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When choosing a college, consider the dining facilities

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This is a busy time of year for aspiring college students.

Those who met early application deadlines in November now face filling out the hefty Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. And students who didn’t apply early should be working hard on applications to meet regular deadlines, usually in January.

“There’s a lot to get done and one of the most important things to remember is to know your deadlines and meet them,” advises David Porter, a consultant to colleges and universities throughout North America and author of “The Porter Principles,” a guide to college success through social engineering, (www.porterkhouwconsulting.com).

As students and their families visit college campuses, Porter says they should pay attention to the classroom outside of the classroom and the details of campus life: What are the wholesome opportunities for socially rich student engagement and study on-campus? What extra-curriculars are offered and how accessible are they? What does the college paper reveal about campus issues, concerns and opportunities?

One often overlooked feature is the structure of campus dining, Porter says.

“Many universities require freshmen to live on campus for the first year because administrators know that students who live and dine on campus have higher GPAs and higher graduation rates than those who don’t. A properly socially engineered dining/learning commons is central to the day-to-day lives of all students living on-campus and is crucial for face-to-face social networking and study with fellow students,” he says.

“But these same universities often fail to realize that student dining is as much – even more -- a factor in developing a sense of community and predicting future success. This is the centerpiece of ‘the classroom outside of the classroom’.”

He offers these suggestions for evaluating campus dining commons:

• Is there a centralized dining hall (or halls), or are food locations scattered? A dining commons is the living room of the campus, a place where students come together and pause long enough to meet, talk, make friends, see and be seen, relax, study and collaborate. “These are all vital not only to bonding but to learning how to socialize with fellow students from a wide variety of backgrounds in a neutral environment,” Porter says. “That provides once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to develop and nurture valuable networking skills for their personal and future professional lives. If the meal plan encourages them to scatter across campus – or go off campus – to pick up fast foods eaten in isolation, vital opportunities are lost, he says.

• What are the hours of operation? Students live on a different clock than most of us. For many students, 11 p.m. is the middle of the day. Is the dining/learning commons open, thus respecting and being conducive to their (not our) lifestyle? If so, does it offer more than microwave pizza and hot dogs? These are all vital not only to bonding but to learning how to socialize and collaborate with current and new friends in a wholesome, social, safe on-campus environment,” Porter says. “If the place isn’t open when they’re hungry, they’ll go elsewhere and miss that socialization opportunity.”

• How far is the dining hall from dorms and the academic core of campus? “I once consulted with a university that was mystified about why two dining halls got lots of student traffic, while the third – the most beautiful -- was largely ignored,” Porter says. “When I visited, I discovered the dining hall had been built on top of a rather steep hill on the far edge of campus. The location offered great views, but the climb was a bear!” Dining halls should be within easy reach of both dorms and classroom buildings in the academic core or students simply won’t use them.

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