3 Things You Need To Know Before Applying To College

Time flies, right?

Time flies, right?

Recruiters are paid to put a pretty face on institutions. How do you know what factors your family’s not considering?

College application season is nearly upon us and it’s an exciting a time for high school seniors, as well as a nerve-wracking time for parents. You've no doubt gone through your budget, talked about majors and programs, maybe visited a few campuses with your kid. You may have even forked out cash for a subscription to a school-ranking website, or walked through college fairs with your teenager, collecting piles of glossy pamphlets that make every campus look fabulous.

It’s easy to be charmed by great marketing, and by recruitment officers who come calling at high schools across the country every fall. But recruiters are paid to put a pretty face on institutions, and don't eagerly volunteer information that might make your student less likely to apply. How do you know what factors your family’s not considering? Here are three questions you and your student should ask of any school before filling out that application:

1. How much does the school rely on adjunct faculty?

You could be forgiven for thinking that colleges and universities offer good wages and working conditions to the people teaching your student. Look at that tuition bill, after all! But the sad truth is that many schools rely on adjunct faculty members, not tenured or tenure-track professors, to teach classes. Adjuncts typically receive no benefits, have short contracts that can keep them in job-security limbo, have limited control over their syllabi and curricula, and are paid such low wages that many teach courses at multiple schools at once just to make ends meet. These faculty members might not even have campus space in which to meet with students during office hours.

That’s not just bad news for adjunct professors — that’s bad news for your student. Researchers at The Delphi Project have found that as students take more classes from adjunct faculty — who have less time to prepare for classes or to grade student work, along with fewer resources to help their students succeed — graduation rates decline.

2. How likely are students to graduate in four years?

It’s no surprise that, when a student changes or adds a major, or if she needs to take time off school for personal reasons, she may need five or six years to graduate, not the customary four. But what may come as a shocker is the fact that, at many colleges and universities, students may have a hard time graduating on schedule simply because of overcrowding: when students can’t register for all the classes they need to complete their majors, they can’t graduate on time. That fact can leave families scrambling to come up with extra tuition money they hadn’t budgeted for.

Graduation rates range from confidence-inspiring 90% and above to the dismal 5% and below. Before falling in love with a school, check out the four-year graduation rates provided by The College Board. Ask schools about graduation rates for particular majors as well, as overcrowding can disproportionately impact specific disciplines.

3. How safe is the campus, really?

This summer, the Washington Post and Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 20% of US college women and 5% of college men are sexually assaulted during their time as students. Still more students are victims of unwanted sexual incidents, such as attempted assaults or coercion. These are alarming findings, yet they don’t jive with the numbers colleges self-report about crime on campus — many schools report sexual assault statistics at less than 1% for the entire student population.

What’s behind this massive discrepancy between what students say and what schools say about on-campus safety? Many students don’t report assault to campus police or to the school’s administration. They fear that they’ll be shamed, blamed, humiliated, or ignored — and sometimes, they are.

Instead of taking officially sanctioned safety statistics at face value, ask recruiters to tell you about the safety programs available on campus. If the extent of the safety protocol is to tell women to walk in pairs at night, that speaks volumes about the campus culture. If, however, the school has programs educating students about consent, and has advocacy programs in place for students who’ve been victimized, that can be an indication that the campus is actually dedicated to creating a safe environment.

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