This was written by Michael Sexton, vice president of Enrollment Management at Santa Clara University in California.

By Michael Sexton

Between now and May 1, college decision time, students and parents trying to figure out which college to attend should drill down into the details of the academic offerings of the institutions under consideration.

This, unfortunately, is often a lost part of making this important decision. The choice of where a student will spend (at least) the next four years should not be taken lightly, so families should use this waiting period to really examine the personality of each institution.

April is when families should learn what a core curriculum is, and whether core courses are going to be a welcome addition to a course load or whether they will be viewed as distractions from what a student “really want to study.” While a student may have chosen a possible major on the application, it’s good to know a little more about the many courses that must be taken outside that major.

By asking questions, students and their parents can learn how the academic life is structured — and by whom — at a given institution. While some students view any curricular requirement as an undue burden, an institution’s core curriculum says a lot about what is valued by the faculty, about what they think are critical elements in being a well-educated citizen.

Students should ask academic coordinators and department chairmen about learning outcomes that not only will appeal to employers, but also prepare them for a meaningful, engaged life. Ask what resources a school has besides the catalogue to determine academic opportunities are available.

The important thing to remember is that schools that seem like good fits may or may not be. That’s why it makes sense to use April to seriously investigate.

Kids have probably sampled the food and visited the dorms, attended a sporting event and talked to students and professors. Families have done a good job identifying schools that will meet primary “needs,” such as size, location, program, cost, etc.

Now is the time to explore the “what if” portion of their decision, to do more than surf the top pages of the web and re-read the view book. College is an expensive investment. So it makes sense to take one last opportunity to dig into the catalogue and engage the bloggers and faculty whose emails are provided.

Even check weather.com to ensure that this is the place you want to wake up every month for their next four years.

My staff is busy evaluating students. Students should continue evaluating those colleges that made your “short list.”


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