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Test-Optional College Admission: What It Means for ApplicantsGuest Contributor
Like many of your teens, I, too, began to first scope out college campuses when I was in high school. Back then, I was timid, fearful and wholly unaware of what I ought to look for in colleges let alone what they could offer me. Suffice it to say I was not an informed consumer though I was certainly a lucky one, winding up, through sheer luck, at a school that met me where I was and helped me blossom.
In my role as a college admission consultant, I’ve toured hundreds of colleges across the U.S. in order to gain valuable insight to bring back to my clients and help them become informed consumers. That is my goal for you, too, dear reader.
Whether your student is at the very start of the college search or close to the end, now weighing the schools they were accepted into, it helps students and parents alike to understand all that colleges have to offer. And in 2020, it’s more than ever before.
Colleges offer a wider variety of freshman housing options than they did before. Ten years ago, many colleges already offered a handful of living-learning opportunities. First-year students could choose to live on floors or in residence halls exclusively with peers who also participated in the Honors Program, studied the same major, or aimed for fluency in a non-English language. Today, Residence Life Offices have expanded on their living-learning housing options.
Gender-inclusive housing at colleges like Lewis & Clark may be a preferred option for students who identify as trans, genderqueer or gender non-conforming and for their allies. In addition to gender-inclusive restrooms and showers, these dorms and floors typically offer LGBTQ-relevant info sessions, weekend programs and excursions off campus.
Students who maintain a physically active lifestyle can reside in designated wellness housing, available at many schools. The Healthy Carolina Wellness living-learning community is just one example. Located in Columbia Hall at the University of South Carolina, HCW students have in-building gym and kitchen access and can train for fitness events with other HCW participants.
Sober living housing options are on the rise. SubFree at the University of Michigan provides students who opt in a residential experience completely free of drugs and alcohol as well as peers who support this choice.
Students who practice worship as a part of their religion benefit from meditation and prayer spaces located in the dorms, some with as many as one prayer space per hallway. Additionally, some schools like the University of Delaware provide wash stations for Muslim students who wish to cleanse before prayer.
Moving beyond wellness-focused housing, many colleges now provide wellness opportunities across campus. The most notable shift is in college dining halls. It is not uncommon to see a composting station next to multiple types of recycling bins, and food items labeled with nutritional and allergen information. Many Dining Services now allow students access to an on-campus, registered dietitian who can help them meet their nutritional goals.
Students desirous of physical activity will notice the outpouring of new or recently renovated rec centers across colleges, many of which include a full roster of exercise classes, spaces for CrossFit athletes, and impressive indoor climbing facilities such as the 56-foot rock wall at the University of Akron.
Need a quiet space? Colleges including Washington State University in Pullman provide Google-designed nap pods in their student centers and libraries, while schools like Middlebury College dedicate multiple rooms across campus for student meditation, mindfulness and prayer.
Student Support offices across the country are also responding to a nationwide outcry for better mental health support for students. Whitman College among others provides students access to a 24/7 on-call counselor, and across the country, hundreds of colleges host Active Minds chapters in the effort to destigmatize mental illness.
Nationwide research found that 25 percent of community college students and 20 percent of students at four-year schools experience food insecurity. To increase low-income students’ access to food, Temple University opened a food pantry on the campus, adding itself to a list of similar programs at colleges like Ole Miss, Bellarmine University, Moravian College and New Mexico State University. In addition to food, many of these pantries supply hygiene products. The Store at George Washington University goes one step further, providing school supplies as well as clean suits and blazers for students who will need them for interviews.
Cost of required textbooks is also a common concern among students. Colleges are working to address this concern through a few different formats. At many colleges I’ve visited, professors routinely leave copies of their required textbooks in the library. Students are able to check these books out for an hour or so in order to electronically scan the pages they need. More professors are utilizing free, online texts for class readings or even writing their own textbooks, then providing them free-of-charge to students.
First-generation college students also face their fair share of challenges in applying to and later attending college, yet many schools are stepping up to actively recruit and support them. Trinity College waives its application fee for first-gen students, whether domestic or international, while Brown University provides an impressive set of services and programs for undocumented, low-income and first-gen students including the option for parents who cannot visit during scheduled Parent Days to still come to campus and have a Parent Day experience. Likewise, a few schools like the West Chester University of Pennsylvania keep dorms, dining halls, health centers and other campus facilities open during breaks and major holidays, so that first-gen and low-income students who need to remain on campus can stay put for no additional fee.
Lastly, 2019 saw an increase in the number of colleges who offer Autism Spectrum Disorder support programs. ASD support programs vary widely in terms of the specific supports they provide. Programs like Mercyhurst University’s AIM Program and the University of Chattanooga’s Mosaic Program tend to be more comprehensive, providing students assistance in academic, socioemotional and career realms. Most ASD support programs require an additional fee though the University of Idaho’s Raven Program is completely free of cost to qualifying students.