Giving truth to Memphis youth
By Sudeshna Barman
White Station High School
If you’ve been to a couple college admissions visits or campus tours, chances are you’ve already noticed that admissions officers tend to recycle the same few lines over: “Our student body is so diverse! Our professors are so accessible! We have so many clubs, and if we don’t have it, you can start your own! Go to office hours!”
Are you tired of the same old, same old? Well, are you asking the right questions? Here are some things to listen for or ask about during an admissions information session, or look for in a college brochure or email.
Price tag: Always type your financial data into a school’s financial aid calculator before you think about paying for college. The price tag is in many cases inaccurate when looking at schools with need-based aid. Think about tuition in terms of what you will pay, not what you should pay.
Need-blind Admissions: This is a good thing. It means that your finance statements are processed separately from admissions. Your family’s wealth or lack thereof will not impact your chances of admission. A relatively few number of schools are need-blind, but those that are need-blind are also likely to be highly selective, top-tier schools. Even if a school is need-blind, they are probably need-aware for waitlisted, transfer, and international students.
Meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need: This is also a good thing. Meeting 100 percent of financial need means your family will pay only what it can afford according to the Free Application For Federal Student Aid.
Total Cost of Attendance (determined by the college) – Expected Family Contribution (taken from FAFSA) = Demonstrated
No loans policy: Many times a college will include loans in a financial aid package. How is that any different from you taking out loans on your own to pay for college? Look for a no-loans policy, which ensures that aid will come in the form of scholarships and grants (i.e. free money).
Merit-based scholarships: Selective schools may not offer them. Think about who is admitted to the Ivy Leagues. When all students are enormously talented in some way or another, it’s impossible to fairly award merit aid. On the other hand, many well-reputed schools, such as Vanderbilt, Emory, and Rice, do offer merit-based aid.
The College Scholarship Service Profile: Watch out! Selective schools and schools that meet 100 percent of demonstrated need are more likely to ask for the CSS Profile. This is because the CSS Profile looks at many things the FAFSA does not, such as home equity, and considers them assets. This reduces your financial need.
Greek Life: Take any statistics about Greek life with a grain of salt. For example, Rhodes College publishes that 50 percent of its students participate in Greek life.
Make sure you’re committed to a school’s social atmosphere before you commit to a school.
If you are visiting campus, eat at campus dining locations. Is there only one dining hall, or is there variety? Is it expensive? Is the food good? Check about vegetarian, vegan, kosher, and halal diet options. Make sure you understand how first-year meal plans work. Some schools, worried about freshmen not eating, make it mandatory to buy a full meal plan, in which you pay for 21 meals each week. If you plan to cook, this may not be the right choice for you.
Newspapers: Pick up a school newspaper during a campus visit. Most likely, there will be articles complaining about stuff: the administration’s newest policy, the food, or even the prevalence of crimes. This is one of the best ways to find out whether students are happy, or whether the school maintains policies that are against your values.
Freshman Retention Rates: This is another good way to find out whether students are happy. A high percentage of freshmen returning for a second year indicates two things: Students are not dropping out due to financial concerns, nor are they transferring due to problems adjusting to the school.
Most Popular Majors: If many students are concentrated in a few majors, it’s likely that program is very strong. If you’re looking to study chemistry, research schools where the most popular major is chemistry.
Four-year Graduation Rates
This indicates the percentage of students graduating ‘on time,’ or in four years. Sometimes, though, this indicates less how smart students are and more how important it is to the school for a student to graduate in four years. Bear in mind that many students switch majors or take a break from school for a year. Many times it is more useful to look at the six-year graduation rate.
Grad School Rates They’re less important than you think. For example, even Harvard does not send 100 percent of its pre-med students to a med school. It is true that a school with good advising programs and talented professors is more likely to send more pre-law students to law school, but it is equally and perhaps more important that the student has the ambition and motivation to succeed in college.
Can freshmen have cars? If you have a car and want to bring it to college, make sure the school you’re looking at allows freshmen to have cars. Even if they do, they may have parking permit fees costing hundreds or even a thousand dollars a year.
How do I get home? If you attend Williams College and don’t own a car, good luck coming home for the holidays. Located deep within Massachusetts and nearly two hours from the nearest airport, traveling can be a hassle. If the school is located in the middle of nowhere, make sure the school has a bus line or public transport system that can take you to nearby cities or airports. Also check that transportation is affordable and safe.
Body and Mind
Safety: Often ignored by prospective students, campus safety is a big issue. Especially if you’re looking at a large school or a women’s college, ensure that there is a strong campus police force. Check for a blue-light system or a special pick-up bus for weekend nights. Does the school have a large student health center?
Health: Student health is often similarly disregarded. Is there a full-time nurse or nurse practitioner? Can you get ibuprofen, bandages, or flu shots on campus? What about mental health? Rhodes College provides free over-the-counter medication and employs a psychiatrist in their student health center. Does the college offer health insurance included in tuition, like Agnes Scott College in Georgia? Does the college promote awareness of issues like STDs, cutting, suicide, smoking, drugs, and alcohol abuse?
Life After College
Unemployment is important: Some colleges publish figures about what students do after graduation. Some work, others go straight to grad school. Some will choose to travel, volunteer or take unpaid internships. A few may join the Peace Corps, Teach for America, or similar programs. The rest? They may be couch potatoes with the parents. In many cases, it is the student whose major is unemployable, is not motivated to search for a job, or is simply taking the time to find a better offer. But it could be that the school’s career services center is weak or unreliable.