Prospective college students have never enjoyed as many higher education choices as they do today. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that for academic year 2015–16, there were 4,147 degree-granting institutions in the United States with first-year undergraduates. 2,584 of these were four-year institutions offering programs at the bachelor’s or higher degree level.
On-campus programs, hybrid programs, online programs, and undergraduate and graduate degree programs that combine all of these formats compete for your tuition dollar. Before you make a commitment that can have lifelong personal, professional, and financial repercussions, interview the admissions representatives at your top choice schools. Invest some time exploring these six questions to ensure you make the wisest decision that yields the best possible outcome.
1) How can I make my application shine?
Does it surprise you to know that, according to NCES:
- 28 percent of four-year institutions had open admissions policies (accepted all applicants)?
- 13 percent accepted less than one-half of their applicants?
You need to come up with some innovative strategies to help your application stand out in a sea of thousands of other candidates. Inquire about creative ways to demonstrate that your life experiences make you a natural fit for the program you’re interested in. Ask how to best showcase your special skills, interests, and talents that support the school’s mission to prove that your presence can have a positive effect on the entire student body.
2) What opportunities exist for this specific program?
Show the admissions representative that your interest in a program is motivated by a passion to excel. Make your desire for hands-on experience clear by inquiring into the opportunities to perform research in collaboration with a faculty mentor, participate in a summer field research project, or conduct interviews or lab experiments. This proves you have an organic interest in learning that goes beyond just getting a degree, while reinforcing the idea that you’ll make positive contributions while on campus.
3) What is the school’s accreditation status?
Accreditation affects everything from a college’s ability to participate in federal and state financial aid programs to a student’s ability to transfer credits and gain acceptance into graduate programs. “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality,” states the U. S. Department of Education.
4) What are my financial costs and financial resources?
For the 2016–2017 academic year, a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college averaged $24,610. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $49,320, according to College Board. Ask for a breakdown of projected annual costs so you know exactly what you’re paying for tuition, fees, housing, meals, books, and transportation expenses. What types of financial aid might be available to you, and do you qualify for any college-specific scholarships or grants?
5) How will you help me find employment after graduation?
You’re making a huge financial commitment that might leave you with student loans. Ask the admissions counselor to point you to the statistics showing the percentage of students who are employed in their career field within a year of graduation. Does the school have a Career Services office? Are there programs and services in place to help graduates find employment, such as career fairs, partnerships with local businesses, and resume and interview skills consulting?
6) What kind of person would thrive at this college?
This question can help you decide if you’d be comfortable with the school’s culture. Some colleges have earned a “study hard, party hard” reputation; others are legendary for a sports and athletics-based culture. While some student bodies prioritize leadership skills and academic competition, others are characterized by themes of diversity and tolerance. Perhaps you’d be happiest in a school where your classmates are as politically active and socially engaged as you are? Use this question to encourage the admissions representative to share candid insight into what kind of “college personality” you can expect to find in your community of peers.