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The Long, Winding and Potentially Dangerous Road to College Admission

As the school year winds down, rising high school juniors and seniors are beginning to set their sights on the college admissions process – a long and winding road that typically includes web based research, counselors, essays, and overnight visits to experience campus cultures.

Sounds good.

Yet, for too many students these overnights include a different kind of education: first time forays into underage drinking and intimate sexual behavior.

New research from the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) reveals that more than half (51 percent) of high school overnight visitors who reported drinking alcohol on campus (about one in six) report having done so for the first time. Among those who reported having sexual intercourse (12 percent of those participating in an overnight visit), half (50 percent) said this had been the first time they had done so.

Why is this important?

 These young people are at risk for injury, death, and disease.

 Such experiences may create a social norm for behavioral patterns throughout college.

The good news is that there are practical steps parents and teens can take to ensure the integrity of an overnight visitation program that helps young people prepare for one of the biggest decisions they have yet to make while keeping them healthy, safe, and alive.


• Accompany your teen on college visits and find accommodations at an off-campus hotel.

• Discuss with your teen the choices he/she may have to make and role-play how he/she might best respond.

• Check with the school to see what policies and expectations they have in place and then communicate those to your teen.


• Understand the choices you might encounter during a college visit.

• Explore potentially dangerous "scenarios" with your parents and ask about their expectations for your behavior. Knowing what those expectations are will make it more likely you will to try to meet them.

• Decide ahead of time (i.e., "in the event of") what choices you feel comfortable with. This will make it easier to do the right thing when a moment of decision arrives.

Perhaps most critical is open, honest dialogue between young people, their parents, and the schools they hope to attend. More than a decade of research from SADD consistently points to the power of communication in reducing risky behavior on the part of teens. For example, young people whose parents spend time with them and consistently communicate expectations about drinking, drug use and sex are overwhelmingly more likely to make good decisions about personal behavior.

With a new season of college visits fast approaching, the issue of on-campus supervision for high school students has particular urgency. Now is the time to put in place substantial, meaningful safeguards … before the long and winding road becomes a dangerous one.

Stephen Wallace, associate research professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University, has broad experience as a school psychologist and adolescent counselor. For more information about CARE visit

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