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So, you’re sending your 18-year-old baby off to college. What should you expect? And how should students get ready for the most significant decision of their young life?
>> “We like to tell students and their families that it’s all about finding the right fit,” says Amanda Paulus, Enrollment Management and Student Services Advisor of Kent State University at Stark.
According to Paulus, this means getting onto college campuses early and visiting often, as well as arranging to meet with an admissions counselor, having a guided tour of campus and, if possible, talking with faculty.
“It’s not until you’re walking the halls and greens of campus that you truly get a sense for the environment that you will be investing in.” she says.
Sarah Bishop, a graduate from The University of Akron and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, says parents should know that the first year at college is often the most difficult, and students are often forced to learn through trial and error. Having an empathetic parent during this time can make students aware that mistakes are part of the process and reminds them that someone’s in their corner, even when the right path isn't clear.
“Parents often feel anxious about sending their kids off to college for the first time, but sometimes it's less obvious that the students are feeling insecure themselves,” Bishop says. “A parent's calm influence during the process can make a huge difference.”
Things are going to change for your teenager whether you like it or not. Their newborn freedom may come to haunt them in the long run. Bishop, who has also worked as an adjunct professor at Kent State University, strongly recommends that first-time students prepare to be their own motivators.
“No one forces them to get out of bed in the morning, and instructors won't come looking for them if they don't attend class,” she says. “But this freedom often becomes a detriment when students realize they're behind and aren't sure what to do about it.”
>> It’s important to come prepared when picking the right college. Students should make a list of what they hope to get out of their visit and see if the school meets those expectations. They should explore every inch of the university so they have plenty of reasons to make a final decision.
“Choosing the right school is never about a single characteristic, but rather making sure that the big picture fits together well and is appealing as a whole,” Bishop says.
One of the most crucial things a first-time student should find is a healthy middle-ground between school and social endeavors. Some students walk a thin line between the two during their first few semesters on campus.
“The truth is, most college students can find the balance between the social aspect and the actual education part of college,” says Hannah Harbert, an instructor in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at Kent State University. “It might take them getting a D on an exam to find the balance, but it will happen.”
If there's one thing that will ensure success more than anything else, it’s keeping an open mind and being willing to accept criticism. “You’re new at this, and the faculty members are the experts,” Harbert says. “You need to be a sponge and forego any all-knowing mindset you may have arrived with.”
And finally, parents need to be aware that it’s time to loosen the reigns.
“They’re not doing their children any favors by completing their college applications for them, scheduling their campus visits or choosing a major on their behalf,” Paulus says. “Parents need to encourage independence and sound decision-making, and this can only begin if a parent lets students take the initiative.”
Five Things Students Should Know Before Taking a College Tour
* Take a look at the campus on your own. Sometimes the formal guided tour only shows you places the college wants you to see. Check out the area by yourself so you can see what’s going on around campus.
* Ask if you can attend a class in your intended major. This way you can get a feel for what you’re getting yourself into. You’ll see how different college classes can be from your days in high school.
* Talk to students at the campus; there’s no better way to find out if the school is the right fit for you. Sometimes students who organize the college tours glorify a thing or two. By talking to other students throughout the campus, and even within your desired major, you’ll receive a more honest view of the university.
* Bring a notepad and maybe even a camera. Take more than mental notes of the campus when you visit. Make a list of the pros and cons of each school you visit, and snap a few pictures on your smart phone of places you enjoy or things you may want to research further.
* Sneak away to check out the residential buildings and social activities going on around campus. Model dorms or apartments are occasionally fashioned to look like they belong in an Ikea catalog. Make sure you get an eye for what you’ll really be experiencing at the beginning of the school year. Also, be on the lookout for what’s going on in the area. Having a social life at school can be just as important as studying for your next exam.
If you’re not able to visit every school on your list, many colleges now offer