Question: I am very worried about college dorms. My son had to switch high schools due to mold toxicity. He developed brain abnormalities that cause horrific fatigue but also reduce the blood flow to the brain and glucose metabolism. He’s had every test imaginable, and he has neurotoxicity from mold even though he left the school after five months. People don’t understand what mold can do to the body, and the only way to resolve it is to remediate the home or building or move.
I understand many dorms are loaded with mold (one college had to house students on a cruise ship while they were cleaning out the mold in the dorms).
Is there a way to search mold information for each college? My son has already been admitted to several colleges and has gotten some great merit aid, but what good is it, if he can’t attend due to the horrors of mold?
Mold in college dorms does seem to be a growing problem (no pun intended). This may be partially because there’s growing awareness, too, but I suspect that there are other contributing factors as well (e.g., dwindling dollars earmarked for facilities overhauls and clean-ups). This morning, when I searched the College Confidential discussion forum for “College dorms + mold,” I was shocked to find nearly ten pages of results, many of them citing specific schools where mold had led to everything from coughing epidemics to evacuations. So it’s definitely out there, although there seems to be some debate over how much harm it typically causes. Certainly for some students like your son, the answer is a clear-cut, “A lot!”
Earlier today, I spoke to a disabilities coordinator at a college in my orbit. She suggested that, as you help your son select a college from among those that have admitted him, you should begin by contacting the disabilities services office at all the schools that your son may potentially attend.
This official can tell you what the college policies are when it comes to selecting on-campus housing for students with severe mold allergies, what happens to those who need to change dorms, and what provisions are made for students who feel that they cannot live on campus at all, even if they are “required” to do so. (Some financial aid packages include a housing allowance for students who elect to live off campus. If your son has a documented disability–in this case a mold allergy–that makes it impossible for him to live on campus, then it’s likely that ANY college, regardless of the housing rules, will accommodate him, although you may have to jump through multiple hoops to make this happen.)
Here are some steps you should take as you help your son choose his college.
1. As noted above, contact disabilities coordinators at the colleges that have accepted your son and ask them about possible accommodations (literal accommodations … as in where he will live … as well as the other kind of “accommodations” … i.e., what sort of special assistance he would get should he need to relocate or move off campus).
2. Send concurrent emails to these additional officials on each campus: the director of the health services, the dean of residence life, and the facilities/physical plant manager. (These folks may have varying titles but you should be able to easily figure out which departments to contact, even if they’re called something a little different. In some college directories you may find an “Environmental Services” department. If you spot it, put it on your email list.)
Your message should inquire about past mold problems in campus buildings … especially (but not exclusively) in dorms. Ask when and where these problems occurred and how they were remedied. Ask also about the best choice of living situation for your son, revealing as much of his health history as is comfortable.
Don’t send one email that is copied to multiple officials. If you do that, each official may figure, “This isn’t my bailiwick; let the other guys reply.” So send them individually. This approach might also net you some conflicting responses that could be useful albeit confusing.
3. Ask for documentation from your son’s physician in case you need to provide written proof of his mold-related illnesses.
4. Visit as many of your son’s prospective campuses as you can over the next few weeks as he makes his final choice. Not only can you speak with disability coordinators (and other officials) in person, but also you can talk directly to students about mold and other health concerns in their dorm rooms. You can also keep your eyes open for visible mold or for other indications that it may be lurking (e.g., outdated, dirty air-conditioning units, water damage, leaks, telltale smells).
5. Post a query on the College Confidential discussion forum asking parents and current college students about their own experiences with mold at the colleges your son is considering. If these schools have their own dedicated forums on CC, you can post right on those; otherwise try the Parents’ Forum or College Life. Hopefully, too, CC members who are reading this column will have more familiarity with this issue than “The Dean” does and can add to this advice.
As your son chooses his college, you will want to carefully consider the answers you get to your questions. Above all, you should gauge how forthcoming, sympathetic, and cooperative the college personnel you contacted appeared to be. One college official told me today that institutions in the Southwest have the least trouble with mold because of the dry climate. So perhaps your son has one or more of these schools on his roster. But it seems to me that the problem is prevalent enough that your son could land in a moldy dorm room almost anywhere, despite the precautions you’re taking now. So, although you may not be able to completely avoid the problem, you do want to make sure that he ends up at a place where the administration will be accessible and receptive.
Good luck to you and your son as you start your “investigation” and make the big decision just ahead.
Posted in College Life, Other College Issues
Question: How can you find out which colleges have curfews?
The majority of colleges don’t impose curfews anymore although some still do. Curfews are most typically found at military academies (e.g., West Point, Annapolis) and at religious schools (e.g., Oral Roberts University, Clearwater Christian College).
