Colleges That Change Lives

Changing Lives. One Student at a Time.

Parents FAQ

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How can I support my student in this search?

Students should be responsible, as much as possible, for the work of searching for colleges and applying for admission. They should research schools, request information, schedule visits, write their own essays, and prepare their own applications. While it's fine to offer help, the process should belong to your student. Just like all of the important activities your busy student pursue—band, sports, theatre, community service, etc.—it will help, starting in the junior year, to schedule a weekly one-hour slot for "College Search." If it is scheduled on the calendar or in a post-it note on the fridge, it just won't happen! This will also give you the chance to ask your questions and discuss concerns rather than asking for updates each day, which often leads to family stress and student anxiety.

Many parents believe that the primary concern during the college search is the list of schools under consideration. It's not. The most important thing is your student's personal growth and happiness. One of the best things that comes out of the college search is the sense of self and optimism about the future students can gain if they search thoughtfully. You can help by reminding them of their strengths and attributes, likes and dislikes—and by asking questions to help them realize how many options they have—keeping in mind that personalities will further develop in college and who your son or daughter is now is not necessarily the person he or she will become as new interests, directions, and passions unfold.

The answers to these questions may change as your student learns more about his or her values, goals, and priorities, so check in often to see what they're thinking. Be honest about family finances, use colleges' online calculators, and investigate financial aid options early by using resources like File the FAFSA in January of the senior year, so you'll have a clearer picture of what kind of aid you could receive at various colleges. If you're able, visiting colleges with your student is a good way to learn more about the college and to show your support.

Ultimately, where your student chooses to attend college doesn't matter so much as the energy and enthusiasm they bring to their experience. Many parents confuse the school's perceived status with its quality of life and its academic caliber—much more important are the opportunities for students to connect to their learning and expand their knowledge, all the while preparing for a future of their own making. For many families, allowing the student to take control of the search for the right college is the first step in letting them go. Allowing them to choose the place that fits them best is the greatest way to help them develop into capable, confident adults.

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Do I have to fill out the FAFSA every year?

Yes. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is required of all families applying for financial assistance. It is a standard form from the Department of Education that determines eligibility for all state and federal grants. After applicants provide information from their tax returns, supply data on their assets, debt, number of students in college, and financial responsibilities (including medical bills), the federal government assesses these factors to determine the family's Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount the family is expected to contribute to the cost of a college education.

The EFC remains the same no matter what colleges and universities the student applies to, but the amount and type of aid offered by the institutions themselves may vary. Most schools offer a combination of merit aid, loans, and campus employment. Families may deny any part of an aid package, but they will be expected to cover the costs themselves if they refuse aid.

Family financial situations change significantly as siblings graduate from or enroll in college, education costs increase, or unexpected situations occur, so it is required that every family submit a FAFSA yearly. It is very important that the form be turned in on time—check out the FAFSA online or consult your guidance counselor and for more information.

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How seriously do colleges take legacy?

Most colleges welcome student applicants who have the college in their family history but, with rare exception, they do not view legacy candidates differently than other applicants. A qualified student who is demonstrably interested in attending the college her mother or father earned a degree from is certainly an asset, but colleges are equally interested in attracting qualified first-generation students and students who are interested in because the college is different than anything their parents experienced.

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What should I expect when my student visits a campus?

Visiting a campus in person offers students and their families the opportunity to experience the school firsthand, to form impressions, and assess if it's a good match. Though specific activities vary by campus, students typically may tour the campus (families are welcome to join the tour as well), interview with an admission officer, attend a class, eat in the dining hall, meet with a coach or conductor, and stay overnight in a residence hall.

Always ask in advance what to expect when you schedule a visit, so that you will not be disappointed when you arrive. The best advice is to remember that this is your child's college search, even though your role in the process is a crucial one. You don't want to be remembered as the "pushy parent" who monopolized the tour guide!

The campus visit is a great time for you to learn about health services, the local community, advising services, and campus regulations. Look for "fit" between your student and the school. Ask yourself if you believe your son or daughter would be happy in this environment. Would your student be challenged? Would he or she thrive? It's important to be positive about your visit—even if it's raining and you're convinced it's not a good fit for your child. Your support and enthusiasm make a difference to your student and can affect the energy level put into the search.

