Don't discount the quality of community colleges

Once considered a “stepchild” of higher education, many community colleges are now innovators and well deserving of the title.

Half of all current college students attend a community college.

Federal and state funding for community colleges has increased over the past several years and a great deal is being done at the community college level to match majors with workforce needs.

I recommend, especially if finances are a major issue for you, taking a serious look at enrolling in a two year school first and then transferring to a four-year college or university.

This will save you the cost of a four-year bachelor’s degree at a more expensive school while still allowing you to graduate with a degree from that four year school.  Most community college students live at home so that saves you the cost of residence hall expenses.  And most community college students work and do not borrow to meet living expenses.

If you decide to go the community college route, do the same investigation that you would do if you planned on attending a four year school.

  •  Find out the successful transfer rate of the community college, the schools students transfer into, the percentage of students who stay for two years, the most popular majors, and the average debt.
  •  Find out how many of the students with an associate’s degree get a job at graduation.
  • Be certain that your future career interests can be met by the curriculum.

I have a colleague who recently told me that he put all three of his children through college and graduate school with a cumulative debt of $90,000.  And all three first attended a community college!

College housing can make or break your first year

Once you’ve been accepted to college, the next big decision is college housing.

Where you decide to live can either help you succeed in the first semester of your college career, or it can contribute to you wanting to transfer to another school.

There are many options for you to consider if you decide to live on campus, including:

  • Single-sex residence halls – no members of the opposite sex
  • Substance-free residence halls – no alcohol or drugs are permitted
  • Honors housing – Some colleges and universities house their honors students together
  • Special-interest residence halls – certain majors may be grouped together.  Some schools assign international students to the same residence halls, but I don’t recommend this.  I think it would be better for an international student to have the experience of living with an American student.

Most colleges and universities have single rooms, double rooms and suite-like configuration of rooms where several students live in a group setting.

Don’t count on getting a single room.  Few schools can offer that option.  Doubles and suites are more common. Find out if your school will let you “negotiate” who you want to live with and be certain to find out what you can do if your housing situation becomes intolerable.  What options do you have?

If for some reason, your financial situation changes, and you need to commute from home to campus, know how to petition to be released from your housing contract.

I can’t stress enough the importance of a good housing situation. There are so many changes and new experiences in the first semester. You need to be able to come back to a comfortable space that you can call “home.”

Make the most out of your college campus visits

College Guide Most prospective college students and their parents want to make college campus visits before deciding to apply.

And that is good strategy, a right of passage in many ways.

The guidelines in my book, The New College Guide: How to Get In, Get Out, and Get a Job shows you how to narrow your choices so that you are not travelling all over the country to visit several schools.

One of my daughters visited 23 college campuses and enrolled in the first one she visited!  There is no need for you to do that.  Read the book and narrow your choices to perhaps ten schools. You may have more or less, but use ten as a benchmark.

When you visit a school try to spend more than the time allotted by the admission office. If you can, arrange to spend a night is a residence hall.  If you can, arrange to sit in on one first year class and one upper level class. Try, if you can, to meet with a professor in your major (if you have one).

Read bulletin boards and pick up a copy of the college newspaper. Forget about being shy and talk to students in the cafeteria, in the library, wherever you can.

Make sure you stop by the registrar’s office and get a copy of the catalog.  Don’t forget to meet someone in the financial aid office.  Pick up forms if they are available. Stop by the career counseling center and speak with someone about what career counseling you can expect from your first year through your senior year.

Be your own investigator and advocate.

Early College Acceptance Programs

If you have already picked your top choice for college or university, you may want to think about early college acceptance programs.

If you have read and followed the guidelines in my book, The New College Guide:  How to Get In, Get Out, and Get a Job, you may already know early college acceptance programs exist at most schools and the programs have advantages and disadvantages.

Some early acceptance programs include:

  • Early Action (EA) – You submit an application before November 1st,  notified of a decision by December 15.  However, if you receive an acceptance, it is not binding that you attend this school. You have until May 1st school of your decision and you are free to apply to other schools.
  • Early Decision (ED) – You submit an application by November 1st and will be notified of a decision by December 15th.  However, if you receive an acceptance, it is binding that you attend this school.  You may not apply to other schools.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Early Acceptance Programs

  • If you know for sure where you want to enroll and have done your homework and know that you have a very good chance of being accepted, then you should seriously consider applying as an ED candidate.  If you are accepted, this will save you time and anxiety for the rest for your senior year.  If you have done your homework,, you know you can afford to attend this school and that your academic and financial needs will be met.
  • If you are somewhat certain that you want to attend a particular school and you know you have a good chance of being accepted, then go ahead and apply as an EA candidate.  If you are accepted, you still have the opportunity to apply to other schools and compare financial aid awards.  But you have time, until May 1st to make a final decision.

College Guide
I seriously believe that after reading my book, you will choose one of these options.

Good luck.

Some college behavior still protected by privacy

In these days when it seems nothing is private,  college students still have a right of privacy in some matters.

You should be aware of two federal laws which protect your privacy:

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health, Information, Portability, and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

  • FERPA laws prevent colleges and universities from releasing information about academic or disciplinary matters to anyone, including parents, without the consent of the student.
  • HIPAA prevents health care providers from releasing information to anyone, including parents, about a student’s health record.

Colleges and universities are allowed to give out public information that is available online.  Some schools will provide information, especially if drugs or alcohol are involved.  But each school has its own published set of rules and you and your parents should be aware of the guidelines before you enroll on campus.

Many parents are annoyed that even though they are paying the bill, they don’t have access to their child’s academic or health records.

It was at the graduation ceremony for my second daughter, when she received a number of academic awards, that my husband and I were first made aware of how smart she was and how successful her college career had been.  I was proud of her, of course, but I admit that I felt annoyed that up to that point, we had not received any formal notification from the school about her grades or progress.

These laws have as many supporters as they do detractors.  I guess I fall into the latter category.  But the laws are the laws.  I urge you and your parents to know what they are so you won’t be either surprised or disappointed.