More common are related restrictions that don’t fully qualify as “curfews.” For instance, at some schools, dormitory residents may not be allowed to host members of the opposite sex after a designated time. And many dorms lock the doors at night (typically at 11 or 12) so that only residents with a key or pass card are allowed to enter.
The best way to find out if a college has a curfew (and what it is) is to contact the school directly. Although this isn’t officially an “admissions” issue, the admissions office receptionist is usually fairly easy to reach and should have the correct answer for you.
I’m going to post this on College Confidential so that perhaps other CC members can provide names of specific schools with curfews.
Posted in College Life
Question: I am a male attending college and I think that one of my female professors has feelings for me. She has asked me to keep in touch with her when the semester is over and has sent other signs that she is interested. However, she has also showed signs that she is not. For instance, I have all A’s in her class but she brags about the work of other students in front of the class and never mine. And the other day she canceled an appointment to give me extra help due to an off-campus appointment, but then she provided extra help to another student instead.
My teacher keeps telling me that she not trying to avoid me. My gut feeling tells me otherwise. I have known girls in the past who really liked me but they were too shy or embarrassed to say.
What should I do about this?
It seems to “The Dean” (who has been around the block a few times) that you are on dangerous turf when you discuss whether or not a professor likes you. You may have feelings for this teacher that aren’t appropriate and that could get you in trouble–even if these feelings are reciprocated.
It’s possible, of course, that this teacher has a special fondness for you and may be ignoring your achievements when she addresses the class because she doesn’t want to reveal her interest.
It’s also possible (and very, very common) that you have inflated her interest in your own head and have taken every little bit of attention she has given you as a sign that she has special feelings for you, even though she does not.
But, whichever is true, it is critical that you do your best to stop thinking about whether this professor likes you or doesn’t like you. Your goal must be to do the best possible work in her class and not dwell on anything else. If you go to a dentist, it doesn’t matter if the dentist likes you, as long as she fixes your teeth. If you are taking swimming lessons, your aim is to learn to swim. It may make the experience more pleasant if you enjoy spending time with your teacher, but you are there to stay afloat. So focus on your goal and not on any potential personal relationship.
Once you have finished this class—and if you don’t expect to have this teacher for future classes–you can contact her with a friendly email, just saying hello and perhaps telling her how much you enjoyed her class or how much it helped you. Many colleges have rules that forbid faculty members from dating their students, but often these rules apply only to a student who is in the teacher’s class (or whom the teacher is advising) at the time. Thus, when you are no longer her student, you can remind her that she asked you to stay in touch after the semester ended, so that’s what you’re doing.
I suggest that you wait a month or more after the class has ended before you do this. Then you will see how she responds. If she answers in a way that seems to be more than a polite and professional reply, you can next ask her if she wants to meet you for coffee, etc. Don’t give a specific time or date just yet … keep it general. If she writes back and says something like she’s very busy or she is going to be traveling, then you should say, “Get in touch when your schedule quiets down.” If she is truly interested she will … even if she’s shy. Otherwise, she is sending a message that her relationship with you is not a personal one.
Also, if you plan to pursue this relationship, make sure that she isn’t in another one already. If she has a husband or significant other, back away!
But, in the meantime, you must take all your feelings for her “off of the table.” If not, you have the potential to do irreparable damage to your own future or to hers.
I hope you understand how important this is.
Posted in College Life
Question: My son started his freshman year in August. Now it is the middle of October and he is having a hard time. He says that his one lab professor has such a strong accent that no one understands him, so he is spending a huge amount of time teaching himself. His other professor seems to just teach out of the textbook. The other professor has been corrected by my son and others twice. Needless to say, my son is frustrated and overtired. My question is do I let him transfer or do I have him stay for another semester and hope he gets different professors?
Academic satisfaction should, of course, be at the epicenter of every college experience. So, if a student is feeling cheated out of a fruitful situation in the classroom, then it’s time to consider going elsewhere. But your son is still new to this college, and I assume he will take different classes next semester. Thus, he may be in a stronger position now to choose better professors for his future classes than the ones he was stuck with this term.
You don’t say whether or not your son is happy with the OTHER aspects of his current school (residential and social life, extracurricular endeavors, location, etc.) If he’s content beyond the classroom, then it seems premature for him to jump ship, unless he’s adamant that he wants to do so. Instead, he should be proactive about seeking out classes that seem like stronger fits for the spring semester. The student grapevine, as well as Web sites like RateMyProfessors.com (or any school-specific course critique site that his college may offer) can help to point your son to profs the students respect (although one should not take this sort of advice as gospel truth).
