Researching colleges is more important than ever.
Pandemic or no pandemic, researching colleges is an imperative for high school students. Typically, it involves many modes of research, including in-person campus visits and tours by students and families, and attending college representatives’ public information sessions and their visits to high schools. Gathering up all this information guides a student towards their short list of colleges, ranked in order of preference. Now, in the age of COVID, everything about college research has changed and teens must focus their efforts on online resources, the college website being the primary focus of that research. Fortunately, colleges have been enriching their websites and can provide students with a vast amount of information. Now, let’s dive!
Home Page: Always start with the college’s home page. Make sure you are not falling down a rabbit hole by entering sites without the .edu domain name. Typically, the header bar’s navigation menu will quickly link you to About Us, Academics/Undergraduate/Graduate, Admission/Visit & Financial Aid, Research, Student Life and maybe Careers and/or Alumni, but let’s be methodical.
Mission Statement: Read the mission statement. It can tell you a lot about the history and ethos of each college. You can often jump from this page to Fast Facts–read about class sizes, student/faculty ratios, graduation and retention rates. Explore the total number of undergraduate versus graduate students on campus and within your major, as this can impact your ease of access to faculty-led research.
Academics: Are you passionate about a particular major? Click on the Academics link and learn about undergraduate schools and colleges and whether your chosen major is available. Dive deeper into your major’s department–check out research options for first-year students; look at laboratory/computer/studio space; check in on what is the research focus within that department, and what minors are available? And if we assume that you may need extra academic support sometime, check out subject tutoring, writing support, and if you need it, LD support.
Admission: The Admission pages will probably become the link you frequent more than any other. It is from here that you’ll be able to start putting yourself into the culture of each institution. Look for admissions requirements such as testing, average GPA (if provided), minimum entry requirements (foreign language required?), and the admit rate. How do you fit? You will find a link to the application whether Common Application, Coalition Application or the college’s own application. Read the application checklist so you are aware of dates and deadlines, required supplements, auditions, essays, recommendations, interviews and maybe a resume. It is important to know all this well in advance, so you have time to prepare yourself properly, and avoid last minute surprises. Before you leave the AO links, join the mailing list. You’ll start to receive targeted communications to which you should respond. Sign up for a virtual visit and tour and register for any online information sessions or open houses. ‘Like’ their social media pages and connect there with current students.
Connections: While you are on the Admission pages, seek out the counselor responsible for your high school. If this college is a top choice for you, send that representative an introductory email. Comment on something you have learned, ask a question that isn’t easily answered by spending a minute or two on the website and ask to speak with a student in your preferred major. Build on this connection. As you deepen your interests, ask that counselor for a video chat, or the email address of a professor who may be able to respond to some specific academic questions.
Student Life: Remember that you are exploring your new ‘home’ away from home, so dive into student life. Look for links to Study Abroad options, Student Clubs and Organizations, your personal faith community, Greek Life options, on-campus work and volunteer opportunities. Whatever matters to you now needs to be found on your new college campus; the college must fit you and not the other way around.
Housing and Dining: If you will be living on campus, check out all available options. Would you be able to have a single room (doubt it)?, how many typically share a first-year dorm room (2-4)?, do they offer the special needs housing you require?, are there suites with shared facilities? Can you live with people who share your academic or personal interests in a living/learning type of environment? And where are the dining halls? Are there meal plans to suit your dietary requirements? Are vegan, kosher and halal dining options available? What about grabbing a quick sandwich and coffee in the morning? Can you get a pizza at midnight?
Health and Safety: Take a look at the location and ease of access to the Student Health Center. Can they support your special health needs? What about a counseling center, addiction support groups, and is there a hospital close by, just in case? Is there a campus police force and how do they protect students on campus? Look for locked dorms and a blue light system or something similar. Ask about escorts for single students walking back to their dorms very late at night.
Transportation: If a vehicle is an imperative for you, make sure you look into whether first- year students are even allowed to bring a car to campus and if so, where it can be parked. If you can’t or don’t want the liability of a car on campus, look into campus transport. Are there buses that circle campus day and night? Do they offer ease of movement between the dorms and the bulk of the classrooms? How early/late do they run? And can you use that campus bus to get off campus? Can it take you to the airport, the local mall or a dentist appointment downtown? Know before you go.
Money: Spend time researching the Financial Aid pages and use the online calculator to be sure that this college is a viable option for you and your family. Connect with a FA officer to ask your specific questions and keep your eyes open to scholarships and total costs.
Career: Finally, explore the Career Center and look for both internship and employment opportunities. It is always exciting to connect with alumni in the field of your interest. Does this college support students before graduation with job fairs, resume building workshops, and meetings with alumni?