Questions you need to ask your prospective colleges

February 6, 2014

howitworks_picIn the throes of the admissions frenzy, it is hard to be face-to-face with a college representative and ask anything other than a thinly veiled version of “Are you going to accept me?” Yet any insight you’ll uncover through this line of inquiry could just as easily have been gleaned from the earmarked pages of the most raggedy admissions guide in your high school counselor’s office.

We encourage you to recalibrate your thinking, to shift your mentality from “desperate applicant” to that of a shrewd and discriminating consumer. Your goal should be to gauge whether a given institution is truly a good “fit” and what it can actually provide you in exchange for your hard-earned tuition dollars. Arm yourself with the following four questions and prepare to be enlightened.

1. Can you describe a typical class?

Get right to the crux of the matter – what is the classroom environment going to be like? Are classes big or small? Do you actually interact with your professors? These factors can vary greatly from campus-to-campus, even between elite institutions, and it is critical that you understand what you’re signing up for.  Picture the following scenarios…

At Prestigious University A, you are one of 200 students crammed into a dimly lit amphitheater for an introductory Biology lecture. A Teaching Assistant with a thick accent sounds like he might be saying something about “meiosis” but thanks to the obscenely loud Candy Crush sound effects emanating from your neighbor’s iPhone, it’s possible that the instructor merely sneezed.

Meanwhile at Prestigious University B, you will be one of 17 students in biology class, will have daily face time with a tenured professor and will actually using the state-of-art laboratory equipment that is reserved for grad students and Nobel Prize winners at University A.

2. How do your graduation rates compare to your peers?

Eighty-five percent of Kenyon College students leave with a diploma in four years. At nearby Kent State, just 25% of students achieve the same.  While it is important to note that graduation rates don’t tell the whole story (Kenyon admits a higher number of truly “college-ready” freshmen than does Kent State), they do lend insight into student quality and the supports that exist at a particular college.

3. What academic and personal support services are available to students?

Perhaps you have a weakness in a certain subject and may desire tutoring at some point. Most colleges have a tutoring center available, but the quality and accessibility of these programs run the gamut. Investigate whether the tutors are fellow undergrads or are people with teaching experience? What hours are tutors available and for what subjects?

Find out how personal of relationship students have with their advisors. What is the average caseload? At some colleges the average advisor’s caseload is only 200 students. At other institutions this number can exceed 600.

If you have any special learning needs you’ll want to heavily investigate the Office of Disability Services at any prospective college. Some schools offer a significant level of support while others provide very little.

4. How do you help students prepare for graduate school and/or employment in my desired field?

In 2013, almost 37% of college graduates under the age of 25 held a job that did not require a college degree. You want to make sure that the massive investment of time and money you are about to commit to a college education is not going to end with you trying to pay off a six-figure debt on an assistant-barista’s salary.

Ask the representative about his or her school’s employment statistics in your field of interest. What graduate schools do their students typically go onto? If information about average starting salaries out of a given college are cited, follow up to make sure they are applicable to your field of interest. For example, the fact that the average Stanford grad makes $61,000 out of school will be irrelevant if you plan on studying social work or education.

College Transitions Bottom Line: Face-time with college representatives is best used to learn about the unique resources and type of learning environment a particular institution offers.  Keep in mind that you are about to pay a hefty sum of money for a post-secondary education. Make sure it is an experience that you will enjoy and most benefit from in your scholarly, career and personal pursuits.