When I was looking for a liberal arts college as a high school junior or senior I had almost no idea what I wanted in a school. My first step to narrow down if I was interested in a college was to look at the information they sent me and did they spell my name right. After that I looked at information about their education department, and a few other qualifications. Here in Texas, homeschoolers can attend local community colleges while in high school, so I need to start thinking NOW about preparing my homeschooler for college.
(This post is sponsored by Spartanburg Methodist College)
During my college search I eventually narrowed it down to three choices: the big huge state college, a smaller state college, and a private Christian college. One goal for my middle school kids is to prepare them to think ahead for college classes, so they aren’t totally surprised by this concept when they are a junior in high school like I was.
I’m going to assume you have already done your due diligence and looked to see if the college your interested in has the major you want, and that you have narrowed your list down to a few good choices. That is the beginner step. This post is talking about when you’re narrowing it down even further.
Talk to the college and ask questions about their school
The college I chose had students called me and answered my questions personally. By the same token, the college you’re interested in needs to answer questions (we’ll talk about these questions more in detail in a bit). As a prospective college-student you are going to get a lot of information thrown at you and it’s all going to sound super impressive. One school bragged about their super famous professor that taught there and it impressed me until I realized, given my major I was never going to take a class from him. As an example Spartanburg Methodist College has an information link you can use to get your questions answered. My kids are going to have it so much easier than I did to get their questions answered in this new age of technology.
Visit your prospective college and ask more questions
While you can learn a lot about a college by talking with people over the phone or through correspondence, it is a completely different experience to visit the college.
I visited the three colleges I was seriously interested in. At one college on the campus tour, they made a point to show us the “gum tree.” It was a live oak tree the students all put their gum on before going into the building because the building didn’t allow chewing gum. I thought it was disgusting and the fact the college thought this was important enough to point out was a bit of a turn off for me.
Seeing the campus gives you a true feel for what the campus will be like to live at. Most colleges will have a prospective student weekend, Spartanburg Methodist College has one coming up October 21. Most colleges if you can’t make their “open house weekend” will set up a special visit for you (if they are not willing to, that alone is a good sign you should consider going elsewhere). Insert side story of a younger friend from my church visiting to check out my college on a non-open house weekend and having a great experience.
Look at how they treat their students
A large portion of students transfers colleges at some point. I don’t have any official statistics, but I know from my personal college experience several of my friends transferred at one point or another. They all had no problem transferring to or from my school. I heard nightmare stories about other school credits not transferring and the college not working with their new college. I had an amazing college experience where I felt like I was valued. I want that for my kids.
Write down your questions ahead of time
The key component to all of this is your questions you ask. Depending on the type of college you are looking at, you will have different questions. For me, I was looking seriously at a state college and a private Christian college. I had different questions:
For the state college:
- What is the class size? State colleges are notorious for having 200 students in a class. As a follow-on who is teaching the class? Is it a teacher’s assistant or the professors themselves. Remember that famous professor I mentioned. He didn’t teach his classes for the most part, his TA’s did.
- Extra curriculuar groups and activities? I knew if I went to a state college I wanted one with an active Christian group to get plugged into.
For the Christian college:
- What’s your statement of faith? Is it anything that I will really disagree with, or are they minor points that will help build my faith as I learn more about others. The college I went to, we disagreed on some fundamental issues, but it helped grow my faith as I started to learn more about what I believed and why.
- How fundamental is the faith to your college? Believe it or not I briefly look at a Christian college that had Christian in their name, but they downplayed it and said “While Christian is in our name, it doesn’t really change who we are [party school with a good academic reputation], so you can still do whatever you want.” I crossed that school right off my list, if I was going to pay the extra for a Christian college I wanted it to actually be CHRISTIAN.
For both colleges:
- What is their dorm situation like? My college had curfew for the students. They also didn’t allow the opposite gender into your rooms. They were allowed in the lobby downstairs, but couldn’t come up to your rooms except for special times. Are you going to be comfortable with the college’s rules. State colleges will have their own challenges, I knew several state colleges were moving towards gender-neutral bathrooms at the time, and I was nervous about taking a shower in a communal bathroom. Also, several colleges had a reputation for a party school and I didn’t want to end up in a dorm where students were drinking. This question is best answered in a personal visit because students will talk more freely.
- What is the technology and internet situation? What is the student access to wi-fi and how fast is the internet? Now for many majors (education) this may not be life-changing, but I was talking with Tara and her brother-in-law had to switch colleges because his college did not have the bandwidth for him to work on learning how to create computer animation. I never even thought about these questions.
- How homeschool friendly are they? Every homeschooler I’ve ever known had no problem getting into college, but there’s always those horror stories of the college that is terrible. Check out this question and answer for homeschoolers. Spartanburg College even waives the application fee for homeschoolers with the code HOMESCHOOL.
- Check out the scholarship situation. You know what was a big deciding factor for me? The private Christian college had better scholarships and was actually cheaper than the state college. I was paying for college completely by myself, so that was a big deal.