Matching the college to the student can be a big endeavor for parents as well as the student. This is definitely something that should be discussed as a family, as there are many factors to be considered. Small colleges may offer you more personal interactions with faculty, but large universities are more likely to have wider experience with students who have TS and related disorders. Other factors to be considered include: academic programs, setting, social atmosphere, geography, cost, and your future plans.
Think seriously, and realistically, about your needs and ambitions. Ambition can be a very good thing, but it must be tempered with a clear idea of your academic and social needs. The goal is to match you to the right school for you — this may not be the ‘right’ school for your best friend, your cousin or your father — but it is the right school for YOU.
Size: University versus College…. Big Colleges and Small
This is the big and small of higher education. Universities often (but not always) have more experience with special needs students, while small campus colleges offer a more intimate ‘everyone knows your name’ experience. For some students with TS, small is best, for others it simply makes them feel ‘singled out.’ This is a personal call.
Colleges and universities range in size from a few hundred students to the size of a small city with thousands of students. The difference in size has a direct impact on your social and academic experience. Many students wind up transferring after a year or two in a ‘too small’ or ‘too large’ environment. If you have particular academic or athletic interests that will only be met at a large university, you may find your answer right there. This is a basic question. Think about it. Talk to your parents and teachers, too. Also remember that wherever you go, you will very likely find a group of people with whom you are comfortable.
Location, location, location… it is always an important factor. Do you want to commute from home? Do you want to be close enough to visit on a whim but just far enough away to feel ‘away’? Is a daylong drive the right distance from home? TS may complicate this question, as you may want to stay relatively near your doctors. You may even want to talk to your health care providers and see if they have concerns about you being too far away.
Geography also has an impact on the environment at the school. If you are an avid skier you may want to find a school where you can ski nearby. If you grew up in Southern California, you may want to try living in a part of the country with four distinct seasons.
Talk to your parents about geography/location early in the search for the right school as they may have very clear ideas and/or restrictions. Many parents set a geographical boundary — ‘only schools east of the Mississippi’ or ‘you must be within a three- hour drive.’ It’s best to get these restrictions on the table early in your research process.
Setting: Rural, Urban, Suburban
Another factor that contributes to the social atmosphere of a school, is its setting. Do you like the idea of a self-contained, suburban campus or do you envision yourself in the heart of a big city where the campus and the outside community mingle? What about a college in a rural setting, far away from big cities, but relatively near a small town? This is a question of taste and comfort. Everyone will have different ideas about what is best. Ask yourself what you think will be the most comfortable environment, the most interesting, the most conducive to study. There is a great deal to think about.
Type of College
There are many criteria for describing the ‘type’ of college you might want to attend: private, public, single-sex, co-ed, religious affiliation, liberal arts, focused on specific academic areas….
You may opt for a two-year college because of…
- Finances: Many two-year schools are community colleges with relatively low tuition costs. Many students lower the overall cost of attending college by starting at a two-year community college and then transferring course credits to a traditional four-year school.
- Not Quite Ready: Some students are not quite ready for the challenge of a four-year college. Perhaps, you did not do as well in high school as you would have liked, and your four-year college choices are very limited. Getting an associate’s degree at a two-year school and then transferring will allow you to catch up academically with your peers. Or, your medical team has determined that you would be better off staying at home and becoming accustomed to college by starting in this generally smaller environment.
- Entry into a Career: A two-year associate’s degree is the entry point into many careers such as nursing, computer technology, paralegal work, etc. You may want to begin your career after the two-year program, and then go on to a four-year college.
- Technical Schools are Another Option: Technical schools offer a wide variety of programs that generally take less than two years and offer a certificate upon completion. This is an especially good option for students who prefer hands-on learning and want to move into the workforce with a stronger background than a high school diploma can provide.
Different Schools for Different Students:
There are many fine schools in ALL of these categories. Public versus private may have a big impact on your tuition costs. This may, in the end, be a key issue in your decision. Going to a public school as an out-of-state student may be expensive, so it’s wise to look at the public schools in your home state.
Although there are fewer single-sex schools than there were in the past, a single-sex educational environment may be right for you. Schools with religious affiliations may also offer you the right atmosphere. You should also note that many colleges with religious affiliations accept students who are not of that particular faith. So if a school has a program you find particularly interesting, you don’t have to eliminate it on the basis of religion.
Obviously, if you are interested in studying Latin you must find a school that teaches Latin. Check the specialties and the majors offered early in your research as you may wind up eliminating particular schools because they don’t offer the major you are most likely to choose.
As most freshman aren’t entirely sure about their major — or change it several times in the first two years — focus on colleges that offer the kind of course work you think you’ll want. Liberal arts schools offer the most variety, but if you are certain you want to major in arts or business, there are many fine colleges that offer a focused plan of study from the freshman year on.
The Learning Center:
If you are likely to need the services of a learning center, investigate the quality of the college center early in your research. Remember, you will no longer have an IEP to direct your studies. And, as a college student, you are responsible for seeking out any academic assistance you may need. Find out how many hours the college center is open. Find out how well it is staffed. Although most colleges advertise that they have a learning center on campus, the services offered by the centers vary widely. Be sure you’ll find the help you’ll need when you navigate the academic challenges of college.
You’ve no doubt seen movies about the ‘Greek system’ (fraternities and sororities) that dominate the social life at some colleges. The importance of sororities and fraternities varies from the center of social life to non-existence, with a wide middle ground of colleges where the ‘Greeks’ are accepted, but do not drive the social life. Whether you are intrigued, indifferent or turned off by the idea of these social clubs, it’s smart to find out where the ‘Greeks’ fit into the social life of a school and apply to schools where you will find like-minded students.
Some school social calendars revolve around sports. If this is of interest to you — great. If not, there are plenty of schools where you will find little or no focus on college athletics. There are also schools where theater, music, politics, religion, science, etc. are at the center of the school’s social life. It’s important to read descriptions of the social scene at all the colleges you are considering, as this will have a direct impact on your comfort on campus.
College is very expensive. But it would be a mistake to eliminate a college as an option solely due to its cost. Many schools, especially private colleges, offer good financial aid packages. You will not know this until after you have been admitted, so if you are particularly drawn to a school, it may be worth your while to apply and find out what they can offer you if you are accepted.
Your school Guidance Counselor is often a good resource. You should also look at the college search guidebooks available at the school or public library, and at online and local bookstores. Online college engines may also give you insights into the colleges you are considering.