Parents are welcome on tours and encouraged to participate, so wear comfortable shoes—and make sure you understand the directions to campus so you're on time. If it's possible to visit the campus without younger family members, you'll be less distracted, although if they accompany you they generally are welcome on tours. If you're unable to tour the campus, check the college website for virtual tour links and to read student and faculty blogs to learn more about the community.

Encourage your son or daughter to research the school before visiting so he or she will have specific questions to ask on the tour and in interviews; students with questions that go beyond the basics show interest and preparation. Many students find it helpful to snap photos and label them in order to remember the visit, especially if touring multiple colleges in the course of a few days. It can help to talk about the visit with your student on the way home or within a few days of the visit; you'll both remember different things and be able to share your impressions. Some parents and students keep separate journals of what interests them on campuses and compare notes after their visits. If you think of additional questions after visiting, your son or daughter should contact the office of admission by phone or email. Finally, encouraging your student to write brief thank-you notes or emails to the people who spent time with them will help them stand out from the crowd. Every contact they have with a college as a student prospect becomes part of their eventual application and helps to support their stated interest in attending the college.

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What should I expect from my parent interview?

Some schools offer parent interviews with admission officers, either one-on-one or along with your student. Like your student's interview, it's a chance to learn more about the college and get answers to your questions. Admission officers are not assessing you as a parent—they're looking for a clearer picture of your student's profile, interests, and potential. They want to know that your student is interested in the school and is in control of the search.

The interview is not a chance for you to "sell" the counselor on your student's strengths as an applicant—it's more of a dialogue about the possibility of a match between the college and your student. Ask yourself what role on campus only your student can fill, and speak from that perspective—tell the counselor what you're most proud of, what makes your student unique, and what you hope they'll accomplish in college.

If the school offers parent interviews, an admission officer will usually want to speak with the student alone before bringing you into the office. They'll talk about the college with your student, ask questions, and explain programs. If you aren't already familiar with the school's profile and admission materials, it can help to review them while your student is interviewing, so you can spend more time on specific questions and less on basic information covered by college publications.

Don't be afraid to ask "parent" questions about financial aid and scholarship opportunities, transportation issues, safety, academic advising, health services, and campus rules. Most parents are concerned about these issues, and counselors expect to field them in interviews. You and your student may want to discuss the kinds of questions you'd like to ask before going into the interview—this can cut down on surprises and the possibility that you'll repeat questions already covered by your student.

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How do I know if the campus is safe?

No college can guarantee safety for all its students, but there are things to look for that can affect your student's well-being. Schools are required to disclose campus safety issues under the Campus Crime Statistics (Clery) Act, and can be held in violation of Title IX for failure to report or respond to safety issues. Families can search these statistics by visiting our Featured Links page for more information on campus safety, security, and wellness.

If you're able to visit the campus, ask about security personnel and how often they patrol the campus. Is campus security staffed by one or more full-time safety officers, or is it staffed by someone who only works security part time? Look for plenty of lights and call boxes for students who want to request escorts across campus in the evenings.

If you're able to talk to students, ask them if they feel safe on campus—and why. Ask about residence hall security—are the outside doors locked and is access limited? Do students trust each other? Do they lock the door in their residence hall room? Have there been any security issues in the recent past? It's important to remember that no school will have a perfect record, and this information is best used as an indicator, not a guarantee, of safety.

One of the best indicators of a safe campus is the closeness of the college community. Residential campuses tend to be safer because students live together and are able to look out for one another. Remember that a school's policy on alcohol and drug use does not always reflect its reality—ask students to be candid about their impressions of campus partying.

If students spend a lot of time off campus, ask how they get around and what their impressions of the surrounding areas are like. If the school offers study abroad or internship opportunities, ask about rules on the programs and the pre-departure orientation process for students planning to experience life in a different culture. Nothing can guarantee safety, but a school that encourages its students to make good decisions and care for each other can prevent trouble before it starts.

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What is the difference between a need-based and merit-based financial award?

The amount of need-based assistance for which your family qualifies is determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines an individual family's Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), which influences the amount of state and federal dollars a family is eligible to receive. Need-based monies include loans that must be repaid over time; campus employment, which allows students to earn money at campus jobs; and grants, which do not require repayment.

