by Claire D Friedlander
Now that the snow has cleared and the leaves are starting to show in many parts of the country, colleges expect an overwhelming number of high school juniors planning to visit their campuses. This is prime time for juniors. The attention of the admissions offices are turned fully in your direction. So, begin to think about how school days off in April or May or June will be most profitably spent.
You can travel in just about any direction and find colleges that satisfy the preliminary search criteria: a small college, a large college, an urban college, a rural college, a private college, a public college. Of course you may want to mix in colleges and universities as you develop your list. Keep in mind that every university has an undergraduate college that will house the departments of interest to you. Because they also teach graduate students, you may want to inquire as to how many of your courses will be taught by graduate students as opposed to full time faculty.
That is only one of the many questions you will need to consider as you begin your college quest. If you are pretty sure you have an undergraduate major in mind, you may want to know how many other requirements go along with that major. Will you be able to elect courses from other departments or will you be limited to that field. For those of you not certain about your course of study (and keep in mind that fully 50% of all freshman consider themselves to be “undecided”), will you have to stay an additional semester or year when you do make up your mind to cover all the requirements? These are just a couple of the questions that need to be on your list when visiting a campus.
What about housing or a car on campus during freshman year? What is the policy? Just about every college wants freshman to live on campus – and stay on campus. That is one of the reasons most frown on having a car at your disposal. Integrating into campus life in your new “home away from home” does not happen if you drive home every weekend. Finding out what activities occur on campus most weekends to keep students interested, relaxed and entertained is important. That will make it easier to evaluate if this is the right place for you.
Finding out about food or meal plans is important too. Some colleges have “healthy” options, others are set up as “stations”, and some are still cafeteria style with several choices. Kosher food plans or dining areas may exist. You can find meal plans differ as well. You may opt for two (2) meals a day five (5) days a week – a bare minimum -- to as many as 21 meals to be eaten anywhere on campus that food is served – either dining halls or food courts.
What about Jewish life on campus? Is there a Jewish student association, a Hillel, a place where kosher food is available? What efforts are made to accommodate students who stay on campus during the high holy days in the fall or Pesach in the spring? Is the food service “Passover friendly” in the options it offers? Do not hesitate to ask an admissions officer or the student tour guide if a Jewish student would be comfortable on this campus. If you have doubts, ask to speak with the advisor for Jewish life; stop in at the center for most Jewish programming or activities or visit. This is a common question you should be asking – just to satisfy yourself that the campus has an open and friendly attitude toward Jewish students. For additional information about Jewish life on campus, visit Hillel's Online Guide to Jewish Life on Campus.
Be sure you take notes on the range of SAT or ACT scores of the class that is now in their freshman year. Is this a college that looks at the Writing part of the SAT? Are any SAT Subject Tests required or “suggested” for admission? Because you learn what the current class requirements were does not mean they may not change for the next class. Be sure to listen during the Information Session. Having a small note pad or other device to note what is important is a great idea. The admissions staff member who is doing the information session will probably indicate the range of states from which the class is drawn. If it is heavily from just one region of the country, this can be either good or bad – depending on how strong a student you are compared with others from your area attending that school. In other words, the competition would be greatest the more enrolled students there are from your general area. On the other hand one could say that the college has been successful recruiting students from this area.
Information Sessions and Campus Tours are the two (2) reasons why you want to schedule your college visits. You need to call ahead for given dates and times. Do NOT depend on the web site for accuracy during a school vacation week. Some colleges will want you to pre-register for a specific time and date. This is to accommodate all the families they expect and allow them to plan accordingly. It is best to schedule the information session BEFORE the campus tour, as that prepares you for what you will be seeing and hearing about from the student guide perspective.
Any more questions? You can always call the College Consultant at Jewish Family Service: (203) 921-4161, (203) 454-4992 or (203) 622-1881.
Claire D Friedlander is licensed professional counselor in Connecticut and a national board certified counselor. She is the College Consultant for Jewish Family Service agencies in lower southwestern Fairfield County towns in Connecticut. Claire is a member of the Executive Board of the Higher Education Consultants Association and a member of the National Association of Colleges Admissions Counseling.