In the meantime, encourage your son to seek out the academic assistance office at his college. They may be able to provide a free tutor, which could come in handy for the lab in which he can’t understand the instructor and has to teach himself. Finally, keep in mind that almost ALL freshmen are exhausted in their first semester and it can take much of the year to find their “sea legs.”
So, I think that your son should stay put for at least another semester. But, once the second term is under way, if he has made an effort to select the “right” professors and yet he doesn’t notice significant improvement, he should look into transferring for his sophomore year.
Posted in College Life
Question: My daughter is one week into a college that is five hours from home, and she’s not happy. Are we better off pulling her out now and getting our 80% back and letting her just apply to a local college in January or finish out the semester there and then make a decision for transfer? HELP! It’s so hard to see your child unhappy. She loves the classes … it’s the kids that she doesn’t like. She says everyone just wants to drink and party.
If I had a dollar for all the unhappy freshmen who change their tune as the first semester rolls on, I could put my own son through college. But, as a parent myself, I know how devastating it can be when a child is miserable … especially when that child is far away.
Even so, you should encourage your daughter to stick it out at least through the semester, if not through the entire year. It can often take months for a new student to adjust to an unfamiliar culture and to find like-minded others.
Of course, there are times when it’s best to cut your losses, to grab whatever refund is offered, and to let the student start the college search and application process over again, either while taking classes at a local college or while pursuing some other type of “gap year” endeavor.
However, this may not be one of those times. I’ve heard your daughter’s lament often in the past: the classes are fine; the classmates not so much. Given that your daughter is brand-new to college and is satisfied academically, her best bet is probably to make it through this semester and, ideally, the second one as well, if she feels that she can focus on her studies despite her unhappiness. (If, on the other hand, she thinks she’s too miserable to earn good grades, then she’s better off heading back home rather than re-applying to new colleges with a shaky transcript.)
If she does stay put, I urge her to get involved in some campus activities that are likely to lead her to others who share her interests and values. In particular, political, environmental, religious, cultural, and academic organizations are often magnets for the anti-party crowd. The “Women in Chemistry” club, for instance, probably won’t be known for its all-night keggers. Ditto the Actuarial Science Club, the Natural Path Meditation Group, or Amnesty International. My advice to your daughter: Join one activity that feels like familiar turf (i.e., something she liked in high school … debate, model UN, sci-fi society) and one that is new but intriguing. This may sound like a cliché, but it really has worked in the past. Becoming a part of school clubs, volunteer endeavors, etc. can make the sea of party animals open up and reveal a road to future friends (maybe even soul mates!).
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” These words apply to many aspects of the college process, and they are especially apt for your daughter right now. She should make her best effort to embrace the pluses of her current school and to succeed academically while concurrently looking down the road to other, better options for next fall. And she may even surprise you and decide that she does want to stay put after all!
Posted in College Life
Question: I am a first-year college student. My first semester is in great danger. I already dropped one of my classes because I didn’t want to get a really low GPA, and now my grades in my other four classes are low, too. It’s almost the end of the term. What can I do to save my grades? I’m scared!
The bad news is that low freshman grades can dog you for many years thereafter if you don’t act now to reverse the trend. They’ll drag down your GPA, even if your marks improve, which may ultimately have some impact on graduate school admissions and even on job opportunities and career paths. The good news, however, is that, if you’re able to dig out of this hole, your struggle this semester will not play a starring role in your future–or perhaps not any role at all. Grad school admission committees will note a “rising record” and pay minimal attention to a rough beginning. So you’re smart to address this issue promptly, to confront your fears instead of burying your head in the sand.
What can you do at the last minute?
1) Ask yourself if your grades are really low or just below the lofty goals you’ve set for yourself. Many students today seem to be disgusted with C’s (or even B’s) although those who were straight-A students in high school often find that college is a big wake-up call, and A’s may not be at all easy to earn. As noted above, most graduate school admission officials recognize that the transition to college work can be huge, and they tend to over look spotty freshman transcripts. So, for starters, consider that perhaps you’re being too hard on yourself and try to lighten up.
2) Schedule an appointment with each of your professors to ask if you can complete an extra-credit project over the holiday break to improve your grade. Even if they must give you a low grade now, perhaps they have the flexibility to change it if you do additional work.
3) Talk to your advisor about your course choices for the next term. Even if it’s too late to change the grades you have earned this semester, you want to make sure that you’ve chosen wisely for the next. Don’t overload your docket with courses in your major, if you don’t have to. For instance, if you’re considering medical school, admission committees will be far more interested in how you fared in your science classes than the grades you earned in Art History, Intro to Acting, or Intermediate German. So, as you adjust to college life, don’t go overboard taking classes that might “count” the most until you’re better equipped to handle them. On the other hand, do be sure that you’re taking courses you like and not just trying to get requirements behind you.
