What questions should I ask a college admissions counselor?

Your college admissions interview is a time to dig deeper into the college or university you'd like to attend.
Your college admissions interview is a time to dig deeper into the college or university you'd like to attend.
©iStockphoto.com/sshepard

When embarking on a college career, it pays to be curious. The more questions you have, and the more comfortable you are asking them, the better you'll be able to evaluate the colleges you have in mind. Your test scores, GPA and participation in community activities will have an impact on the admissions process, but a big determiner of how happy you'll be at a specific school, if there's more than one in the offing, may be a result of whether or not you're a good fit. This will depend on a combination of factors, from class size to the political pulse of the student body.

The best way to get a real feel for a particular school and how it measures up to the factors that are really important to you is to have an in depth discussion with the college admissions counselor. Brochures and attractive Web sites are great, but there's nothing like talking to someone who has real world information and insights about a school to really address your questions and concerns.

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Being a good counseling candidate isn't just about asking questions, either. It's also about phrasing them in a way that will get a genuine and detailed response. Where asking about a school's weaknesses may lead to a diplomatic response that will net you zero new information, using indirection may be more effective. Instead of asking about the worst majors, ask for a list of the best or most popular majors. Using this tactic for a few of your questions will lead to answers that are significant for what they aren't saying, and that's where many of the important insights will be. Yes and no answers are easy to get from glossy pamphlets, but counselors can offer much, much more.

So, pull out a note pad and let's explore some of the questions you should ask college admissions counselors, and what to listen for in the responses you get. Remember, in the end, it's in everyone's best interest for you to find the right college for your needs, so don't hold back. First up, let's ask a few questions about financial aid.

 

Sorting Out Your Finances

College is expensive, and financial aid is often a major concern. Although you may want to explore all the colleges that will entertain your application, eventually the discussion rolls around to tuition. The following questions will help you understand the policies of different schools and get you moving in the right direction. Just because a school may seem out of your league doesn't necessarily mean that it is. Financial aid is designed to help students who need it, so you may be a better candidate than you think if there are factors like your academic standing or a special talent that make you stand out in a crowd.

Try to get a sense of where the school places the most emphasis by asking questions about the scope of its financial aid programs and packages, where they're concentrated and how they're awarded. Some may favor athletics while others have more of a focus on the arts or sciences.

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Ask if there is a separate application process in each category, too. Some schools may require multiple applications for scholarships and aid, while others will work from a single initial application. Colleges will generally have multiple awards that will favor specific qualities or needs. Knowing how your strengths fit into this dynamic will give you the best opportunity to find the most comprehensive financing for your education. Another good thing here is that the schools which have the best financial support for the disciplines that interest you will probably be a better fit for your style and goals anyway.

Other important questions to ask are:

  • What is the yearly tuition?
  • Are there work-study programs available?
  • What is the cost of living on campus, and does it include room and board?
  • What are some of the ancillary expenses I should know about? This could include anything from laundry to parking costs. There may also be specific expenses associated with a particular major.

Armed with this information, you'll be in a better position to start planning for the help you need or to make a financially focused decision to look elsewhere.

College should be affordable and comfortable. On the next page, we'll take a look at ways to make sure that the college you choose is a good match for your disposition and outlook.

Making Yourself at Home at College

Another key ingredient in a satisfactory and successful college choice is finding the right mix of people and ideas. If you're most at home exploring things on your own, you may not feel all that comfortable at a school where student life stresses sororities and fraternities or the dorms pack people in three to a room. The political climate and social whirl of college life may not seem important to your decision now, but it will have a lot to do with your overall comfort level once you've unpacked and settled down to daily college life.

Asking your college admissions counselor about campus life outside of the classroom will help you understand better if you'll fit the vibe there, and doing a little more digging like actually asking students about their activities and opinions about their school will help, too. These questions will get you started:

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  • How vigorous is student government, and is it inclined to be liberal or conservative?
  • Which student clubs are the most active, and how robust is the social community on campus?
  • Which college-sponsored activities receive the greatest support?
  • How would you describe Greek life here?
  • What is the sports scene like and how much does it contribute to school spirit?
  • What academic and social support is there for first year students?
  • What's the drop out rate for first year students?
  • What percentage of incoming freshmen graduate with a degree?
  • How accessible is public transportation?
  • Where are the nearest hospitals, cultural venues, shopping districts, et cetera?
  • What types of services are available on campus? This might include health, job placement, mentoring, and other social or personal services that could make college life easier or more meaningful.

To be able to evaluate the answers you get to the questions above, it's a good idea to understand a little about yourself, too. Even though the college years are partly a process of discovery, you probably have a fair understanding of your style and personality, and although you may be trying to balance the way you are now with the way you want to be in the future, maneuvering your way through the challenges of a college career as well as a complete personal overhaul may be asking too much. The object of these questions is to find a college that will allow you to achieve your academic goals while still nurturing your unique character and nature.

Follow us to the next page where we'll explore some important academic questions to ask a college admissions counselor.

College Academics

Class size is important to find out before you choose a school. Big lecture halls aren't for everyone.
Class size is important to find out before you choose a school. Big lecture halls aren't for everyone.
©iStockphoto.com/Cimmerian

College is about learning, and you can learn a lot about a potential college by the way it allocates its resources. If you're planning on attending a school with great science programs, but you happen to be a literature major, then you may be short changing yourself. Your school of choice should be able to demonstrate that your major is important. A few well-worded questions will help:

  • What are the most popular undergraduate programs? This is a great way to see if your intended major appears on the list. Don't ask leading questions; just listen closely to the answers. If the stars of the curriculum are mostly in other disciplines, you may have a problem.
  • Are freshman classes typically taught by graduate assistants or professors? What's the mix?
  • How accessible are academic advisors?
  • Is there an honors program? How does it work?
  • What programs do you have that encourage faculty and student interaction? An involved faculty helps to promote mutual respect and a meaningful dialogue.
  • Do professors have standard, posted office hours?
  • What is the average freshmen class size? This speaks directly to how much individual attention you'll be getting. You may not think you'll need additional help, but core requirements almost always include a few subjects that will challenge you, and a little extra assistance may mean the difference between triumph and disaster, especially in your freshman year.
  • Are there tutoring programs available? You may never need a tutor, but again, if you do, having one easily available may make all the difference.
  • Ask about special facilities, too. Is there a theater, planetarium or art gallery? Be on the lookout for those amenities that are important to your field of study. Ask about the size of the library, computer labs and any other special features that occur to you.
  • Either ask about or explore any notable past graduates and their fields of study, too.

Taking the time now to ask your college admissions counselor good questions may change the direction your college career takes. This is a time when lots of opportunities are open to you. Don't narrow your options by limiting your curiosity to a brochure and a few hurried or polite questions. You've got the grades and the desire, so go the extra step to get comprehensive information about the colleges that interest you. That way you'll make the best choice for your academic future.

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Proceed to the next page for lots more information about higher education.

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