4 Questions to Help Parents, Students Compare College Admissions Offers

After years of planning, months of research and weeks of travel to and from college campuses, your high school senior has finally begun to receive college acceptance letters. Chances are you reached this point as a team, and chances are that not all of your student’s admissions offers are equally attractive.

Now that your child must choose a college to attend, it is time to work together again. Here are four questions to ask that can help both of you through the selection process.

1. How does each school support new students? Nearly all freshmen face an adjustment period when they start college. In a matter of days, they leave behind their friends, family and familiar routines. The habits that become their new normal can be critical to their long-term success. As such, face-to-face programs that engage freshman students are extremely important.

Here are [three reasons not to overthink your final college choice.]

While every college has a freshman orientation, some schools have created a more robust introduction to college life. Texas Wesleyan University, where I once worked as an adjunct professor, offers The Freshman Success Experience, a one-credit course that focuses on adjusting to higher education. A class that extends beyond welcome week activities can help students develop useful skills and make new friends.

While each school will be unique in its offerings, admissions staff should be able to provide you with concrete details about their college’s program.

2. What long-term support structures are in place? College can be challenging, and many students find themselves in need of occasional support. Most schools offer academic and mental health services, but their availability and types may vary.

Before your student accepts an offer, consider calling the health center and inquiring about the average wait time for students who request a mental health appointment. You can also ask how this timeline changes in the weeks surrounding final exams.

Get [advice from current students on making the right college choice.]

For academic support, try to search for class work or homework assistance on the school’s website. If this information is difficult to locate, it is possible that the college has not made such assistance a top priority. But it is crucial to double-check.

When I was a graduate instructor, I often found that students in my science classes needed extra help with math, but there was no math tutoring available. Your child may never require these services, but it is a great idea to investigate whether they exist.

3. How does academic advising work? Shortly after signing his or her acceptance letter, your student may need to choose classes for the fall semester. Even small schools have dozens of options, let alone the hundreds of possibilities at large universities.

You will have to consider which courses will be most useful when selecting a major, which are anonymous lectures and which are intimate seminars. You will need to know where to access student evaluations for classes and individual instructors.

Check out [five must-do tasks for the summer before college.]

In the best-case scenario, each freshman is paired with an academic adviser who can answer such questions. Ask how soon your student can meet with an adviser, as well as how that interaction occurs and what a normal wait time is for an appointment. A great adviser can help your child stay on course for graduation and maximize the college experience on a consistent basis.

4. What is the financial aid fine print? General affordability may have factored into your student’s initial choice of schools, but once he or she receives specific financial aid offers, you can begin to focus on the details. For instance, ask if the college will reduce its aid if your child wins outside grants or scholarships. Rather than being surprised when the first tuition bill arrives, be proactive and ask ahead of time.

Many financial aid packages also include loans. This is an opportune time to investigate interest rates, repayment structures and who owns the loan. Even though two schools may appear to offer equivalent aid packages in terms of out-of-pocket expenses, the types of available loans can create a significant difference in long-term cost.

Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University.

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