Uncommon Questions To Ask In Your College Search Process

Uncommon Questions To Ask In Your College Search Process

by Chuck Bates, CCFC on Sep 8, 2021

Education, Financial Aid, College Admissions, College

I recently read the book “The Price You Pay for College” by Ron Lieber, the personal finance columnist for the New York Times. A great book with a lot of insight, outstanding research, and valuable anecdotes.  Here are some of the best questions, thoughts, and suggestions I found.

Questions To Ask Administrators:

  • What is the difference between your list price and your cost to educate a student?
  • What is the teacher-to-student ratio, excluding grad students who teach?
  • What percent of 1st-year classes are taught by full-time tenured professors?
  • What percent of all professors are adjunct?
  • What extracurricular activities are there, and what % of students participate?
  • What % of students get an internship where they can apply what they learn to the real world?
  • What % of students get a faculty mentor or a business community mentor?
  • Does this school encourage faculty/student meals?  Does the school pay?
  • Do your students take the Collegiate Learning Assessment? Pre and post? Are there improvements?
  • How does each department measure learning?
  • What will a professor do to make a student’s life harder? How do you teach students to overcome adversity?
  • How does this school deal with mental health? What % of students are on medication?
  • How does your school assign roommates? Is it random? If so, why?
  • What present of students come from families in the top 1% of earners?
    • There are 38 schools with more undergrads in the top 1% than in the bottom 60%.
  • How do you help students find meaningful work post-graduation?
  • What jobs can I get with this major? What % of graduates in this major have full-time jobs?

Questions To Ask Students:

  • Tell me about the biggest clash of ideas you have seen in a classroom? Has any debate or discussion made you change your mind or beliefs?
  • Who are your three closest friends here? How did you find them? Was it easy? How are they different from your high school friends? 
    • Pay attention if this is easy or hard for them to answer?
  • How approachable are the staff/faculty?
  • What surprised you once you became a student here?
  • If you could change one thing about this college, what would it be?


Questions To Ask Yourself:

  • Is college transformational, something to shape and improve you, or transactional, something to check off the list?
    • If transactional, think about that when looking at cost & ROI
  • If you are going to a stretch school (financially), how hard will it be to keep up with the Jones’?
  • What is the actual value of college? Learning to learn? Finding mentors? Personal relationships with teachers? Will this school help with these?
  • What will your income & budget look like post-graduation?
    • What changes if your student loan payments are $300 vs. $700?
  • Does a more expensive school set you up for more success in life?
    • Only 21% of fortune 500 CEOs come from the 45 most elite schools.
  • Nearly 20% of freshmen do not become sophomores – what support do you need to prevent dropping out?
  • Do you want a high contact dorm? Long hallways, shared rooms, communal bathrooms?  Or a suite set up with a private room that can isolate you?
  • Am I different? (race, religion, gender identity)? Where would I worship, get my hair done, meet a potential mate, etc.?
  • Are you more likely to skip class if you are a face in the crowd? If so, would smaller class size be better for you and encourage attendance?
  • When you go to the dining hall, do you want everyone to know you, or no one to know you?

We all want to find the perfect "Unicorn" school. The best of academic, social, and financial fit. As you evaluate colleges, I hope these questions will help you find your "unicorn."

For help with building or narrowing your school list, connect with Chuck Bates, CCFC, here.