With spring break approaching, April is prime time for college hunting. You’ve got juniors in high school checking out colleges for the first time and undecided seniors who want one lastÂ look before making the final decision. I know from experience. My oldest son is a high school senior and we visited colleges intermittently from January 2007 to February 2008. Barring a big change, it looks like he’ll go to Stony Brook University, the biggest of the state school’s on Long Island.
WithÂ this in mind, I’m passing along some suggestions from the son of a colleagueÂ here at The Journal News/LoHud.com, Emily Kratzer. Her son, Russell Voss, who is finishing his junior year at a Hudson Valley college has a fresh take. It also provides a dose of reality for parents.
When you’re around the campuses, no matter what you are trying to find out about the school, keep in mind one simple and over-reaching idea: You will live here for four years. A few things to consider…
What are the dorms like?Â Think of it this way: All the time you spend in your house when you’re not in school or at work, you’re going to spend that time in your dorm – with at least one roommate whom you’ve never met.
Dorms are small, smelly places, but some campuses do better than others. Be wary;Â Some schools squeeze a third student into rooms designed for two. My college saysÂ almost allÂ freshman dorms are doubles, but with growing adminissions, most are home to a third student. Also note the location of vending machines, the ratio of bathrooms to people and the like. It doesn’t hurt to check out the bathrooms; you will need them. Look at how they’re laid out. Is there soap? Are there paper towels or blow-driers? Are there individual shower stalls, or is it communal like at the gym? Does it look like it gets cleaned ofen?
What are the school’s security policies? Is there a security guard at the main door of every dorm at certain hours? Do you have to sign in to visit friends in other dorms? My school has a reputation as fairly draconian for requiring students to sign in when they visit other dorms and also leaving by a certain hour. You may not think about it now, but you will spend a lot of late nights talking to people, and you won’t want to be thrown out. This also becomes important if you have friends who like to sneak in cheap domestic beer… not that I endorse that sort of thing… especially if it’s cheap domestic beer.
How close is the nearest chain drug store? The bookstore looks nice, but it’s highway robbery. A nearby drugstore usually will beat the school storeÂ on the price of many necessities and it probably has a better selection of ramen and soda. Speaking of soda, a lot of schools sign exclusive contracts with soda companies. My school is a Pepsi campus. NowhereÂ canÂ you buy Coca-Cola. If soda brand is very important to you, keep an eye out.
How edible is the stuff they’re trying to pass off as food in the cafeteria? Until you move into a dorm with a kitchen, you’ll be forced to eat mass-produced mystery meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some schools are good, others are not. Never ask your tour guide about it, they always say the food is good. The best way to find out is to venture out after the tour and try it.
Where’s the nearest good restaurant? Whether the cafe is good, bad or ugly, you will get tired of it and an affordable restaurant within walking distance is something you’ll pretty much kill for. Bigger colleges tend attract businesses like sandwich shops, casual restaurants, office supply stores, etc. Is there a mall nearby? A movie theatre? You will live at you school for four years; You will want to go off-campus to maintain your sanity.
Finally, a few questions to put your tour guide on the spot:
What nights of the week do people tend to go out to party?
What is the STD rate on campus?
Does the college provide students with condoms?
I’m sure you can think of more good questions.