In my book Colleges Behind Closed Doors-Know (Long) Before You Go we devote a significant amount of time to the process that any individual who does not obtain admittance to a top-tier (eg. Ivy League school) should go through when making a college decision. We emphasize how important the campus visits are and how crucial is the need to talk to students, particularly those in their last semester of studies. I have been asked on many occasions to list some of the questions that high school students and their parents might ask to ensure that the college they plan on attending is a top-tier school for their needs. All of these questions should be asked of the college directly. Unfortunately they will not give you the straight answers. So, in most cases you will need to go to the students.
Obviously, you should have at least a general idea of your own salary/career expectations (especially if you expect to pay back a significant amount of student loans), as well as expectations of educational benefits you expect of the college. The questions I list here are those that would satisfy the need of career placement since this is the primary need of over 95% of collegiate students today. These questions are geared toward helping to ensure that you are comfortable you will receive a return on an extraordinarily expensive investment of a four-year full-time college education.
These questions are also only a suggested list. You may have different questions that are important for you. Also, you may not be able to ask every question. You may only be able to ask one or two questions of a student. Ask what you can, be polite and gracious. Whatever question you can get an answer to will be helpful in making your college decision. One or two questions of each student-that’s OK.
A few details you should keep in mind:
Don’t bother talking to students who have been selected by the school to talk to you. They are more concerned with keeping the administration happy so they can get good recruitment interviews. They are less interested in giving you honest answers to your questions. Try to talk with students while they are walking on campus, having lunch (ask if you can join them), in the library (my favorite and most successful), coming out of class (try to identify classes, in specific buildings or posted, of your possible career major).
Remember, many of your questions will be asked of students who do not know who you are. Your own open and empathetic behavior will help you get honest and forthright answers from students who, through their four years in the college system, have become cynical and distrustful. If you’re catching students in a hurry still ask perhaps one or two questions-it doesn’t take many of several students to get a good feel for the college.
Will the College Meet My Needs?
Questions to Students:
(Introduce yourself, tell him or her what you are doing and inquire as to whether they would mind if you might ask them a couple of questions regarding their experiences here at xxx college. You should talk to students one-on-one.)
-Overall have you been satisfied with your experience at the college relative to your original overall expectations when you applied to the college? Why or why not?
-Ask the student: Think of yourself and two or three close friends you might have at this college. Has the college met your career expectations relative to career placement?
-Does the college have a strong career placement emphasis?
-Have you had a professional recruiter assigned to help you try to find employment?
-Was the college successful in finding you and your friends internships and helping them to network within the field you are interested in?
-Have you been on job interviews?
-Have you found a job? Is it at the salary and professional level you expect and need?
-Do you know of any students who have found professional employment?
-If so, have their salaries been in the range of $xxx (your salary expectation).
While on campus visit the placement office.
Ask specific questions relative to their success with placing students in permanent entry level professional jobs with salary expectations of X dollars (your own expectations as discussed above) within 12 months of graduation.
-How many students graduated last year and, of those, were permanently hired in entry level professional jobs by companies as a direct result of job fairs and other placement efforts held on campus.
-What was the general salary level?
-How many internships did the placement office sponsor for existing students?
-What major companies attended job fairs this past year and how many hired this school’s graduates?
Grade Inflation and Cheating
(the book explains why this is such a crucial concept and can be a detriment to high performing high school students)
A student in his/her third late second, third or fourth year can answer these questions:
-Thinking of yourself and two friends, what do you think is the approximate overall grade point average?
-When you are given a test does the professor go over the questions with you in class? -Does the professor go over the grade distribution with the students in class?
-Thinking of your friends, has either of them ever cheated on a research paper or test? -Have either of these or any other friends close to you ever been accused of cheating and been expelled?
Ask if you can audit one or two classes. But you must be able to select the class and the professor at random.
Professors and Education:
Are you aware if someone from administration ever evaluated the professors in class (it’s hard to miss)?
-Are student evaluations made public for the students to peruse prior to making class selections?
-Are the students ever closed out of classes?
-Has a professor ever been substituted at the last minute and replaced with another professor (in the book we call it the “switch”).
-If you are in a practically oriented profession such as business, pharmacy, nursing, or other medical, do your professors have a substantial amount of real-world experience?
-Would you know if most of your professors are full-time or part-time?
-Do most of them have their Phd’s. (Remember a full-time professor with a Phd is not necessarily a good thing in a practically oriented profession.)
-Are your professors alive, dynamic and interesting?
OK, here’s the real deal:
The college (especially the placement services office) is not going to want to give you direct answers to many of the important questions we have discussed here. They know that if they did you would probably not attend their university.
You also probably will not be able to ask students many of these questions. They are often on the run somewhere. But you do need to get some answers.
And if you cannot get these answers, and you are unsure of the ability of the college to meet your needs, then you should not attend this college for four years full-time. This is particularly true if you need to take out student loans to get by.
I am a strong proponent of obtaining a college degree from a regionally accredited college. Even though you have received little in the way of education and have no career, our society still values the valueless degree. Some day it may pay off for you.
However, without these answers and without your confidence in a successful outcome to the four years, you must keep your college expenses to an absolute minimum.
For the umpteenth time I am going to beseech you, for those students not attending a top-tier or Ivy League college (as defined in our book), you must graduate with no debt: no student loans and no credit card debt.
If college is important to you then I suggest you will need to consider starting off in a community college or state school or attend part-time.
For more details please get my book, “Colleges Behind Closed Doors-Know (Long) Before You Go” or use our Contact Form to submit questions not answered on this website or the book.