While many Admissions offices might not admit it, the reality of our job is that we are in sales. We have a product and are selling it to students and parents. It’s our job to explain the product, why it’s awesome, and how it could be perfect for the customer. But as you would (or should) when buying anything, you have to ask questions.
Today’s post can help you with the questions that you ask on a college campus (or when a representative visits your high school). Not all questions are created equal; some will help you understand much more about a school. Here is some guidance on questions we hear frequently on campus visits.
Where is your college? How many students do you have? Do you have [insert department name]? Do you have study abroad programs? Do you have student groups? Do you have scholarships?
All of these questions are fact-based. Generally speaking, these types of questions are not the best ones to ask because the answers are easy to find online, via a quick Google search. You’ll probably want to verify this information prior to your visit.
If you are looking at a small liberal arts college, you can almost assume that they’ll offer Psychology, Biology, History, English, Math, Dance, Theater, etc. What sorts of things won’t they offer? Pre-professional options like nursing, communications, fashion design, or journalism are not generally found at a small liberal arts college.
You can also safely assume that these schools all offer students the opportunity to study away. The programs and the locations might differ, but I don’t know of a single college that would tell students they are not permitted to advance their academic experience with a semester at another program.
Tell me about your school.
How long do you have? Admissions counselors could take this question in a number of different directions. And if you’re lucky enough to speak with a counselor who is also an alum of the school, look out – you could be in for a loooooooong conversation.
It might be better to ask something like: What makes your school unique? Or: What are some special features or traditions at your school? “Tell me about your school” often results in more generic answers that focus on student population, most popular majors, location, or a recent achievement by a student. These alternate questions will help you learn more about specific things at the school, like Art Rental, the Tappan Square rocks, or ExCo at Oberlin.
Is your [insert department name] good?
There is not a single Admissions counselor who will answer that question “no.” I wouldn’t want to explain to the Dean of Admissions or the Dean of the College why I dissed a department. I like and want to keep my job.
Instead, consider asking something like: What do History majors do after graduation? or: Can you tell me about the Anthropology Department and its offerings? These more specific questions can help you learn about the classes offered and faculty interests.
One caveat – please remember that admissions counselors are not experts on every academic department. We might have one fact to share or one story about a student to tell. If you want more information, you should always look at the department’s website and consider contacting a faculty member.
Can I do research?
Assume the answer is yes. Start with questions like: How easy is it to get involved with research? or: Do you have examples of a student research project? You will put the Admissions counselor to the test and learn more about the specifics of how available research really is to undergraduates on campus.
Small liberal arts colleges pride themselves on the opportunities to do research with faculty. In the sciences, it’s pretty obvious. Students at Oberlin spend lots of time in the labs and will often co-author papers with faculty and/or give talks at conferences. [we will add a science example] But research also happens outside of the sciences! So whether you want to set up a website that displays the archaeological site of Karanis, Egypt, research prison doulas, investigate the environmental histories of Bangladeshi refugees, or dig into Siberian punk music, you can find your passion project and pursue it.
How’s the food?
As with “Is your [insert department name] good?” an admissions counselor is never going to tell you that the food is terrible. You’ll get a more helpful answer if you ask about the variety of dining options on campus. How many dining locations does the school have? What types of food do they serve? Most colleges offer many choices, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free meals, and will work with students who have severe food allergies. To get an even better sense of the culinary experience, ask current students, or eat a meal in a dining hall during your visit.
College food is significantly better than it was 30 years ago – I am ashamed to call some of the things I ate in the '90s “food.” You have it so good.
Visiting campus is a great way to learn about the community, but if you only listen to the formal presentation from the Admissions Office staff, you don't get a full picture. You've got to ask questions to really understand if a school is right for you.
To those of you who've done this before, what are some questions you loved to ask of your tour guide or information session presenter?
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