This is an article that I wrote and published several years ago and I update every year. Things to think about as the college search begins!
The College Search Begins
When students start their college search process, one of the easiest ways to narrow down schools is to choose locations. Online searches often begin with choosing states or regions. It is not unusual for students to do a search that includes New England AND Florida. Or New England AND California. Or, increasingly, New England AND the Carolinas. Some students bypass the New England schools entirely and say right at the outset that they will be going away and hopefully, to a warmer climate.
We are lucky in New England to have quite a variety of colleges- big and small, city, small town and rural and with a variety of majors. Why would students look elsewhere? There are many reasons and they come down to personal choice and goals.
For some students, college is an opportunity to live away from home and expand horizons. They want to try something different and learn about a new area and about themselves as well. If they’ve never lived in a city, college can be the time to experience it. Even staying within the United States, students can experience cultural difference that will help them figure out who they are and what they want in their adult futures.
If students decide to go far from home, they need to understand that everything may feel different. Students who want a warmer climate may forget that living in South Carolina will be a very different cultural experience than living in NH and they need to be prepared for how they will cope. Living in a busy city will be a completely different experience than the hometown that knows you. There is good and bad in all of the options! Again, these can be great learning experiences but students need to give some thought to what will be different and how will they cope with it.
A high school student who is itching to gain independence may not think they will ever be homesick but again, they should prepare for it. Knowing when you will be able to come home for the first time is important.
Regardless of whether you go an hour away or across the country, transition is a process and there will be difficult moments. All students who plan to live on the campus should be asking certain questions: : “Is this a commuter school?” “What do students do on the weekends?” “How does the college help students feel connected?” “How do I find out about activities?” “Who do I go to when I need to find out about resources on campus?”
Regardless of whether you are going far away or not, colleges have many programs to help students meet new people and feel connected to their new community. Maybe all the students on a floor take a course together. Maybe all freshmen take a seminar that is designed to answer questions and help with transition. How will the student get involved? Students who get involved within the first 6 weeks of college are much more likely to stay and ultimately, graduate. What does the college offer that you are interested in doing with your free time? The reality is that some colleges do a better job with transitioning new students than others. I like to look at the retention rate at schools. How many students returned for sophomore year? A high number is an indicator that students are happy and engaged. It’s not the whole story so follow up questions are required.
For a student who chooses to go far away, having a plan to get involved and what to do when homesick is very important. Knowing that after the first semester and first year of college, many people rarely go home on the weekends may help the student who can’t go home during that first semester. Students who went far away or those who went close but end up coming home at about the same rate by the 3rd year of college.
If a student is sure about going to school far away, spend time talking about the commitment and making a plan for success. When will they come home for the first time? Parents and the student must believe in their ability to make new friends, get involved and for things to get better so that when things are hard, everyone can remind each other that they know the student (and family) can get through the transition time. Transition is hard.
For most students, by the time they are in the sophomore year, all those initial feelings of homesickness are long forgotten and they will love it. I’ve found this to be true of students who went far away or right down the road! Juniors in college often say they cannot imagine being anywhere else but they also can recall the first semester being tough.
Students who don’t go far away to school may be surprised that they become so connected to their new college community that they don’t go home that often once they get settled. Just because you are able to go home to your parents doesn’t mean that you will. You will make new friends, join groups and have a job separate from the old high school life- even if the old high school isn’t that far away. Again, students need to make the effort to get involved. Students who go nearby to college but remain highly connected to the hometown also have a high drop out rate because they don’t feel completely committed to either location.
Students who want to have new and different experiences but decide to stay in New England may decide to study abroad as one method to live in new cultures. Most colleges have robust study abroad programs these days and it is easy to set up the experience.
Many schools also are part of the National Student Exchange. Students go to a different US or Canadian college than their “home” campus for a semester or year. Think of it as Study Abroad without the Abroad! The student who wasn’t ready to go far away right after high school may want to have the experience of living far away or in a city etc later on in college. Or, if in state tuition is important, this program allows students to pay their regular tuition but be at a different school for a semester or year. Regardless of location, college will be a transition. Doing some homework and having some honest conversations may help with success next year and all the way to graduation.
By Melinda Shofner