Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock

Writer & Blogger

My name is Melissa and I’m a longtime admission professional, personal finance writer, editor  and parent of two (very!) busy kiddos. I couldn’t make it all happen without my husband, Steve.

I hatched my site because I’ve heard so many head-scratching questions from parents. I’ve journeyed in the footsteps of hundreds of families, trekked to dozens of college fairs and even weighed the (billions?) of college savings options for my own two kiddos.

Questions to Ask Colleges and How to Get A+ Answers

by | Sep 3, 2020 | Ask the admission office, Build relationships | 0 comments

Time to put a zip in your step, folks! Are you ready to transform into a savvy prospective parent?

What do savvy prospective parents do?

They ask excellent questions.

One family asked me such difficult questions in the admission office that I gave them an “A+” for “hardest questions of the year” and said, “You should go talk to my boss.” 

They asked me questions like: 

  • “What’s the college pay for water and electricity and how does that work into my son’s tuition?”

And: 

  • “How much money do your college’s LEED buildings save per year?”

I’m sorry to say, I didn’t know the answer to their questions.

The point is, it’s important to ask relevant questions. We’re busy. Schedules only allow us to squeeze in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunchtime. That’s about it. 

Relevant questions get to the innards of what you need to know. Asking the right person the right questions is paramount.

Was I the right person to ask about water, electricity and LEED buildings? 

No — and does it even matter in the grand scheme of things? They should’ve asked the director of facilities, “How much waste does this school produce and how does that cost me money?”

“How much will it cost me?” — the real question.

What are the questions you should be asking? Let’s conquer those questions to get you started.

Who’s my child’s admission counselor?

Let’s start out with a simple question. This question means everything, though. 

You can even figure this out using the college’s website — you just need to select your state and sometimes even your child’s high school. Wham! It’s that easy to find your child’s go-to person.

Why is it important to get to know your child’s admission counselor?

Here’s an easy answer. One day, circa 2012, a student panel was underway during one of our visit days. Here’s how it went: 

Parent in audience: “Why did you come to this college?”

Student panelist on stage: “My admission counselor was awesome! She was one of the main reasons I decided to come here.”

A million reasons, folks! It’s a great question because:

  1. Your child’s admission counselor helps your family navigate financial aid, scholarships and more. The admission counselor may even be able to point you toward other scholarship opportunities. They may be scholarships in your community or online scholarships he/she knows your child could qualify for.
  2. The admission counselor can help you and your child make connections. Whether you need to talk to a biology professor, a financial aid officer or someone else at the school your child’s interested in, the admission counselor is the conduit to making that happen. Take advantage of it!
  3. Admission counselors know a lot about the college they work for. They know about the fun stuff, the clubs and organizations launching, the most popular majors and more. Admission counselors are often alumni, so they really have special knowledge about an institution. Ask an admission counselor what the best residence hall is and you’ll get an earful in milliseconds.
  4. Admission counselors know what types of students thrive at their institution. Let’s face it. Not every college is a great fit for every student. Why not ask what the ideal student at College/University XYZ looks like? It’ll be interesting to hear the admission counselor’s response.
  5. Admission counselors are statistics collectors. Admission counselors’ brains cannot go on autopilot. They should be able to know the percentage of students who graduate, how many go on to graduate school, how many get internships and more. (Just don’t ask them really quirky questions like that family did with me!)
  6. Admission counselors know what it takes to get admitted. Admission counselors are available to walk your child through the admission process. They should be able to tell you whether your child has a shot at getting admitted with his or her current credentials. An admission counselor may recommend submitting an additional letter of recommendation or other supporting documentation. They’re experts at strengthening an application. Ask before you send it in.
  7. Admission counselors can guide you through the process. You’re in the know at all times when you’ve got an admission counselor to guide you.
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What should I know about the admission process right now? 

Question two. I know it relates to question one, but it’s an important breakout question. Colleges’ admission processes have changed. 

Maybe COVID-19 pushed ACTs or SATs to the annals of history. Or not.  

Maybe admission offices shoved interviews off the cliff. But maybe not.

You might just be learning the admission process at one school. However, if your child became aware of admission requirements for a particular school last year, things may be different. Double-check!

A few good questions: 

  • Do I need to supply my ACT or SAT score? If not, what will that do to my child’s admission chances? (Test optional should really mean test optional!) Check FairTest’s ACT/SAT test optional college and universities. FairTest is a national advocacy organization that seeks to “end the misuses and flaws of testing practices.” Most accredited 4-year higher education institutions adopted test-optional policies for fall of 2021 admission. 
  • If a college or university isn’t on FairTest’s list: Why does your college or university require ACT or SAT scores? Listen carefully to the reasons and determine whether it’s still important for your child to apply to that college.
  • What other metrics will you use for admission purposes instead of standardized test scores? Every college’s response will be different. Find out.

What are your COVID-19 policies right now? 

