If your teen has been accepted into college it’s time to celebrate. But now comes the hard part if they have a choice of schools. Attending an Accepted Students Day is a smart way to help seniors make their final college decision.
Most colleges have an Accepted Students Day which is an optimal time to revisit schools where your teen has been accepted. Although schools sometimes offer programs for parents, this might be a good opportunity for your student to visit by themselves. After all, they will soon have to be on their own anyway. If there is not an Accepted Students Day or the time is not convenient, the admissions office at most colleges can arrange an individual visit including times when your teen can attend a class, eat in the dining hall and, possibly, spend the night in a residence hall.
Why Attend Accepted Students Day?
Accepted Student Day is an opportunity for your student to ask some hard questions of the faculty, staff, and students, create a comparative list of plusses and minuses, and make an informed and final decision on where to attend college.
But there’s another compelling reason why your teen should revisit the colleges that have accepted them, namely to avoid buyer’s remorse later on. Cathy Quackenbush, coordinator of counseling at Mamaroneck High School in New York, points out that it is fairly common and even natural for college students to hit a “rough patch” somewhere during their first or second years of college. This is the time when things become challenging both academically and socially and, consequently, when some students wonder whether they made the right college choice. She believes that when this happens it is helpful for that student to look back on the decision process they used in selecting the college they are now attending and know that they really owned it.
Believing that it was their decision to attend a particular school and recalling why they fell in love with it can often aid in a more speedy recovery.
On the other hand, someone who is struggling and doesn’t feel they did a very good job vetting the colleges that accepted them or doesn’t completely understand why they ended up where they did might give up during these difficult times. Cathy points that this is when the process of transferring usually begins.
Here are some suggestions for a campus return visit from my perspective, as a former college president and dad who went through the process with my daughters.
20 Tips for Students Attending Accepted Students Day
The great thing about higher education in America is its diversity: There is a college for practically anyone. But when revisiting a college, your teen (with your help) needs to decide what their priorities really are:
1.Size: Large, medium or small university or college? Large universities have their virtues including a larger number of majors and course offerings but they also often have larger classes and lack the kind of personalized attention smaller institutions can offer.
2.Sports: “Walk-ons” are encouraged at most NCAA Division III institution. If they decide to attend a large university (most of which are Division I) they might not make the team unless, of course, they received an athletic scholarship. Club sports are an option that are also worth exploring for athletic-minded students.
3.Proximity to home: Does your teen want to attend college close to home or go far away? In the middle of a big city or in a rural or suburban area? With a warm climate or with four seasons?
Revisiting campuses will often answer these and other questions in a more focused way than when your student first applied to these colleges.
Explore the Campus
As Chris Dearth, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Wesley College in Dover, Delaware points out, admissions professionals are trained to paint their college in the best possible light. He encourages accepted students returning to campus to speak primarily with those outside of the admissions area so that they get a more complete sense of the campus climate and whether or not there is a fit with their personality.
Here are some things your student should consider doing when revisiting a campus:
4.Visit a class: Are most classes large or small? Are students engaged in learning through discussion and debate or do they just sit in a large lecture room and placidly take notes while the professor lectures?
5.Eat at the dining hall: Healthy eating is big with today’s college students and no two college dining halls are the same. But a critical question to ask is whether there is a variety of food and whether the food is healthy.
6.Extracurriculars: They should check out what kinds of extracurricular activities are available, both during the day and after hours. Is this a suitcase campus where everyone goes home on the weekend or are there lots of things to do?
(A note of caution: If your child is spending the night and is invited by their residence hall host to go out drinking, they should politely decline. Not only is underage drinking illegal, but it’s a bad idea for many other reasons as well. I remember having to deal with two accepted students at my college getting involved in a bar fight during Accepted Students Day. As a consequence, they were disinvited to attend.)
7.Vibe: Are the students walking across campus smiling or frowning? If the latter, they might not be happy campers. Your teen should talk to current students and get their personal impressions of the college.
8.Learning or physical disabilities: If your student has a learning or physical disability and has not yet checked in with the office of Disabilities Services, this is the time to do it. If the office is understaffed and/or cannot address their particular disability they might want to reconsider.
9.Major: Majors don’t need to be declared until the end of sophomore year and many first-year students who think they know what they will major in end up majoring in something else. If your teen has an idea about a major, they should check out the academic offerings and/or attend a class in that subject. But this shouldn’t be the only reason they attend Accepted Students Day.
