For some people, college is the best four years of their life. But for others, like me, college was a roller coaster.
I graduated high school with a GPA of 4.3 on a 4.0 scale. I had an excellent resume with two years of job experience under my belt and leadership roles in multiple extracurricular activities. My SAT and ACT scores were high. By all accounts, I was the perfect student, and I always expected that it would be the same in college. It wasn’t. I struggled with professors who didn’t care if their students understood the material or not. They were more invested in their research than their teaching. I didn’t make use of many of the resources available to me, including counselors and career advisors. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of their existence.
I’m not entirely blaming my school – after all, with hindsight that’s 20/20, I know now that there is much more I could have done to better my circumstances and avoid some of the mistakes that I made. The problem, though, is that I never had the chance because I didn’t know how. Now that I’ve graduated, there are a million things I wish I knew when I first started my collegiate career in 2011. I don’t want to make this post into something it’s not – I have no desire to play the victim – but I do hope that these four things help you to avoid some of the pitfalls that bogged down my college experience. Watch out for them when you start looking at colleges, and avoid them if at all possible.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying that all colleges or campuses do these things. However, I do believe that these issues are pervasive ones across higher education in the United States.
1) A College That Puts Greek Life, Sports, or Anything Else Before Education
The purpose of a university is, at its core, meant to be academia. We go to college to learn something and to make ourselves into an attractive prospect to future employers. We want to be able to enter our field with a limited need for on-the-job training and excel. Unfortunately, many institutions seem to have lost sight of this.
Greek life, sports, and research are all well and good, and I’m not discrediting the various positive impacts that these things have at all. I recognize that these things can and do have a place in university life. However, it seems to me that sometimes they get a higher priority than education. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen a Greek event take precedence over schoolwork. Student athletes are given preferential treatment in many cases, and I’ve seen exams or papers get rescheduled or waived entirely for just that one student that had an issue. And, as I alluded to previously, many professors are more interested in their research than helping their students.
I know plenty of people in fraternities or sororities who have had wonderfully positive experiences within their organization. I, and many others, have a great love of college sports. I’m really not trying to discredit any of that. I just want to see as much focus as is given to them be given to education, as well.
2) A College With Limited Resources for First-Generation Students
Some universities handle first-generation students wonderfully, but that isn’t always the case. I know it probably sounds silly, but from experience I feel like I can say that first-generation students should be offered more opportunities for assistance. Well, not more, necessarily – everyone deserves the same opportunities – but just different types of assistance.
Here’s the thing: a first-generation student who doesn’t have anyone in their family whose experiences they can learn from won’t necessarily know what they’re doing in college. Our public school system does an absolutely abysmal job of preparing students for university-level classes. Many of the resources that are available might be looked over by a first-generation student because they have no one to direct them to those resources. Think of it this way: someone has to be the guinea pig. In terms of college and figuring out how to succeed there, the first person in the family to go is this guinea pig.
So how do we combat this issue? I think that all colleges should offer freshman introductory courses to familiarize students with the different resources available to them. Some universities do this already, and some even have a mandatory class like this for all freshmen. In addition, schools should require in-person meetings with an academic advisor at least once a year. Many students avoid such face-to-face meetings and opt instead for an email conversation to discuss upcoming courses. Maybe they aren’t required to talk to an advisor at all. That’s so silly – after all, it’s what advisors are there for! They have great information that can be really helpful, especially to new students. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do a student any good if they don’t know or care to take the opportunity to hear that great information.
3) A College With Limited Resources for Maintaining Mental Health
My college actually had a really good program as far as this is concerned, but some don’t. That’s such a shame since mental health is so incredibly important. So many people struggle every day with issues like anxiety and depression, and not providing students with resources to help them maintain a healthy mentality is doing them a huge disservice. I was not officially diagnosed with anxiety until college, and my school’s counseling center was fantastic. They offered 15 counseling sessions per year to students, free of charge. This was a huge deal and helped me enormously.
Faculty and staff should be aware of and on the lookout for signs of mental illness, and should always be open to students who do suffer from these kinds of issues. I’m not saying that anyone deserves special treatment, but having a professor who is willing to listen to your problems and attempt to work with you in a way that makes you comfortable goes a long way towards helping you succeed. Additionally, it’s always helpful to research a school’s Office of Disability Services. They can help students who need special accommodations, including those for mental illness. But again, students need to know that these resources are available, and not all of them do.
4) Rising Tuition and Limited Financial Aid Assistance
This is an issue that may not apply to everyone, but I feel that it’s worth bringing up because it is a big deal. First of all, tuition rates have been rising and will continue to rise at astronomical levels. This is even more important for anyone who is considering attending an out-of-state school. Nonresident tuition rates are often twice as much as resident rates – or, in some cases, even more.
If you’re like me and you don’t have a ton of scholarship opportunities and/or you don’t qualify for much, if any, federal aid, then it is tempting to turn to private student loans to cover your cost of attendance. The problem with private loans is that they often have ridiculously high interest rates, short loan terms, and loan companies really don’t care whether or not you can afford their payments right after you graduate or not. In my opinion, loan companies and universities don’t do enough to educate students on the consequences of student debt. Find a college with a financial aid department that is willing to walk you through your options and help you decide what is best for you. And, if money is a concern, give some consideration to staying in-state or attending a community college.
When you start looking for colleges, keep these four things in mind. Ask as many questions as you need, and do plenty of research to determine what is the best option for you. I wish you the best of luck!
Did I miss something on my list? Do you have other suggestions for things to avoid when looking for a college? Let us know in the comments!