Sending your child off to college can be nerve-wracking for any parent, whether that campus is 20 minutes away from home or a two-hour plane ride. There is the inevitable push and pull of giving your child the space and opportunity to venture out on his own and simultaneously ensuring appropriate safety nets. But what if you’re sending your child to study overseas? How can you safeguard your child when you are literally a world apart?
When I worked as a college counselor at an international high school in Hong Kong, the most repeated statement I heard from parents was, “I want my child to go to a good university in the U.S.” And that was almost always followed by, “I want my child to go to a safe university in the U.S.” It really took me aback and I wasn’t always sure how to respond. I thought back to my own college search process with my parents. The issue of “safety” was never discussed or considered an important factor to research in making a sound decision on where to apply. I’m pretty confident that my parents loved me just as much as the parents I worked with in Hong Kong loved their kids, so why did one set care so much more about safety?
It’s a tragic reality that the U.S. has a history with violence on campuses that much of the world does not experience firsthand. Yet, news broadcasts and social media have brought the issue closer to home for international students studying in the U.S. More recent political protests have put U.S. college campuses in the spotlight again, and leave many international families asking, “Is it safe to go to university in the U.S.?” Only you can decide what makes you and your child feel safe when it comes to a college experience, but here are some ways to help answer that question for yourself.
Discuss as a family. Talk about what makes your child feel safe. Does he need a large international population on campus to feel comfortable? Would he like a college where students are required to live on campus or does he prefer a more independent experience? Is a more liberal or conservative community a better fit? Talk about a single-sex environment—what would it be like to attend a single-sex college, or would a single-sex dorm be ideal? If she’s studying late at night in the library, how will your daughter return to her dorm room? Your answers to these questions (among many others) will then help guide you on where to apply and ultimately enroll. Remember that only your family can define the safety must-haves and deal breakers that are important to you.
Do your research. You wouldn’t go to a college with an engineering department you didn’t love if that is your intended major. Similarly, you shouldn’t go to a college where you don’t know you’ll feel safe. Once you identify the safety issues that matter most to your family, there is data to help you compare campuses. The U.S. Department of Education requires colleges to report crime statistics and compiles the information into an easy to use Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool.
Reach out. As you gather more information on safety, gain more insight by talking with the colleges about your findings. The international student office on each college campus is a great place to contact to ask your questions. The U.S. State Department also operates Education USA advising centers across the globe with professionals to help answer questions on studying in the U.S.
Make a plan. Before your child heads off to college, decide how you will keep in touch. It is important to give your child space to learn and grow on her own, but you will feel better being on the other side of world if the lines of communication are open. Consider time zones and set a weekly check-in meeting. Ask the tough questions in a supportive approach, “Did anything make you feel uncomfortable this week?”, “Who would you go to if you didn’t want to tell me about something that happened?”, “How are you helping your friends who might be struggling with an issue?” By making these tough questions a regular part of your conversations, your child will hopefully keep their ears and eyes open and be more willing to share their experiences with you.
Tune into our podcast, Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, on Thursday, March 30th, 2017 at 4pm ET to hear a conversation with an expert on this particular issue.