Want to know what it’s like to go to a certain school? Ask someone who already goes there.
Before you make any big purchase, it is only fair that you are thoroughly briefed on what you are buying. Heavy research and great contemplation go into this process before you hand over that credit card — so why would you treat the college decision any differently?
It is easy to ask the admissions officer questions and read through the brochures, but are those really all the answers you need? When you buy a car, of course the salesman is going to tell you a multitude of positive things you want to hear. Admissions staff, tour guides and brochure writers are essentially the salesmen for universities. You should use those resources because they will be helpful, but there are certain things that you can only find out from current customers — a.k.a. the students.
It is important to go past the glossy brochures and scripted tours and receive honest, true-to-life perspectives from people with direct experience. Current students can give you insights on elements of the college experience that you may not have even known to ask about otherwise. Moreover, they will give you more in-depth, behind-the-scenes types of answers for seemingly general questions that other resources gloss over.
What exactly should you ask? Below are some suggestions to get you started.
• Who are the best professors and what classes do they teach?
Post-grads may have a bit of a selective memory and websites such as RateMyProfessor.com are not always up to date. One of the best ways to obtain details on professors is to consult students who have recently taken or are currently taking classes with these faculty members. If you have already decided on a major, be sure to ask about the professors in your department. Students will be honest with you about who’s particularly helpful, who’s boring, who gives pop quizzes frequently or who has a zero-tolerance policy for absences. Those details will separate a teacher you will love from a teacher you have no connection with.
Moreover, ask if there are particular sections you should register for. Some professors may be more receptive in evening classes than morning ones, or be better suited for larger classes than small ones. The possibility of such varying elements is endless.
• What resources for studying, internships and job opportunities are available?
Remind yourself exactly why you are attending college — to earn a degree so you can successfully enter the job market. A school that lacks strong career resources could leave you dangerously unprepared, even with a piece of paper in your hand that says you’ve completed college. Of course, the school itself will promote its availability of such resources to you, but how can you be sure these resources are actually going to be helpful? Ask current students how often job fairs are held, how genuinely supportive the career services staff is and, most importantly, how closely these resources directly cover your field of study. Additionally, ask about study help that’s easily accessible and whether it actually pays off. Even though a school could offer the classes, programs and type of campus you desire, a lack of sufficient resources to help you achieve your main goal of post-grad employment may be reason enough to change your big decision.
• What is there to do in the town?
It’s easy to be trapped in the campus bubble and never truly explore the surrounding town and city. Those outside establishments are seldom showcased on campus tours, so make sure to get the low-down on everything that is offered in this college town. Students will tell you about the unique venues you won’t find anywhere else. Most campuses have the typical chain stores and a mall nearby. What you’ll want to learn about is that pizza place with the menu of crazy toppings that delivers late at night, or the small concert venue that attracts amazing indie bands. Maybe there’s a popular hill a few miles down the road that is awesome for sledding in the winter. There are always secrets to uncover about a college campus and its town. Determine ahead of time if this particular campus’ hidden gems appeal to you.
• What should I avoid on campus?
While it’s great to find out all the good things about a campus, it’s always good to ask about the opposite aspects as well. No campus is perfect and every student should be able to come up with at least one thing you should avoid. For instance, a dorm with ridiculously small rooms, or a particular cafeteria that serves terrible food. Perhaps you should avoid a particular library where loud groups hang out or always have a warm sweater on hand when you take classes in that freezing building across campus. Students will not be shy about sharing the campus’ flaws in order to help you get situated. Be thankful this knowledge can be so honestly passed down to you and take advantage of it since you’re not likely to get it from anyone else.
• Who are some people I should get to know on campus?
Your first inclination may be to meet as many people as possible and make numerous new friends, but there are always people who fit special molds: that person who’s a great study buddy, that girl who always knows of a great party, that guy from your hometown whom you can carpool with. Mainly, ask current students about the best ways to meet these people — and all people, for that matter. Socialization is one of the key parts of the college experience, so make sure this school is one that helps you to expand your network in beneficial ways.
If you don’t directly know a current student, do your best to track one down; it’s not as difficult as you might think. It could be a friend’s older sibling, a relative of a co-worker or a neighbor down the street. Tapping into your “acquaintances” network — friends of friends — will significantly increase the number of people to whom you can turn to. Additionally, look into over-night programs that many schools offer for prospective students. These programs allow you to stay with a current student for a night or two to experience campus life. Students usually love talking about their colleges in any sense, so don’t worry about imposing on anyone.
Like any other sale, you want to know what you’re buying before you buy it. The college experience is truly invaluable so be sure to make the right selection. Keep asking questions, keep researching, and you’ll find treasures instead of lemons.
Powered by Facebook Comments