Choosing a college can be one of the most important decisions you and your child make. And the criteria upon which that decision is based can vary greatly from student to student.
If you’re armed with all the right facts about the colleges on your child’s list, the decision-making process will come from a place of knowledge rather than conjecture.
It’s okay to ask others for their opinions (and “facts”), but going to the source for many of the answers you’ll need is key. You’ll get a lot of “advice” from well-meaning students and adults, but ultimately, the choice will be up to your student (and you).
The data you get online from various magazines and databases is just the starting point. Some of the most important questions are questions you have to ask the college itself.
And while there are numerous things you need to know about the school (besides price), we’ve narrowed it down to what you should find out directly from the college.
Questions to Ask Colleges
How will the college use your financial aid numbers from either the FAFSA or the CSS Profile?
From there, colleges consider medical expenses, changes in income, home equity, and how your family income fits in with the cost of living in your area.
Check with the school’s financial aid office to see what factors they consider when evaluating awards for financial aid.
What career services does the college have?
Most schools have a career services office. And those that do not, often have individual offices per major.
Check into the details of how many students each career service rep handles. Find out where these reps are getting students placed in regards to internships and/or shadowing professionals.
Since the most important aspect of college is getting a job you like after graduation, these questions will provide you with crucial information about a student’s potential future.
Specific questions to ask:
- What types of programs does the school have to help with internship opportunities, career planning and development?
- Does my major/department help place students with internship/career prospects?
- Do students find the college career center helpful to most students, or just those interested in common fields like engineering and finance?
- What specific services does the college’s career center provide?
- Is there a strong alumni presence to network post-graduation?
What are the classes like?
It’s very important for your student to call and speak to the department office that houses the major they are considering.
Being able to speak with at least one professor about what classes are like will give your student a good idea of how students in the school learn.
You can get data on class size online, but you can’t get data on whether the school focuses more on projects or tests, what career experience from classrooms is like, what’s the typical time commitment for studying for each class, etc.
Speaking to a first-year student in your major will give you great insight into what Freshman year might look like.
If the department office denies this request, it’s something to consider when picking schools.
You want a school that will guide your student as needed and provide them with as much upfront information as possible.
Questions to Ask Students About Their College Experience
What is campus life like?
In terms of major and social environment, campus life is very important.
A good way for a prospective student to find out about activities on campus, and how much they are, is to get in touch with the student government and speak to someone who is involved.
Students can also ask questions about going out, night life, and what it typically costs to have a social life.
This is also a good time to figure out how many meals your student will actually eat as part of the meal plan.
A meal purchased from the meal plan, such as breakfast, could cost four times as much as buying fruit and bagels or cereal and yogurt for a fridge in their room. It can easily save your student $1,000 per year by not buying breakfast as part of the meal plans.
In addition, students will want to contact clubs they may be interested in joining to see what they are like and the expenses involved.
For instance, your student may want to join a political club or an intramural sports club. For intramural sports, they should find out about both the costs of renting and buying equipment, as well as how much it typically costs to go out with the team post games.
Questions to ask students about the college experience
- How would you rate your overall experience?
- What do you enjoy most/least about the college?
- How would you describe your experiences with professors and advisors?
- How would you rate the food on campus?
- How would you rate the campus facilities?
- What do you think of the dorms and residence halls?
- Which are you favorite aspects of student life on campus?
Note: Well-planned campus tours can give your student a chance to follow up and get more details on all these questions.
That’s why it’s always important to do college tours when class is in session.
Quick tips for asking questions when choosing a college
- While the school already has data from you on your finances, schools vary on how they use that information. Ask questions such as how regional cost of living factors into the college’s financial aid award decisions.
- Career services is the most important office on campus. This is where your student can ask if students are getting work post-graduation and where they are getting placed in internships.
- It’s crucial your student gets more details on what classes are like.
- When evaluating four-year costs, it’s vital to find out costs of campus life. A school with more on-campus activities for students will not only provide a bit of fun, but could save them a lot of cash that would otherwise be spent on entertainment off-campus.
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