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Owning YOUR Campus Visit

I had the opportunity to visit Munich, Germany last week. It was a beautiful town. Rich history, amazingly friendly people, and extremely walk-able.

In advance of my trip I got lots of recommendations from friends and colleagues who had visited before. “Definitely go to the Hofbrauhaus;” “Climb the 299 stairs to the top of St. Peter’s;” “Go to the public bathhouse right in the center of town;” “Just be sure you get a pretzel… from anywhere.”

I also asked my e-friends, Siri and Google for “Top Things to do in Munich.” In the end, I hit a few of the “must dos” but also picked the experiences and sites that most interested me. However, some of the most enjoyable moments were actually sitting in the train station, eating in the restaurants, and riding the trams downtown, and going into local grocery stores. Granted I only half understood every fifth word (yes, that’s another way to say roughly 10%), but it was still a great way to observe and appreciate the city’s culture and personality.

I share this with you partly to talk up Bavaria as a possible future vacation or study abroad destination, but more so because April is one of the heaviest campus visit months of the year— as are the summer months that follow.

If you are planning a trip to a college campus soon, I hope you’ll follow these tips:

It’s not all about the Hofbrauhaus

Every person and site listed the Hofbrauhaus. I get it- remarkable place— and definitely a classic city trademark. But if you were to only go there, you’d miss the real heartbeat of the city.

Same thing with campus visits. Yes, you should go to the admission info session and tour. Not for the big brother element of whether they’re going to count it or track it, but because this is where you will get the highlights, hear the key messages, learn some history, understand their unique mission and goals, and see the key iconic buildings and top destinations on campus.

Wander, listen, engage

St. Peter's

View from the top of St. Peter’s (after I caught my breath).

Unfortunately, too many people visit campuses and cities the same way. They hit the highlights and follow the crowds or lists. I’m imploring you to break away from the well-traveled path to dig a bit deeper and really feel, see, experience the places students (aka- the locals) spend time.

During my three days in Munich I probably covered a good 20 miles on foot just meandering down the river on trails, taking random turns on city streets, or walking to meetings. Yes, I got a little turned around (my wife insists there’s a difference between that and lost), but it was totally worth it because I was able to stumble on stuff I’d otherwise never have seen. And while my German is what you’d politely label “nicht gut,” walking so much led to some pretty interesting and memorable interactions.

Here is the good news— people on campus want to answer your questions. They want to help you understand what makes their school so great. Make time to wander around, loiter (in a non- threatening way), talk to students, peak in on a class, eavesdrop (we’ve covered this before as a critical life skill).

Listen the conversations around you; observe what students are wearing, discussing, and doing; sit in the student center and pretend to look at your phone or a student newspaper while really glancing about. If you will extend each of your campus visits by just an hour or two and make time for this, you’ll walk away with a much better feel for the place than simply running and gunning from one canned admission talk to the next.

This is YOUR visit

I have read a good bit about the 1972 Olympics and really wanted to see that area. It wasn’t what most people listed and it was not as convenient to my hotel, but it was important to me.

You’ll be spending time, money, and energy to go see these schools. Make the time to see what specifically interests you- the places you think will make up your experience. Get a feel for those areas of campus. A tour guide may simply point out the business school from 200 yards away, but if that’s going to be your major, you need to get there.

The bottom line is you should not simply take what they give you. Own YOUR visit. Are you thinking about playing on the rugby or participating in robotics or doing research or singing in the a cappella group (if all of the above, you are a truly unique individual, my friend)? Get over to the IM fields, reach out to a department advisor, or contact out to the club or group’s advisor in advance of your visit.

Ask YOUR questions

Tour guides are awesome people. They are involved, passionate, and volunteering their time. They are taking you around a place they love, which means they can absolutely wax poetic about campus history or spin yarns about classmates or friends and their adventures in college.

