What educational programs does the college offer? How many students are there in each major, and how many of them graduate? What are the studentteacher ratios, and how available are the instructors and other college staff? There are several ways to gather information about a school.
Step One: Research and Read
Bookstore and library shelves are practically sagging from the weight of guides to thousands of colleges. The school guidance office may have some of these books on hand for lending to students.
Step Two: Ask Questions
Your child’s guidance counselor may be able to fill in some of the gaps about a college; just be advised that counselors’ experience varies widely. Other sources of information are alumni of the college in question. A Web site called World Alumni Net (www.alumni.net) contains e-mail addresses for school alumni organizations as well as for individual alumni. Feel free to ask the college to put you in touch with current students or recent graduates.
Most colleges now have their own Web sites displaying photos of the campus and accompanying text. Some of the more ambitious sites feature “virtual tours” that take you from building to building. They may incorporate interactive maps, films, sound clips and live Web cameras. For an index to college Web addresses, go to www.campustours.com.
Step Three: Visit the Campus
The best way to get to know a school is to visit the campus. During your teen’s sophomore or junior year, drop in at a few local colleges—large and small, if possible—so that she can get a taste of college life. Once she’s been accepted at an institution, or two or three, call the admission office and schedule a guided tour. Schools do this all the time, setting up visitors with volunteer student escorts; even arranging overnight stays in a dormitory.