4) Take advantage of free college resources. Make an appointment with the school counseling services immediately to discuss your fears about this semester. Even if your grades can’t change, you may find it comforting just to have someone to vent to about this, who will probably also remind you that countless others have been in your shoes and have gone to great things afterwards. If you’re currently studying for final exams or writing final papers, connect with the campus academic-assistance center to get some guidance. Again, simply feeling that someone is in your corner can be a huge relief at this stressful time of year.
Finally, use your vacation time ahead to think about what you are studying and why. Are you taking classes that excite you or are you fulfilling parental expectations? Is your college the right fit for you or should you be exploring other options? For example, if the burden of five courses (which sounds as if it may be the norm at your school but definitely isn’t elsewhere) seems too much, consider choosing a college with a different average load. For example, colleges on the “trimester” system typically expect students to take three classes per trimester. Colorado College and Cornell College (in Iowa) offer a “Block Plan,” where students take only one class at time (!) for mini-terms that last about a month. For those who don’t like to multitask, the Block Plan can be a super way to focus all efforts on just a single subject for a short period of time. (I once took a “Block Plan” grad school course. It met 13 hours/week for just three weeks. It was the only time in my college career that I did all the required reading and all the optional reading, too.)
Although you may be scared right now, you may someday look back on your current situation as the catalyst that inspired you to dig inside yourself and figure out where you really want to be and what you really want to do.
Good luck with your finals and with your decisions ahead.
Posted in College Life
Question: College students are often warned about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, date rape, unplanned pregnancies, and STD’s … although much of this advice, unforuntately, is met with rolled eyes or deaf ears. But what other safety suggestions can you make to first-year students that they may be more inclined to heed?
While caution when dealing with strangers and strange neighborhoods springs to mind, I suspect that this, too, may fall under the in-one-ear-and-out-the-other rubric. The same goes with, “Make certain you ride with only safe and sober drivers.”
But two safety issues that students might be more apt to consider if warned are:
#1. Fire hazards: Candles are illegal in most dorms, but this rule is commonly disregarded, and unattended candles cause many campus fires and even loss of life. If you want to create “ambiance,” try replacing a standard light bulb with a red one. Skip the flames! Also, when I was in college, a student put a towel over a lamp to dim it, apparently to effect a romantic mood. Instead, she started a serious fire. Mercifully, most of the damage was the result of the sprinkler system, not the smoke or fire, but that certainly put a damper on her love life … so to speak.
#2. Pedestrian crossings: Even though I live in a pretty tame college town, there have been two students killed and several others injured in recent years. These accidents took place when the students were crossing the street, often in a marked crosswalk. Students tend to forget that not all drivers obey crosswalk laws, and some students simply bolt out in front of traffic, many with iPods blaring or in mid-phone-chatter. Such accidents are tragic …. and so easily avoided.
I hope that CC members will add other good safety suggestions that students might actually keep in mind as they start their college careers. Even little quirky things that may be specific to only a few kids or campuses (e.g., Gorge caution at Cornell) would be helpful.
Posted in College Life
Question: Have there been any studies conducted that suggest the optimal living situation for freshman students (single, double, triple, quad …)? My daughter just entered her freshman year at a small liberal arts college and the room–clearly designed for two–is housing three students. All students in the honors dorm are similarly housed, and I question the overcrowding and how this may negatively impact her academics.
I don’t know if any freshman housing studies have been done, but I suspect that there have been many. After all, what topic these days hasn’t been studied ad nauseam? And, of course, any time there’s a question with a common-sense answer, it somehow seems that thousands of dollars are spent researching it anyway. Certainly, the common-sense answer here is that students crowded into too-small dorm rooms will often have less study time and added stress. It’s usually easier for two roommates to coexist rather than three or four. The more bodies squeezed into a small space, the more likely it is that there will be multiple sleeping schedules and study schedules … and many multiple visitors.
So, sure, as a parent, it’s understandable that you are worried when you see that your daughter’s rooming situation is less than ideal. But do keep in mind that there are many lessons learned in college that aren’t learned in the classroom. As a result of her crowded digs, your daughter may hone her skills in time-management and diplomacy. Moreover, as the parent, it’s easy to project your own needs onto your child’s. When most of us are old enough to be sending a kid to college, we’re also too old to imagine sharing a bathroom with a dozen others or even a closet with a near-stranger. But such rites of passage come with the college turf, and they aren’t as terrorizing to teenagers as they might be to you and me.
