When your son or daughter was in the midst of the search process for college, chances are that he or she (and possibly you) spent countless hours poring over college websites. College websites have become an extremely important admissions tool. Many students who visit colleges say that they were drawn to a particular college because of its website. Admissions professionals work hard to make their sites not only informative, but also appealing and representative of the institution.
Once your child heads to college, you should begin to look at the college’s website differently. As a parent of a college student, you’re no longer looking at a website to evaluate the institution, but using it to gather information, and to have a sense of the place where your child will be spending significant time during the coming years. Use this tool to it fullest advantage. Spend time browsing the site, look beyond the “For Parents” section. Enter the site through the “Current Students” portal as well as the “For Parents” area.
The following are ten suggestions for parents on how to look at the college website to gather the most information:
Look at the pictures.
Spend some time browsing the website to look at the pictures of the students. This will give you a sense of the students at the college and the activities in which they are engaged. Yes, colleges do put their “best foot forward” on the sites, but you will certainly get a feel for the institution. Who knows, you may even spot your own son or daughter!
Explore the college catalog.
Many colleges now post their college catalog online. (Some institutions now only post their catalog online.) The college catalog has almost all of the important information a student needs to know. In addition to course descriptions and major requirements, the catalog will tell you college policies, procedures, deadlines, special programs, contact information, graduation requirements, and much, much more. Remember, the more you know, the more you can direct your student toward important information.
Check out the “For Parents” section.
Although you may not want to limit yourself to looking at the “For Parents” section of the website, don’t overlook it. If your student’s school has a Parent Relations Office, they have worked carefully to prepare this section. In addition to Parent or Family Weekend information and local hotel and/or restaurant information, you may learn about orientations, e-mail newsletter sign-ups, parent associations, even local parent groups in your area. Definitely take advantage of information available here. It is one way in which the college can reach out to you as a parent.
Check the Calendar.
One of the advantages of an online calendar is that it doesn’t go out of date once it is printed. Most colleges work hard to keep their online calendar current. Check the calendar for important dates, deadlines, and events. End of semester dates are especially important if you need to make travel or other arrangements for your student. Be sure to check the final exam schedule as well as the last day of class dates.
Explore upcoming campus events.
Checking out the events coming up on campus will give you a sense of campus life. It may also give you something interesting to talk about with your student. Ask him if he is planning to attend an event. Ask how it was. Encourage him to take advantage of the opportunities available on campus.
Look for important contact information.
Keeping in mind that you should only be contacting offices at the college as a last resort, the website can be a source of information about who to contact, and how to contact them, if you need help. As you encourage your college student to take responsibility and deal with any issues, you may be able to help him by steering him to the correct person.
Spend some time with the campus map.
Looking at the campus map will give you a better sense of the college and will help you to visualize your college student’s life and routine. Find her residence hall on the map. Look for the student center and major classroom buildings. Try to imagine her or him getting around campus. The more closely we can imagine the daily routine of our students, the more comfortable we become with it.
Check out campus life activities.
This is another way to visualize your student’s routine, and to talk to him about things happening on campus. Look at the student life area for clubs and organizations, events, off-campus trips sponsored by the school. Look to see if the student newspaper is available online or whether a radio station might be streamed on the internet. Check out athletics schedules and major games or matches.
Look to see what academic support might be available to your student.
If your student is struggling or has academic questions, there is probably plenty of help available at the school. If you understand what is available you can do more to encourage him to explore his options. What services does the library offer? Is there a tutoring center? Are advisors available to help students?
Look at housing information.
Check carefully for housing deadlines in the spring, including the deadlines for housing deposits. Look at the different housing options so you’ll be informed as your student talks about his living arrangements.
Colleges are using their websites to post more and more information. Take advantage of the amount of information they are sharing. Have fun imagining your student at college as you check out the website.