They’ll go into lots of detail on history, facts and interesting information, but they also love to hear and answer your questions. Be proactive and bold enough to ask. Don’t want to interrupt the tour guide or ask publicly? Totally fine. Wait until you’re walking between points or hold your questions until the end and ask privately. Questions and Answers

Think about it this way- you are making a decision about where to spend the next four or five years of your life (a time span representing a solid 20-25% of your life to this point). If you are serious about applying to or attending that college, you need to hear first- hand from as many people on that campus as possible about the things that matter to you (students, advisors, faculty, admission reps, etc.) Are their answers similar? What can you learn about the college’s culture based on commonalities?

Too often we hear students say, “Yea. I didn’t apply there because it was raining on my visit.” Or “I just didn’t like what my tour guide was wearing, so I didn’t apply.” Come on, people! You would not want someone to judge your high school or hometown based on one person they met from there, right? Don’t do that to a college that has 5000 or 50,000 on campus. YES, this means working a little harder. Sorry. That’s college, my friends.

I’m challenging you to go with 3-5 questions you really care about and be sure to get those answered while you are there. Can’t think of unique or helpful questions? Here are a few:

  • What has surprised you or disappointed you about this place?
  • What do you wish were different here?
  • What do most people not realize this college is really good at?
  • What makes this place different (not better) than other schools?
  • How has this school changed or shaped you?
  • What has not been asked today that you think is important for everyone to know?

Document, document, document (this is also a good HR lesson, but we’ll save that life advice for another time).

If you are barnstorming through 8 campuses (or 18 campuses) in a week, they’re going to start to blur together:

Where did we see that library that didn’t have any books?

Who was it that said they were adding a program in artificial intelligence?

Was that in Illinois or Indiana where we met the kid who held the national jump roping title?

Take the time during or right after each visit to write (type, bullet point, take pictures, voice record, etc) down your impressions. More of a spreadsheeter? Go ahead and quantify or rate things that matter to you: academic program, quality of food, campus feel, style of tour guide, surrounding community, access to internships. Just get this stuff recorded in some organized manner, so that you can revisit it later.

  • What impressed you about the students?
  • What did you not like about the size or layout of campus?
  • How was the food or coffee?
  • What did the labs look like if you are going to be a bio major?
  • What did they say about internships or co-op opportunities?

Yes, I’m jet lagged and spit balling here (a dangerous combo). Again, you need to have your questions answered and focus on the elements of campus that matter to you.

Last thing

Be nice to the people at the front desk when you are checking in for tours. Sometimes this is a student (could be you in a year or two), sometimes this is the admission counselor who will be reading your file (and they have great memories and a powerful note taking CRM at the ready), sometimes this the director of admission just taking her/his shift at the desk. Bottom line- Don’t be jerk. This can also be applied to baristas, hotel clerks, airline gate agents (bear with me), etc. Golden rule, my friends. Embrace it.

Have fun and travel safe. Enjoy the adventure!

 

The College Visit Checklist

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

Back in November I wrote a blog post about moving to Atlanta over the summer, and how that move was a big step out of my comfort zone.  I often think back on my initial interview and visit to Atlanta. I imagine my first visit to Atlanta felt similar to what many students experience when they visit college campuses. Once I knew I was seriously considering a move from New York to Atlanta, I realized how important it was to not only find answers to all my questions, but to also take the time to really get to know my (at the time potential) new city. From walking around campus to trying out the food, my overall experience helped me better understand what life could look like in this new place.

I’m now more than six months in and am working with our staff to prepare for our newly admitted students to flock to campus to see if Georgia Tech is the right fit for them. Whatever college you’re considering, it’s important to make your campus visit about more than just the standard information session and tour. Take advantage of these tips to help you make the most of your time on campus.

Allow yourself extra time to explore.

During my first visit to Atlanta, I allowed myself to spend an extra day in the city to better explore the overall feel of the area.  If I was going to move here, I needed to know if I liked it.  I explored the area around campus and different neighborhoods, and also experienced some of Atlanta’s local highlights, like Ponce City Market.  When you plan your visit to campus, try to allow extra time to become more familiar with the area rather than rushing to visit another school or catching a flight home.  After your “official” visit is over, further explore academic facilities for your intended major, eat on campus, or spend some time in popular places like the student center (don’t forget to eavesdrop while you’re there!).