Should you find out about a school’s COVID-19 processes, even if your child’s a sophomore?

YES.

True, it’s tough to say what that will look like in a few years. However, learning more about a college’s process right now can help you and your student:

  1. Understand a college’s response to COVID-19. It’s important to evaluate a college on all fronts, and it’s critical to agree with the college’s response to the crisis. 
  2. Figure out what policies may look like down the road. It’s really possible that things could stay the same for next year and beyond. Truth be told, we don’t know how long this virus will hang around!
  3. Learn the online learning protocol and whether it makes sense for your student. Maybe your student says he’s 86ing online learning and you like another college’s COVID-19 policy better. Maybe your child wants to forgo a residential experience altogether. You can find really cheap ways to get an online degree!
  4. Assess how a college can help on the technology front. You and your child may not have the technology needed to make Zoom classes happen. How will the college help?
  5. Determine how a college makes classes interactive or uses creativity within the constraints of online learning. Yeah, how does a chemistry professor do labs online? I’m sure you’re really curious. (I am, too.)

Can my child connect with a professor or other necessary individual?

… or through Zoom if in-person meetings aren’t possible?

One of the best ways to get to know faculty members at institutions is to… meet them! 

  1. Your child will know instantly whether he wants to learn from that person. (First impressions!) You should meet a particular physics professor at my alma mater. He’s got personality plus and he’s exactly what you’d imagine when you think of the stereotypical physics professor. The students rave about him. He’d greet everyone on the first day by asking them their first names and one fact about them — and remembered everything. Great professor!
  2. Even if your child changes his mind on major — most do! — you’ll still get a feel for how the faculty members work with students. I think it’s a bad idea to choose a college based solely on major, but I do think all students should get to know at least one professor during the college search, if possible. It gives your child a general idea of whether professors are hands-on professors, whether they’re available for students and what their office hours are like.
  3. Who else should you meet? You might not be interested in hearing from a professor. What about a dietitian? The tutoring center? A coach?

How can my child talk to a current student? 

Your child must talk to a current student! I don’t care if it’s on Zoom, over the phone, in person — however it can happen, make it happen. You can find out a lot from students, who don’t spew the same jargon-filled, marketing vocabulary that a professor does.

You can learn more about:

  • The overall experience
  • Gossip about professors 
  • Residence hall living
  • Classes and academic rigor
  • Internship availability
  • Students’ opinions about the college’s COVID-19 response
  • Quality of food in the cafeteria (why not?!)
  • Athletic experiences if your student is an athlete
  • Class and day-to-day structure
  • Why the student chose to attend that college (my favorite question!)

Can you think of other topics your student should ask about? Think your student will never agree to talk to another student? How about if the admission office arranges it and the other student has tons common with that student? If you set it up, it might not happen, but if the admission office arranges it? — totally different story.

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What’s one thing you can guarantee that my student will experience at this college and why?

I really, really like this question! Know why? It puts a dart right in the middle of a college’s values. 

Once, a student said this to me about a competitor school: “I really didn’t enjoy my tour at XYZ College. The tour guide spent all her time talking about the religious opportunities on campus. I found out that over 60 percent of students at the college attend chapel or other religious services and I realized that college wouldn’t be a great fit for me at all.”

Now, in reality, the college actually could have been a great fit for the student because it offered an excellent academic experience. And the tour guide was wrong. Just 15 percent of students participated in religious activities. However, the student didn’t believe she’d fit in. It worked out to our benefit, however. The tour guide at our college did an excellent job of sharing all of the other salient points for the student and she came to our college! (It really is all about perception, isn’t it?)

Find out whether the school will meet your kiddo’s expectations. Ask around! Sometimes people take a students’ point of view as the gospel truth — and, well, my story proves what can happen there.

How much financial aid can I get?

Think you have to wait around to find out how much college will cost? Until you get your child’s financial aid award?

No! 

You can find out long before you get that aid award in the mail and can know the cost wayyyy in advance.

How?

You’ll find a net price calculator on every college’s website. The net price calculator holds the secrets: What you’ll pay out-of-pocket or through student loans. The college’s total cost — tuition, room and board and fees, minus any grants and scholarships — tells you what you pay. Is it a full, robust snapshot with every detail?

No. 

But you can get close.

By the way, you can also ask for a preliminary financial aid award or a financial aid early estimator. 

They give you lots of great information. Bottom line: You’re armed with a lot more information way before you receive a financial aid award.

How to Get A+ Answers

How to get A+ answers? It’s simple.

The only way you’re going to get answers to your questions is to ask them. Push a little. It’s okay! In fact, I firmly believe that’s a parent’s job during the college search process. 

Ask tough questions. And when the admission counselor can’t answer — she asks her boss. (Just like I did.) 

And then, when the boss can’t answer, he goes to the facilities planning and management personnel who can answer (or whoever it is.)

The point is, you’re the customer. You should get the answers you want and need. 

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