Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Questions for the College Bound

Whether you are a graduating senior who already knows where you will be attending school next year, a high school junior who is starting to get serious about the college application process, or a younger student or a parent who has questions and concerns about college, there are a few things to consider that might not be on your radar.

Retention Rate
You probably would not want to take a job in a company where most people quit after the first few months. You might rightly be concerned that there was something about that company that was problematic. In the same way, it is important to ask about the retention rate at any college you are seriously considering. How many students come back for their sophomore years after their first year? How many continue on to complete their junior and senior years as well? While some top universities have almost a 100 percent retention rate, others lose up to a third or more of their students from freshman to sophomore years. The reasons for this can vary and can include economic, social, and academic readiness factors, although some research has demonstrated that lack of retention may not have anything to do with whether students have learning disabilities.

What a low retention rate should do is prompt careful questioning about why students don't return and to weigh these factors into your own equation of what is important in a college. Is the school too isolated or does it empty out on weekends, leaving out of town students with little to do? Are the course offerings too sparse? Are there limited opportunities for research or advanced work for serious students? Is it a bit too much of a party school for you or your student? While it is always possible to transfer to another school, checking out your college choice carefully may enable you to avoid this process.

Time to Graduate
The four year college degree is not always a four year process. According to a Time analysis of U.S. Education Department figures, four year completion rates for a B.A. or B.S. degree can be as low as 30 to 40 percent, with the lowest rates in public colleges. There can be many reasons for this -- and most students do finish within six years of matriculating. But difficulty registering for courses needed for their major or switching to a different major and thus needing additional courses are two prime reasons for these numbers. Given the extraordinary expense of college, with no discount given if you can't get into the specific course you need, students and their families should give considerable thought to what majors are available and what percent of students are able to register for their first choice of classes. Note that many schools permit students registered with the Office of Disability Services to have priority registration, which can be huge benefit and can also allow students to select professors whose teaching style will best align with their learning needs.

This is a subject we have written about before and is explored at some length in my book, Life After High School: A Guide for Students with Disabilities and Their Families, but it is still an area that trips up some students. Colleges almost always have two kinds of requirements: high school courses they require to admit a student and the courses students are required to complete to graduate. If you or your student has a particular area of difficulty, such as a language based learning disability that makes it extremely difficult to learn a foreign language, or a math disability that makes completing a math requirement just about impossible, it is crucial to be aware of the requirements of your chosen college. Your high school may have waived or modified certain courses because of your learning disabilities, and the college may have admitted you because not all majors require a foreign language or a math sequence. But, depending on what course of study you choose, you may find yourself required to take courses in which you are not able to succeed. Keeping this issue in mind can avoid this problem.

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