Thus, as your daughter’s freshman year gets underway, it’s important that you encourage her to make the most of her situation—assuming that she’s bothered by it in the first place. Don’t point out the negatives; emphasize the pluses. On the other hand, if there are problems that seem irreconcilable, then you can support your daughter as she notifies the Residence Life staff at her school, with the hope of prevailing upon administrators to provide more reasonable accommodations. But, meanwhile, don’t anticipate these problems. Your daughter may do just fine, and she might even emerge from her close quarters with greater flexibility and self-confidence, along with a few extra pairs of socks and undies, too.
Posted in College Life
Question: On my roommate-matching questionnaire, I wrote down that I do not smoke and expect to live with another non-smoker. I found out that the college always respects that preference, and I was assigned a non-smoking roommate… or so I thought. But then I met my roommate at orientation. She seems really nice, but later that night I saw her outside having a cigarette with some other kids. I was shy about asking if she really does smoke. Maybe it was a one-time–or just occasional– thing, or maybe she is going to start smoking in college. I really DON’T want to share a room with a smoker. What should I do?
You have “The Dean’s” sympathy. I, too, had a freshman roommate who took up the nasty habit in our first semester. Back in those days (1969) I must admit I was pretty oblivious. But if it happened to me now, I’d be ready to jump out the window. It’s possible that your roomie was just trying to fit in with some new friends she met at orientation, and there will be no butts about her when she starts school for real. On the other hand, it could be that she’s been a smoker all along but had to fill out the housing questionnaire under close parental scrutiny. It seems that your only options are to:
-contact the roommate pronto to tell her what you saw and how you feel about it. Maybe you’ll get a “I don’t know what possessed me that night” reply, and you can breathe a (smoke-free) sigh of relief.
-prevail upon the Residence Life coordinator to find you a truly match-free match
-suck it up (the situation that is, not the smoke) and hope that the roommate only smokes elsewhere (is the dorm itself smoke-free?) and keeps her stinky stuff in a separate closet
None of those approaches are ideal, but–if you’ve got the guts for it–the first one is probably the place to start.
Posted in College Life
Question: In September, my daughter will be attending a university in Boston, which is about five hours by car from our home. I’m nervous about her leaving home, but I’m obsessing even MORE about how she comes back. She’s already gathering names of other local underclassmen with cars who can drive her home for vacations in exchange for a contribution to their gas costs. This is a concept that I remember well from my own college days, but now I’m having a hard time accepting the idea of my daughter riding with a stranger–even a fellow student–who may be inexperienced driving long distances on major highways and in bad weather. Is this ride-sharing still a common practice?
“The Dean” also recalls being stuffed like a sardine in a dilapidated Dodge Dart, chipping in a couple bucks to cover the cost of gas and tolls from Massachusetts back to Philadelphia. Yet, in recent years, I’ve often noted that the many of my contemporaries who share similar memories nonetheless provide vacation-time chauffeur service for their own offspring. Sure, some kids still ride home with other students, but that seems to be more the exception these days and less the norm.
So, this is a judgment call that you may be forced to make next fall … not unlike others that surely came before it. Remember all those leaps of faith you’ve taken over the years … the first time your little girl walked to school alone? Rode her bike to the store? Went out on her first “real” date? Spent a weekend at the beach with a friend you couldn’t pick out of a line-up? There were probably times when you said “Yes” when other parents were saying, “No,” and other occasions when you put your foot down firmly, although you were told (amidst tears), “Everyone else is doing it, Dad!”
Well, once again, it’s up to you to determine the boundaries of your comfort zone, but it’s probably time for another one of those leaps of faith. After all, you can’t expect to monitor your daughter’s drivers forever. But, on the other hand, it seems reasonable to ask her to use some sort of screening process when accepting a ride from a stranger. For starters, she should confirm that her driver really is a fellow student. She should find someone else she knows who knows this person, too, and can vouch for his or her good character and judgment. You can also talk with your daughter about other options. Are you and/or your spouse willing to make the trip? If so, how would your daughter feel about that? As I said, in today’s college culture it’s not unusual to rely on Mom and Dad for rides. Your daughter might actually be happy to avoid the hassle of finding her own transportation. Alternatively, unlike more remote campuses, every school in Boston has easy access to planes, trains, and buses.
With a teenager under your roof, you’ve undoubtedly learned to pick your battles, so whether this is a fight or flight issue is up to you. But do keep in mind that, as soon as you air your concerns about riding in a car with a total stranger, you’ve opened the door for your daughter to start lobbying for a car of her own.
Posted in College Life, Other College Issues