Talk to Students

Georgia Tech tour guides

See these tour guides? They’re also regular, every day students. Talk to them!

During your time on campus there is a real benefit to speaking with current students.  This is a great way to get an authentic look at what it is like to be a student at the institution you are visiting.  Whether it is the person behind you in line for food in the dining hall or a student employee working in one of the departments you visit, students are usually happy to chat with you. When I visited Atlanta for the first time, I had dinner with friends who lived in the area, and they gave me some great advice about moving from New York and living in Atlanta.

Build Your Own Visit

During my initial visit to Atlanta I wanted to be sure to experience some of the local highlights. I planned a full day of exploring, which included things like eating breakfast at the Silver Skillet, walking on the Belt Line, and visiting some of the downtown tourist attractions.  Just like these extras that I was able to add on, it is important for you to customize your visit to make the most of it.  When not restricted by time, you can make a whole day out of your time on campus, even if you are only scheduled to attend a 2-hour information session and tour.  At many institutions, departments and colleges offer sessions about specific academic programs.  Even if there is not a formal session scheduled, reach out in advance and talk to someone, as chances are someone would be able to meet with you.

Experience the Weather

This one is a bit more difficult because you cannot always visit during specific times of year, but it definitely is important to understand the weather you might encounter during your college career.  I went to school in Upstate New York, where it is cold, grey and windy for a large portion of the academic school year.  It is very different to visit there in the summer than it is in February.  Although weather was not a big factor for me personally, if it is for you, make sure to plan your visit accordingly.  If you are going to live somewhere for four years, it helps to know what it will feel like.  (Although it does get cold in Atlanta, I have been enjoying the much milder winter!)

Ask for Advice

Georgia Tech admission staff

Georgia Tech admission staff appreciates the work of school counselors! #nscw19

Prior to my visit to Atlanta, I reached out to a number of people to get advice.  I got food recommendations, learned local lingo (like OTP and ITP), and learned more about Georgia Tech. Utilizing resources like your college counselor are crucial throughout the whole college decision-making process.  Ask for their advice before you visit campus.  They can help ensure you make the most out of your visit.  They may be able to put you in contact with a student at the institution you are visiting, or share some information they know about the school.  A conversation with your school counselor will help better prepare you for your visit, which in the end will result in a more informed visit.

(To all of the counselors reading this post – thank you for all of the work that you do with students, we really appreciate it.  And happy National School Counselor Week!)

On behalf of all of the campus visit professionals around the country, we are looking forward to seeing you on campus over the next few months. Happy Visiting!

Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

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Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

This week we welcome Associate Director for Guest Experience, Andrew Cohen, to the blog. Welcome, Andrew!

Over the summer I made a very big life change – I moved almost 900 miles away from the place I call home.  I was born and raised in Central New Jersey, attended college in upstate New York, and have lived in New York City ever since.  In June, I accepted a position with Georgia Tech and started planning my move to Atlanta.  Of course I was excited about this life change, but it was also a bit terrifying.  I’ve never lived more than a four hour drive away from home, and now I’m a 13 hour drive away from where I grew up.

On the other hand, many aspects of the move were very exciting.  I was excited for a fresh start in a new city with so much to explore.  I was also excited about all of the new opportunities coming along with my new job, not to mention the big life decisions that came with the move, like buying my first car (I always used public transportation in New York City).

The more I think about how my life has changed over the past few months, I am reminded of the many conversations I’ve had with high school students and parents about the location of the colleges they are considering.  Many times families set a limit on the driving radius from their home, whether it’s in miles or hours.  While I understand the comfort of being close to home, it is important to recognize there are opportunities you may be excluding with this kind of limitation.

When I was considering leaving New York City, I took into consideration things like job responsibilities and future opportunities, location, and even the weather.  That’s why I recommend thinking about the following items when you’re building your college list.

