?
Graduation rates for U.S. colleges are listed on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System’s website. You can also find other valuable information about colleges and universities using the IES, such as tuition fees, a full list of programs and majors, and campus security statistics. While graduation rate seems like something a parent should consider when researching colleges, it shouldn’t be the only thing you look at. For example, less than 50 percent of U.S. college students earn their degree in four years. Only about 60 percent graduate with a B.A. in six years. In most cases, a student’s inability to graduate in four years has nothing to do with the college and more with the student’s financial resources. Moreover, public universities will always present a lower graduation rate than more elite universities. This is simply because students at public universities do not have the financial resources a Harvard or Yale student might have.
2. What is the Student to Faculty Ratio at the College?
The average student to faculty ratio for U.S. colleges is about 18 students to one professor. However, your child will likely have some classes during their freshman year with over 100 students in attendance. Classes held in auditoriums are typically general education classes such as English, algebra, or basic biology required for students to graduate with a B.A. or B.S degree. Specialty classes providing instructions for a student’s major will be available during their sophomore, junior, and senior years. Those classes should have acceptable student-to-faculty ratios to make sure students are receiving adequate attention and access to professors when they need help.
3. What Student Health Programs Are Available?
Different levels of health insurance are typically offered by colleges to students who are enrolled in classes. Students attending public universities may purchase medical and/or dental insurance that can be paid out-of-pocket or with their financial aid award. In most cases, students don’t need to live on campus to take advantage of college-based health insurance, but they may have to carry a specific amount of credits to be eligible. Health insurance and medical resources offered by a college should include the provision of pregnancy testing, physicals, option for flu shots, immunizations, and psychological counseling.
4. Does the College Help Students with Finding Jobs After Graduating with a B.A. Degree?
Within six months of not being enrolled in college — whether they graduate or leave for personal reasons — students are expected to begin making payments on their federal student loans. Most colleges offer job placement services, but the quality of assistance varies greatly. If you can’t find information about job placement services on a college’s website, call the admissions office and ask to be redirected to their job placement director. Many colleges are affiliated with companies in their area that prioritize hiring graduates from their schools. Local industries consistently hiring students graduating with bachelor’s degrees include computer engineering, healthcare, and administrative positions.
5. Are All Academic Programs Accredited by Licensed Agencies?
The U.S Department of Education states: “The goal of accrediting higher learning institutions is to ensure educational programs provided by the institution meets or exceeds acceptable levels of quality.” To search for a college’s accreditations, visit the U.S. DOE Postsecondary Accreditation database. Colleges and universities are accredited by themselves, with each course program (nursing, engineering, etc.) accredited by a separate agency.
6. Should Your Child Consider a Gap Year?
In the United States, going to college immediately after high school graduation is the cultural norm. In other places around the world, it is normal and even encouraged for students to take a year off from schooling following high school completion. This year is traditionally meant for traveling, working, and generally figuring out a little more clearly what a student wants to do with their life. Choosing a college is very important, but choosing whether a student is ready for college can be even more so important.
Taking a year off schooling may not be commonplace in the United States, but that year can be very transformative and eye-opening for some. The traditional age for a college student is young. Very few individuals have a good grasp on what life path interests them most. Does your child want to pursue a career in writing? Or do they love cutting hair and want to instead pursue a cosmetology degree?
Many high school students are eager to fly the nest after graduation, only to become incredibly homesick once the fall semester rolls around. A year set aside for self-exploration can help a student get a real sense of how close — or far — they want to be away from home for college. It’s no secret college in the United States is expensive. Of course, there are always ways to figure out how to pay, but the bill is still there.
A year off from school used wisely can also make a student stand out in college applications. College admissions will be curious to see how productive they were during their time off; they can take that as an opportunity to shine in their admissions essay. There are many factors to consider when helping your child choose a college. The key is to prepare and not to get overwhelmed. If a positive mindset is kept, the college admissions process can even be considered enjoyable.
Guest Post by: Susana Bradford