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Questions to Ask Before Applying to Colleges

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This article has been edited by Cindy Anderson.

Deciding which colleges to apply to is a big decision in a student’s life. There are many factors to take into consideration, and the need to consider many moving parts simultaneously can often make the process feel overwhelming. The good news is that the process can be streamlined when students address the right questions from the start. 

If you are a student who is planning on applying to colleges in the near future, here are a few questions that will be helpful to ask yourself: 

What Are My Necessities and Deal-Breakers?

When students first begin thinking about where to apply, they often find it helps to narrow down what their priorities include. To do this, you can consider the items that you consider necessary for a school to have as well as any items that you would consider deal-breakers. Do you have a specific major or program you want to pursue? If so, you’ll benefit from researching colleges that have accreditation in your area of interest. Do you want to stay close to home and attend a college that will result in minimal debt? Is living on campus a must, or would you feel satisfied with a commuter campus? Determining the elements that are most important to you will help you weed out schools that won’t serve your needs. 

What Kind of College Experience Do I Want to Have?

College is often seen as a necessary step towards an eventual career path, and in many instances, college does serve as a gateway for success in a desired profession. That said, college can also be an opportunity for students to explore new interests and experience personal growth. Students often use this time to learn more about who they are and who they would like to become. 

Most schools offer clubs, sororities/fraternities, and athletics for interested students to enjoy. Additionally, the social element is one aspect of the college experience that many graduates look back on with extreme fondness. With this in mind, you can determine what type of experience you want your college life to involve, and then you can find a school that will cater to your preferences. For example, if you are interested in film or would like to participate in theater, you can ask a representative at the school if there are any popular film or theater clubs offered on campus. If you would like to become active in social causes, you can inquire about whether or not the student body tends to engage in activism. 

What Are the Admissions Criteria for Your Schools of Interest?

Before you apply to colleges, it’s helpful to first assess whether you meet the admissions requirements of the schools that have piqued your interest. Requirements vary from school to school, but there are some common elements that schools tend to take into consideration when evaluating applicants, such as: 

  • GPA
  • ACT or SAT scores
  • Courses taken
  • Volunteer experience 
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Letters of recommendation 
  • Essay submissions

Understanding the degree of importance that these components play in the admissions process will help you outline important steps you can take to increase your odds of standing out and being accepted. For example, many schools require ACT and SAT scores. If you didn’t receive an impressive score on your ACT or SAT, you may consider re-taking the test to try and improve your score. Higher scores tend to also result in more scholarship opportunities, so working to improve your score can be beneficial in many respects. 

How Will I Finance My Education?

Financing education is usually not an exciting topic to consider, but it is a necessary one. When you begin thinking about which schools to apply for, it’s also important to consider what the tuition rate is and how you plan to pay for your schooling. Will your parents help with the finances, or do you plan to take out student loans? Will you have access to scholarships, grants, or work-study opportunities? How will you pay for textbooks or costs of living, such as food, travel, rent, gas, insurance, etc.? Keeping finances in mind will help ensure that your college planning journey unfolds in a manner that harmonizes with your budget. 

What Student Services Does the College Offer?

It’s also helpful to assess what services a school offers its students. Ideally, the school will offer resources to enhance a student’s academic success and general sense of well-being. Are tutoring services, health/mental-health care, career guidance, research opportunities, food pantries, or internship programs available to students? Does the school offer on-campus living and/or meal plans? Knowing what resources you’ll have access to can help you decide whether or not a school is an adequate match for your needs. 

What Can You Expect From the Classes?

A large part of your college success will revolve around the classes you take, so it can be helpful to find out in advance what you can expect from the classroom experience. If you hope to connect meaningfully with faculty members, it can be helpful to inquire about the average student-to-instructor ratio. If the classes are generally held in large lecture halls with hundreds of other students, you may find the learning experience to be more impersonal than you would in smaller classrooms with fewer students. Some schools allow prospective students to sit in on classes when taking campus tours, and taking advantage of these opportunities can be a great way to get an authentic taste of what you can expect. 

If you plan to take mostly online classes, it’s a good idea to inquire about the available options a school offers (e.g., synchronous, asynchronous, hybrid, etc.) and what you can expect in terms of professor accessibility and support. Knowing what to expect in advance will help ensure that you apply to colleges that naturally cater to your preferred style of learning. 

What Are the School’s Graduation and Retention Rates?

A school’s graduation rate typically refers to the percentage of first-time, first-year students who graduate in four or six years. Retention rates refer to the percentage of first-time, first-year students who return to the same school after completing their first year of college. These are not perfect metrics to use when assessing whether or not you should apply somewhere, but they can be useful in obtaining a general sense of a school’s quality. While many factors contribute to the caliber of a school, low graduation and retention rates may indicate a lack of academic support for students and/or low student satisfaction. 

Closing Up

Deciding which schools to apply to can be an overwhelming experience in your college planning process. While this list of questions is in no way a comprehensive list of every important item to consider when making your decision, hopefully it helps highlight some of the most important issues to take into consideration. By determining what items to prioritize, addressing important practical concerns, and assessing indicators of student success and satisfaction, you should be well on your way to applying to schools where you are likely to be accepted as well as to thrive. 

Prepare for College with CollegeDrive’s College Admissions Consultants!

We understand that preparing for college can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. This is why the experts at CollegeDrive offer college admissions consulting designed to simplify the process for students and their families. Our passionate consultants have a proven track record of using their experience and expertise to help ambitious students navigate the college admissions journey in a way that minimizes stress and maximizes success.  

Whether you’re in need of ACT and/or SAT test prep, academic tutoring, or college admissions consulting, we can help. Sign up for one of our classes today, or reach out with any questions. We are here to help you reach your fullest potential!

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