Checking Out the First Year Experience
How a college helps students come on board can make a big difference in those first weeks on campus. It also tells you something about the attitudes of the college leadership and the “vibe” on campus. And as you think about which schools interest you and where you might apply, it is definitely worth it to find out how schools manage the “first year experience”.
Here are some things to consider:
First year website. You can get a good feel for how things are handled by checking out whether the school has a first year website (many do) and how it looks. Is the site welcoming? Is the information on it clear and complete? Does the site include information that is “speaks to” the student population of the school? Is there information for non-traditional or returning students? Is there information for first-generation students (student who are the first in their family to attend college have less access to information about the college experience so they may need some more help getting adjusted)?
Orientation. See what you can learn from the college’s website about orientation programming. Again, does the information seem inviting and friendly? Is there clear description about how new student orientation is handled? Are there people or offices listed that you can contact in case you have questions, problems or concerns? Is there a good balance between academic and school information and attempts to help students socialize and adjust to school and campus? Does it look as if the school makes an effort to help students get to know each other?
Advising. What can you find out about how the school handles new student advising? Many schools give a pretty simple series of suggestions about courses to take your first semester and others provide more detailed and more personal guidance. It can be pretty confusing to decide what you should take so schools that give clearer guidance can make it much easier.
Financial aid and guidance. Paying for college can be challenging for you and your family. See what kind of information is available about both how the school handles financial aid but also see whether the school provides direction about how much different things will cost. Is the information clear or does it feel like you need a business or accounting degree to understand it?
Ask around. You can also ask about these things when you go to visit colleges. Ask current students what their experience was like starting school. If your high school has a college adviser, they should also be able to give you some idea about what they have heard from students who have started various colleges recently.
Remember – when schools make an effort to make all this information clear and user-friendly it is telling you something about how much they value the experience of their applicants and students.