Merit-based aid is gift money granted according to personal achievement, regardless of financial need. These awards do not require repayment and are often funded by the colleges themselves, though many students apply for merit awards from outside donors, community, civic, and religious organization. Colleges and universities offer many different types of merit awards for academics, performing arts, writing, sports, service, and leadership. To learn more about a school's merit scholarship opportunities, check out its website or contact the admission and financial aid office for more information.

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How can I guarantee that my student gets a job after college?

Unfortunately, that kind of guarantee is impossible for anyone to provide. The fact is, students from all kinds of colleges may go on to find good jobs after college; not all will find meaningful careers. That's why the search for a rewarding career after college begins early with advising from professors who really know the students and with lots of opportunities to explore interests, test options, and build professional skills that help students transition from the world of academia to life after college.

Recent research by the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that employers and graduate/professional schools are seeking students who have learned to think critically and creatively—to use both sides of their brain and to be exposed to a wide range of disciplines beyond the major area of study. In the CTCL colleges, students learn to identify areas of interest and make connections between disciplines; they develop skills that serve them as critical thinkers, innovators, and creative analysts. Professors and alumni alike mentor CTCL students, helping to guide them toward interesting careers or graduate study programs. Students receive guidance from the career center that encourages them to think about their goals and values, not just their preferred future title.

CTCL schools emphasize internships and practical work experience, so students graduate with the professional experience and skills employers value. Factors like volunteer work, leadership roles, and cross-cultural understanding can help tip the balance in favor of a CTCL graduate.

In annual alumni surveys, graduates from CTCL schools report tremendous satisfaction and success in their "life after college" experiences. And, they often articulate a common view that success means more than a good job—rather, they view themselves as successful because they are leading meaningful lives of service, leadership, and growth.

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Do graduate schools really take degrees from these small schools seriously?

Yes. Many of the schools that make up the Colleges That Change Lives are national leaders in the numbers of graduates attending post-graduate institutions, including medical, dental, veterinary, and law schools. Students who attend CTCL schools value education and love to learn; they graduate with respected, useful degrees and exceptional experiences and skills, which distinguishes them from other graduates in both the work environment and graduate school.

In fact, many CTCL graduates win prestigious awards to attend graduate schools, where they continue to excel. Graduate school admission committees are typically very familiar with CTCL schools and understand their traditions of academic excellence both in and outside of the classroom. When undergraduate students have participated in internships, service, or study abroad opportunities, they are perceived to have the ability to adapt, take on responsibility, be comfortable with change, and think independently. Likewise, many CTCL graduates have performed graduate-level research, published in journals, presented their work, or completed a thesis-quality project—all of which demonstrates the student's commitment toward their education and the wealth of experience they bring to graduate and professional degree programs.

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Do these schools offer athletic scholarships?

A large percentage of CTCL students play intercollegiate sports, and many participate in club or intramural sports as well. Only NCAA Division I and II schools are allowed to offer sports scholarships under NCAA guidelines, and most CTCL schools complete at the Division III level. Nevertheless, they welcome and value student-athletes and their teams are often very competitive in their divisions.

CTCL athletes have won national and division titles or championships, competed in post-season tournament play, and won awards for their achievements both on and off the playing field, including All America and Academic All America honors. A handful of the CTCL colleges do not offer intercollegiate sports, but they feature popular ample intramurals, club teams, and recreational opportunities. A complete list of the athletic programs offered at the CTCL schools can be found here. Additionally, students interested in playing sports in college should contact the college's office of admission for more information.

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Why are some of these schools in certain editions of the book and not in others?

When Colleges That Change Lives was published in 1996, Loren Pope sought to profile a small group of lesser-known, small liberal arts colleges that met his high standards and lengthy criteria for the distinction of being named as a "college that changes lives"—where faculty were dedicated teachers, the learning environment was engaging, and graduates achieved significant and measurable outcomes, in spite of not being nationally recognizable.

When revising the book in later years, Mr. Pope replaced colleges that had become more well known or those for whom rankings had indeed become a more important part of their admission process with colleges that he thought better fit the focus of the message in his book.

Mr. Pope passed away in 2008. To keep Loren’s legacy alive and his message current, his family worked with his longtime literary agent to chose a writer to update future editions of Colleges That Change Lives.