Oberlin Blogs

You've Got Questions, We've Got Answers, Part 2 -- Your Guide to Asking Questions as an Admitted Student

February 23, 2023

Josh Levy ’94, Office of Admissions

Congratulations on your offer(s) of admission. You’ve leapt over the first hurdle – where should I apply? The second hurdle is in your rear-view mirror – will I get in? But now you’re facing that wall from a military training course, the one with a rope that you have to climb up and leap over – where do I enroll? Fear not, I’m here to offer you some tips on how to make the choice by encouraging you to ask some focused questions.

“Why did you enroll?” Admissions staff love to speak with students, especially those who’ve been admitted and are visiting campus. But you should really speak with students, not Admissions staff. You should pepper your tour guide or student staff in admissions or even random students with questions like “Why did you choose this school?” or “What do you like most here?” For the most part, students will be happy to tell you all of the great things about the college. Hearing it from your future classmates makes it more real than hearing it from an Admissions staff member.

“What would you change about the school?” No place is perfect. Every college will have its flaws, whether it’s weather, no real campus, or the lack of midnight pizza. You’ll want to ask questions like “What would you change about the school?” or “What are some common reasons that students leave?” A school’s flaws and how the school addresses them can tell you plenty about the values they hold.

“What do you do for fun?” One major difference between high school and college is the amount of time you spend in class. In high school, you’re often in class from 8am to 3pm (or thereabouts). In college, you are probably taking 4 classes each semester. Each class meets 2 or 3 times a week so you might only have 2 classes each day. You’ve got LOTS of time to do other things. You’ll want to see what your future classmates do outside of academics. Whether it’s ultimate frisbee or music, neuroscience research or theater, social activism or athletics, you just want to know how students spend their non-academic time. Why? To see if there are people with similar interests to yours. Which leads to…

“Can I find my peeps here?” OK, this isn’t so much a question that you’ll ask of other people as it is a question you’ll need to ask yourself. If you’re a bagpipe-playing, a cappella singing, neuroscience researcher, you want to make sure that there are some other people like you. Not exactly like you, of course, because variety is the spice of life (or so claims William Cowper, in his 1785 poem "The Task").

How do you know if you’ll find people who are like you? Go to the dining hall, sit at a random table, and start talking to students. Use the questions above to learn about them and their experiences. Maybe find the student union and ask random students about what they do on campus.

Visit campus. Again, not a question. But something that’s essential to do. You want to see campus in all its glory, with the flowers blooming, with leaves budding, and with students out having a great time. Most colleges will offer admitted student programming and part of that programming might be a question and answer panel with current students. If you’re lucky, your parents will be elsewhere, which will allow you to ask harder-hitting questions like “What happens on the weekends?” “Is there a party scene?” or “Is there a hook-up culture?”

“What do you think?” Lastly, ask people you know and trust. Your parents have known you your entire life and probably have a good sense of what makes you happy and where you’d thrive. Ask them what they’d do. Ask your friends. Ask your uncle or your grandma or your first cousin once removed what they think. Everyone will have an opinion – if you ask enough people you might get some advice and insights.

You'll notice that I didn't talk about the academics at all. At a certain point, the quality of the academic experience is all going to be similar and strong. That's not going to distinguish one school from another. It's the other things, the intangibles, that you need to examine.

In the end, though, I’d encourage you to think about Frank Bruni’s book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. His thesis is that college admissions is wrongly focused on rankings and the idea that where you go will determine your worth in life. What you should think about is what you will do on campus, not the name on the sweatshirt you’ll eventually buy. If you think about the people you meet, the faculty who will help you, and the fun you have, you’ll be sure to find the perfect college for you.

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