Originally Posted: Jun 24, 2016
Last Updated: Feb 2, 2021
So you’re starting to look at colleges. You may or may not already have a checklist to look at when researching colleges. You’re probably already thinking about whether they have your prospective major, or if your GPA and test scores are good enough, or if they offer the sport you play. And you’re definitely already thinking about the potential cost of tuition. But you also want to go beyond the basic info. Take a look at these 10 questions that might not already be on your college admission radar. They’re important ones to ask during your college search!
1. How selective is the college in your specific major(s)?
Some majors are more difficult to get into than others—even within the same university. So while the school’s website may say their acceptance rate is fairly high, it could be lower for your intended major. If that’s the case, you might want to look at backup majors at the same university or even alternative schools.
Related: How to Choose Your Major (or Not)
2. What kind of services does the campus offer?
Are there tutoring services? Or guidance counseling? A career center that will help you find an internship and a job while you’re a student—and after you graduate if you need help? Do they have services for the disabled? Colleges offer more than just lectures; find out what else you have available to you (and what else you’re paying for!).
3. Are they any extracurricular activities you can’t get anywhere else?
Granted, there’s a lot of overlap in college extracurriculars (a cappella groups and student newspapers and all that). But you should still get a sense of what your potential colleges have for student activities, plus any special opportunities that might set a school apart for you. Maybe it’s a unique musical group or intramural sport or major-interest group. Also ask yourself: How many students participate in clubs? How easy is it to start a club? Can you get good career experience from these groups?
4. How many students graduate with a job?
And, even more importantly, how many students graduate with a job in their major? This is something not everyone considers when looking at colleges—but it’s a big deal. Not only is it helpful to see your odds of getting a job straight out of college, but you’ll get a sense of how well the college is preparing its graduates for the real world.
5. Does the college look at applications holistically?
To look at applications holistically means admission counselors take everything into account: your grades, your test scores, your activities, your high school, your essay, etc. If the college takes a holistic approach to admission, there's no one way to pinpoint why students are or are not accepted. But it’s also the reason why some students, like those with low test scores, can get accepted over applicants who might look “better” to colleges that only judge students by the numbers.
6. What are the campus facilities like?
Sure, you checked out the dorms and dining hall on your campus visit, but what else is there? Does the school have the latest high tech research labs? Are the lecture rooms nice and updated? Are the libraries full of current books and comfy study spaces? Have there been recent renovations or have they looked the same for decades?
7. How affordable is the college…really?
It’s often said the college’s sticker price is not the real price. You need to find out: What is the average financial aid package? Does the school offer a lot of scholarships, and if so how can you find and apply for them? What is the average student debt? How much is the average student actually paying per year?
8. What is the “town-gown” relationship like?
In other words, how does the college get along with its community? Get to know the town surrounding your college through visits or online. Are there things for students to do for fun? For internships and jobs after you graduate (see below too!)? How big is the campus compared to the town? Is it basically a world in itself with its own grocery store and other shops? Is it easy to get lost and overwhelmed? Do lots of students live off campus? Do businesses and restaurants offer student discounts? Do full-time residents like the college and its students? (Pro tip: ask them!)
9. Is this school a safety, realistic, or a dream school?
Picking your safety, match, and reach schools is a delicate art. Start by looking at the average admitted student. How does their profile match to yours? Are your test scores and GPA higher or lower? Try to estimate how likely it would be for you to get accepted if you applied for this school. And remember, if you’re in the top 30% of students (in terms of your test scores and GPA), you’re probably going to get more financial aid.
10. Can you truly see yourself at the college?
Think hard about your answer to this question. Not just the campus itself, take into account the location, the social scene, the cost of living, and outside opportunities. There have been students who moved from Florida to go to university in New York only to hate it because they can’t stand cold weather. Remind yourself that when you choose a college, you’re choosing where you’re going to live and spend a lot of time for the next four years and maybe even after. If you can’t picture yourself living there comfortably, reassess your decision.
These are just a few unexpected questions to get the ball rolling with your college search. Remember that there's no such thing as a stupid question, and research is everything. Take your time and soon you’ll find more than enough colleges that would be a good fit for you.
Looking for more unexpected ways to learn about schools? Check out our Lists & Rankings and start connecting with colleges based on your unique interests!