What is the difference about debating in college?

The quality of college debate tends to be higher because the students are often continuing and building on extensive high school careers.  The judging tends to be excellent, on average, as all debates are judged by debate coaches or their full-time assistants.  The college debate circuit, like high school, includes powerful national circuits and strong regional ones.

The typical college debate tournament lasts for three days: two days of preliminary rounds (usually four rounds per day) and one day of elimination rounds.  The times for the speeches are longer (typically 9-3-6).  Preliminary rounds are power-paired.  The season begins the third weekend of September and culminates in the National Debate Tournament and/or the Cross Examination National Debate Tournament, held the last week in March or the first week in April.

University debate programs tend to be better funded than many high school programs.  Most colleges completely fund travel (hotels, registration, food, transportation, etc.).  Many schools offer debate scholarships.  In addition, many programs make free brief copying available and subsidize other expenses routinely incurred (evidence carriers, etc.).

Why debate in college?

Many students who have debated for strong national programs wonder whether they can achieve any more benefit from continuing their debate participation in college.  This feeling may be especially strong for those who look forward to the college experience in part because of the opportunities it provides to broaden experience.  Even for the most experienced and talented high school debaters, college debate can offer continued growth and improvement.

The quality of the national college circuit provides intellectual challenges for even the best student.  The level of national coaching is advanced, and most debate theory innovations begin at the college level.  In addition, the ease of participation in the national circuit opens up opportunities for interaction with many of the brightest and most articulate students in the country.

Success in college debate may lead to career advancement or at least to monetary opportunities: institute teaching, handbook work, scholarships, etc.  Additionally, students who become intimately familiar with the topics they debate often find that this experience opens up professional internships otherwise unobtainable.

Can I debate and do anything else in college?

Yes, but a qualified yes.  While university directors of debate are well aware of the competing demands on their students’ time, and try to adjust accordingly, both in scope of travel schedule and in work commitment expected, enormous resources are expended in supporting a single two-person team.  College debate is not a casual enrichment activity.  As in high school, those who achieve the most success have spent the most time and effort on debate.  High national level success will require you to make choices and plan other activities carefully.  This is especially true in programs that have minimum grade point requirements.

How much time does college debate take?

As in high school debate and other extracurricular activities, it varies with the level of your commitment.  There are fairly extensive research requirements for success at the national level, but programs competing at that level always work collaboratively.  Keeping in mind the smaller travel obligations, you may find the net time commitment to be roughly equal.  Many coaches ask their debaters to do approximately two hours (of real work) per day, in addition to weekly team meetings, though this is always constrained by school schedules (less time is expected during exam periods while more during the early weeks of the semester).  Students often spend more time on debate because they enjoy it so much.

Can I debate and succeed academically?

Yes.  In fact, at some programs you must succeed academically in order to be eligible to debate.  As you know from your high school experience, those who succeed are usually the same students who earn good grades.  The skills refined in college debate assist directly in the classroom: research skills, speaking skills, and argument and strategy development.  A recent survey of law school deans, when asked to list extracurricular activities that matter the most when it comes to admission, named debate as the best preparation for law school (though poor grades are not mitigated by debate experience).  College debate graduates populate the nation’s best law and professional schools, law reviews, business schools, and often achieve lifelong success.  A 1987 NDT survey of tournament alumni revealed that debate was seen almost universally as the most intellectually formative experience for these high achievers.  Finally a recent college study indicated that debaters earn a full grade point higher than their other scores would predict.

In addition, the flexibility you have at most schools in structuring your class schedule means that you can integrate more fully your debate with school work.

How should debate affect my college choice?

You should not choose a school based solely on the strength of its debate program.  Make a list of good schools you would like to attend that are right for your background and interests, and then look at their debate programs if that is important to you.  Many of the very best schools in the nation offer great debate programs, and schools in every region offer debate.  In addition, all types of schools can have nationally successful programs.

When you first contact a school you might ask for information about their debate or speech programs.  These requests for information will almost always be forwarded to the director.  Feel free to contact the coach directly if you know her or him.  Even if you are not interested in college debate and even if you feel that decision is irreversible, you should still focus on schools that at least offer debate.  The schools can offer you a network of students with similar interests.  And you might be surprised at how much you miss debate.  You should at least preserve the option to try it again if you find the time or are interested in intellectual stimulation and travel.  Conversely, if you pick a school with the intention of debate, you should at least pick a school with a rich environment to keep busy at the end of the season or if you decide later on to leave debate.  Few things are less appealing than the idea of feeling trapped in a debate school unable to offer anything else.

If my decision comes down to debate, how do I decide between programs?

Meet the director.  Visit the school and spend some time with the debaters.  Ask questions about their typical travel schedule, and what kinds of debate are offered (many schools do not offer two-person policy debate but specialize in parliamentary debate or college Lincoln-Douglas debate).  Investigate scholarship opportunities, although most would agree that this should not be determinative; most coaches are prepared to work with you in addressing financial aid and admissions decisions.

You might wish to know how the squad is structured, whether on-campus programs are offered, and how active a coaching role the director-administrator assumes.  Talk to friends who debate at the university you are considering.  You may want to know if the program will you actively in your freshman and sophomore years, or if tryouts are required for participation.