How to find the right school when you have no idea what to ask
You’ve just started your college search and you’ve decided to go to a virtual college fair to get a lay of the land. You don’t recognize many of the colleges but you aren’t afraid of talking to people—you just aren’t sure what questions about college you’re supposed to ask. I’ll wing it, you think.
“How’s your psychology program?” you ask.
“Oh, it’s terrible,” the rep says. “Not great. I’d recommend trying another school if you want psychology.”
That doesn’t sound realistic, does it? It shouldn’t, because most college admissions reps aren’t ever going to tell you that their programs are terrible. Open-ended questions like the one asked above won’t set you up to get to the heart of what you need to know about the program that you’re looking for. When you start doing research to try and find the schools and programs that are going to be a great match for you, the questions that you ask the admissions rep can make or break your understanding of what that school has to offer. With that being said, let’s break down some of the questions that you really should be asking your admissions rep and how to go about preparing your questions about college.
What Are You Looking for?
Many students feel as though they need to have a major in mind when they’re communicating with an admissions counselor. That’s not true at all! Of course, we would love to know what you’re interested in studying so that we can more easily point you in the right direction. But many students apply to universities “undecided”—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!
If you haven’t decided what you want to pursue for your major or career, what are some academic areas that you’re interested in? Which of your high school classes was your favorite? What’s the thing that you love to practice or read about at night after everyone’s gone to bed?
Those opportunities don’t always need to be related to the what you think is your intended major. Sometimes, those other opportunities might help you find the major that you want to pursue.
Do Some Soul-Searching
Are you looking for a psychology program with lots of opportunities to pursue research, or are you looking for a program that has more of a practical approach, with an emphasis on internships and fieldwork? Are you interested in pursuing an arts major at a conservatory where you may never have to take another math class again, or do you want the freedom to take both artistic and nonartistic courses?
If you aren’t sure what you’re looking for just yet, that’s OK. There are still great questions about college environments that will give you a sense of where you’ll be living! Do cities energize you or are wide open spaces more your jam? Will large lectures make you feel more comfortable or would you rather be in a smaller, more close-knit environment? Do you love to go horseback riding and want to make sure that stables are close by? Narrowing down basic information about where you’re willing to go and the type of environment that you would be most comfortable stepping into will help you narrow down your list.
Asking open-ended questions about college won’t always give you the information that you need to know. Once you’ve done your soul-searching, start compiling questions that get to the heart of what you’re really looking for in your ideal school. Don’t ask us how strong our programs are. Instead, think about what you’re looking for in the program that you’re interested in and ask questions that determine whether or not those opportunities exist. Additionally, if those opportunities do exist, how accessible are they to students? Here are some examples:
- What percentage of students pursue internships? Where have students interned in the past?
- What’s your employment rate upon graduation?
- How many minors do your students typically pursue?
- What is the university doing to promote and support diversity and inclusion?
Pro Tip: You Might Not Need Us After All
Sometimes, the best or most accessible information source isn’t your admissions rep. Our website is full of information that you might be looking for. Do you want to know how to apply? Which academic programs we offer? How to schedule a campus visit? Those are all things that we’ll post to our website so that you can find them quickly. By checking the website before you call or email, you might get your answer faster than you thought you would. You might even find more information that piques your interest!
Additionally, remember that admissions counselors are not current students. Some of us are alumni of our colleges, and we’ll happily tell you about our experiences! But you might find it more helpful to be put in touch with a current student or a faculty member. In doing so, you can get an even closer look at what it’s really like to be a student there. Admissions counselors try as best as we possibly can to be a wealth of knowledge for all that you might need, but there are some topics that are best served by our students and faculty members. We’re more than happy to point you in the right direction so that you can get in touch with them.
And Finally: Don't Be Afraid!
We didn’t get into this line of work because we love hitting “admit” or “deny” on our computer screens. It’s the people we interact with that bring us joy. Reach out, ask us tough questions about college life, and don’t be afraid to get into the weeds about what you want to know so that you can make the best decision that you possibly can.
Above all else, we want to help you, but we can’t do that if you don’t talk to us! So feel free to call us, email us, or find us at your school or a local college fair. If you are going to a college fair, check out this great post on how to prepare for it. Don’t be afraid to come up, say hello, and tell us about what makes you tick so that we can help you find a home for the next four years of your life!