Renegotiate Your Student’s Financial Aid Package
This is a job for you and your student together and I’m probably going to be cursed by my colleagues in the financial aid area for even suggesting it. But if your teen has been accepted at two or more colleges that have offered unequal financial aid packages, this might a good time to bargain for a better financial aid package meaning more scholarship and fewer loans.
10. Financial aid package: If your request for more money is reasonable and if the college really wants your student, this strategy might work. You will need to bring with you the higher financial aid offer of a competing college and ask that they consider matching it. Having said this it is important to look at paying for college as an investment not a purchase. As Chris Dearth, the enrollment Vice President at Wesley College, points out,
While it is important to negotiate your child’s financial aid package based on family circumstances, don’t make the final decision based on the lowest cost. Academic quality, successful outcomes, and fit are more important than getting a good deal when it comes to your son or daughter’s future.
Get a Campus Crime Report
When I was president of Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania a young woman attending Lehigh University (also in Bethlehem) was brutally murdered by a male classmate in her residence hall. The result was the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (or Clery Act), signed into law in 1990. Today, all colleges and universities in the United States must file this report on an annual basis and make it available to the public.
11. Crime Report: The report includes data on aggravated assault, robbery, murders, burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson, and arrests. If you accompany your student to Accepted Students Day you should visit the Campus Security Office and ask for a copy. If you can’t accompany your student, ask the admissions office to send you one.
College campuses are among the safest places in America to be and on many campuses the most frequent crime is petty theft. But if you see a high level of sexual assault or arrests this might send up a red flag. Also, ironically, colleges with more sophisticated campus security operations tend to have a slightly higher reported crime rate than colleges that don’t, and for obvious reasons. Understaffed colleges simply don’t have the personnel to report everything that is happening. So if you can’t find the campus security office, this might be a concern as well.
Racial and Religious Organizations
12. Organizations: If your teen is a racial or religious minority, they might want to explore what organizations are available to them. African American or Hispanic students, besides wanting to know how diversity is promoted on campus, should visit (if they exist) the Black Student Union or the Hispanic Center. Likewise, Jewish or Catholic students who are deeply involved with their faith communities and are attending non-Jewish or non-Catholic institutions might want to check out Hillel (Jewish) or the Newman Society (Catholic) to also see if there is a viable religious community to support them.
Ask Hard Questions
When your teen was applying to college, he or she might have been reluctant to ask hard or embarrassing questions of the admissions office. When revisiting colleges that have accepted them, they should talk to the students, professors and members of the administration they meet and ask questions like these:
13. Graduation rate: What percentage of students graduate after four years? If the four year graduation rate is extremely low, they might want to ask why.
14. Freshman retention: What percentage of first-year students don’t return? An attrition rate of over 40% should be of concern.
15. Post Graduate Employment: What percentage of graduates ends up one year after graduation either in full paying jobs or in graduate/professional school?
16. Professors: Who teaches—real professors or adjuncts?
I will never forget the tour I took at a well-known research university with my youngest daughter. We were in the university’s amazing library, and the tour guide, a sophomore, was bragging about the fact that most of his teachers were graduate assistants. “They’re really cool,” he said, “and understand our generation.” A mother standing next to me uttered sotto voce (but loud enough for everyone to hear), “Why am I paying a small fortune to have my child taught by someone who is only a couple years older than she is?”
17.Fit: Encourage your teen, while walking around the various campuses, to ask the question “Can I see myself being here?” If the answer is “no” then maybe this college isn’t the right place.
18. Deposit: After making a final decision, remind your teen to send in a letter of acceptance (including acceptance of financial aid) along with the deposit. Remind them of the reply deadline (usually May 1) to avoid the mistake many students make only to discover that their acceptance has been rescinded.
19. Other colleges: They should also decline their acceptance at the other college. This will free up space for students on the waiting list.
20. Final high school transcript: Know that acceptance is contingent on the successful completion of high school. Colleges are known to withdraw acceptances if senior year grades fall or the student is suspended for some youthful indiscretion like doing drugs.
One last word: Choosing a college should be your teen’s decision, not yours. Of course you must weigh in on matters like college cost because, unless your student got a full scholarship, you will end up paying most of the bills. But apart from cost, be a sounding board for your teen but let them have the final say.
Dr. Roger Martin is a retired college president and former Harvard dean. His book Off to College: A Guide for Parents (Chicago Guides to Academic Life)was published last August by the University of Chicago Press. He writes extensively about the transition from high school to college on his Facebook page, Off to College 101.