Father Knows Best: Admissions Advice From a College President Dad

As a college president - and a college parent - I have a dual familiarity with the college search and admissions process. I understand intimately how we, as administrators, worry how our campus is perceived by prospective students and their families. But, having visited more than 50 colleges during my own children's search process, I've been on the other side of that student-led tour, too. My eldest ordered that I not ask any questions before her first college visit to Reed College. Of course, I failed to honor her request. Happily before her search ended, she confided to her mom that "Dad asks the best questions."

Children like mine, who have been raised on a college campus, are educated consumers. I was surprised by some of the questions and insights my children raised during their college search process. One of the four completed her undergraduate degree in the spring and two others are currently enrolled in well-respected institutions. Here's some of what they asked as they were researching colleges - and what I recommend other students and families ask, too.

How much access will you have to faculty?

Your professor should be more than just a distant speck behind the podium. You should get to know your professors and they should get to know you. At a college that values faculty access and mentorship, your work will be evaluated more carefully, you'll have more opportunities to collaborate on research, and you'll get letters of recommendation from someone who really knows you.

How committed is the college to engaging students and getting them involved on campus?

What happens in the classroom is important, but it's only a part of the education that college provides. Living on campus, in addition to its convenience, is strongly associated with success in college. You'll get to know your classmates and faculty better, be more engaged in learning and personal development opportunities and - in my experience at college cafeterias - probably eat better than you would otherwise.

Will I have an internship or research opportunity?

Hands-on experience is so important in the very competitive, global economy. Gaining relevant skills to complement your coursework can make the difference when it comes to landing your first professional position. So be sure to ask if the school has a commitment to ensuring all students have internship and research opportunities.

What's the space like?

Your college visit is about more than just academics. You're evaluating your home for the next four years. Is it welcoming? Are the buildings and grounds well-maintained? My only son dismissed what I expected to be his top choice because in his words, "they have a lot of deferred maintenance." Because college administrators know that campus appearance plays a large role in enrollment decisions, many colleges invest in a showpiece buildings that are an unusual focal point of campus visits but aren't so much part of the lived experience of students. However much you like it, remember it's the dorm, the library and the laboratory where you will be investing your time. Equally, while climbing walls and swimming lagoons are attractive, ask yourself what they will do to prepare you for post-graduate success?

Does it feel right?

I've talked with hundreds of students over the years who describe an aha moment, that point of sudden realization that the place just feels right. Ensuring the right fit is not to be underestimated. Every first-year student feels some discomfort, especially during the first semester. Having a sense that you're in the right place can make all the difference.

Enjoy the ride!

The college search process is a major milestone in our lives. For me, the opportunity to share time with our children in traveling and trying on different institutions has been one of the most rewarding phases of parenting. Our country is blessed with great diversity among its colleges and universities. There are likely many "perfect" fit institutions out there for students. Don't get completely hung up on one place that has the greatest reputation, the biggest football stadium or the most Nobel laureates.

Relax! Enjoy the ride and focus on what fits you or your child best. Final note to parents: unlike our generation, these millennials value your thinking and judgment so very much. Just be sure to let them own the decision as they will be responsible for the educational experience they earn in the coming four years.