In my last blog, I talked about why recent trends concerning the mental health of teens should be a part of your conversation about postsecondary plans. Of course, you know that placing yourself in an environment that will allow you to thrive socially, physically, spiritually, emotionally, AND academically is the right choice. But, what do you do to prioritize wellness in your college search?
- Look for a campus offering service opportunities that strongly appeal to your unique interests, or other organizations based around values that resonate with you (for example, political engagement or language learning). You can do this by looking on a college’s website under the Student Activities section (other names might be Student Clubs, Student Life, Campus Activities or Student Affairs). Finding friends and connections through value-based engagement will help you build relationships and networks that last. One great example of this type of activity is Alternative Spring Break – a service-focused spring break trip such as this one offered at many universities around the country. Being active and committed to campus organizations is critical – the importance of feeling connected to your peers, school and community are unmistakable in encouraging wellness.
- Research the college’s counseling and wellness centers. Here are some good questions to research: Do they offer easily-accessible appointments? Are there educational workshops or other forms of support aside from staff therapists? Do they have a conveniently-located facility to dorms, classroom buildings, etc? Can you find a user-friendly website with contact information?
- Look into metrics of a college’s success in retaining and graduating students. Paying attention to these rates will give you a window into how many students leave. While the exact explanations for their departures aren’t easy to identify, these graduation rates are the most accessible, single stat I use to judge student satisfaction and success.
- On campus tours, look for the variety and accessibility of nutritious dining options, and the accessibility and quality of student fitness options. Take note of how many students are using the fitness center. Tip: you can always ask in admissions about options for eating in the student dining hall or getting a pass to exercise in the student fitness center. If you are able to access these areas, go at typical high traffic student times to observe student behavior and options. In the campus dining hall and watch for fresh vegetables and fruits, salad options, and healthy hot food such as stir fry or soups.
- Look for a school where students are deeply engaged in their academics. If you’re on a campus visit, take time – separate from your tour – to interact with students and observe their activities. Read reviews about colleges. NSSE provides a well-respected resource for gauging student engagement. Ask yourself some critical questions about why you’re interested in a particular college and make sure you avoid making your decision based on variables that – typically – contribute to low college graduation rates.
- If you are a student who isn’t certain that entering college immediately after high school is a healthy choice, consider taking a gap year. This option could prepare you to enter college with increased readiness and greater chances of success and well-being.
Many describe college as “the years that matter most.” And in so doing, they are hardly focused on classroom experiences alone. College experiences of all kinds tend to be marked by discovery, exploration and change. Use these strategies to maximize your chances for getting the best out your college years.
Nicole has dedicated the entirety of her 20 year career to encouraging higher education opportunities. After graduating from Vanderbilt, she worked in her alma mater’s admissions office. The, she completed her PhD in Counseling so she could bring that expertise into college counseling. Nicole partnered with her former Vanderbilt colleague, Fitz Totten, to form Find The Right College and support their mission to make trustworthy advising more accessible.