Opportunities for Growth

For me, position and career opportunities were very important. Here at Tech, I manage the campus visits team and customer service for our office.  The opportunity was different than what I was used to and that excited me.  Tech has a very unique story to share with its approximately 40,000 visitors annually.  I attended a smaller private college, then worked at a similar type of school for a few years, so working at a larger public institution was a big change.  Professionally, it was a great opportunity.

Just like I considered these opportunities, you as a student should think about the programs offered at each institution on your college list.  Besides thinking about your major, what opportunities are offered outside of the classroom?  What kinds of internships or co-ops are students participating in? If you’re not sure what you want to major in, then look at the variety of majors offered. What kind of support is available to help you choose a major?

For me, new opportunities were the biggest driving factor in making the choice to move to Atlanta.  As a high school student, new opportunities should also be a driving force selecting a college.

Location, Location, Location!

The next thing that I considered was location.  After living in NYC for many years, I knew I still wanted to be close to or in a large city.  I was not ready to make the jump to living in a more rural location.  I like access to the hustle and bustle of a city, so Atlanta was perfect.  While Atlanta is a large city, there is a balance of quieter suburbs and outdoor activities all around (even when I’m on campus I forget I am in the heart of Midtown Atlanta!).

As a student, don’t think of location as a mile/hour distance, but rather the type of place you want to live for four years.  Are you interested in being in a college town, a large city, or a more rural area?

Weather

The last of considerations for me was a bit more minor, but something that should not be overlooked – the weather.  As a native northeasterner, snow and freezing temperatures do not bother me.  Moving to the south was an opportunity to try something different.  I can happily say I survived Atlanta’s heat and humidity in August, and I’ve been loving the warmer fall temperatures.

As a student, weather should certainly be a consideration for you too–but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.  Is it worth giving up an amazing opportunity just because of a few cold winter months?  In the long run, college is only a few years. Looking back, I see how surviving a cold winter can build character (and make you appreciate warm weather!).  If you are thinking of going to school in a place with very different weather than you are accustomed to, be sure to visit the campus during that season.

After being in the south for only a few months, I am constantly reminded of the great decision I made.  It has been an adventure exploring the city and I have quickly adjusted to my new job.  If I was not willing to step out of my comfort zone and look past the 4-hour driving radius around the New York City area, I would have missed out on an amazing opportunity.  Even with being so much farther away from my family, I still have been able to see them quite frequently (thanks to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport!).

Andrew Cohen joined Georgia Tech in 2018 and currently oversees the guest experience for all Undergraduate Admission visitors. His love for providing visitors with informative, authentic and personal experiences started as a student tour guide at his alma mater, Ithaca College. Andrew’s passion for the visit experience has lead him to his involvement in the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association, where he currently services as the Treasurer on their executive board.

If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address above, or click the “Subscribe” button in the header at the top of this page. We also welcome comments or feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.

The Three T’s

A few weeks ago, my wife called me at work around 2 p.m. This is not typical.

“Hey, what’s up?” I answered.

“Walter (our neighbor) is walking around his house with a clipboard,” she said.

“Weird.”

Not catching my sarcasm, she replied, “I know, right? Do you think they’re moving?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he has taken up sketching. I’ll see you around six.”

But like so many times before, she was exactly right. The next day there were guys pressure washing and painting. Within a week, red mulch was spread around the yard, and a bunch of boxes went out to a mobile storage unit.  Next came the “Coming Soon” sign, which a week later turned to “Just Listed.”

Since that day there have been regular showings, real estate caravans, and cars slowly cruising past the house. If you have ever sold a house, you know how all-consuming it can be. First you have to prepare to sell, which includes all the things our neighbors have been doing recently: de-cluttering inside; touching-up outside; and buying decorative items for show like doilies (things you would never actually use in day-to-day living). Once on the market, you are at the mercy of potential buyers. I distinctly remember this from a few years ago when we moved. “Someone wants to come see it at 8 a.m. on Saturday,” our real estate agent would say. We’d clean up the kids’ toys, wipe down the counters, throw about three boxes of stuff we did not have a place for into the back of the van and go eat the All-Star Breakfast at Waffle House (that part was actually okay).  “Someone wants to come at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday,” “Let’s have an open house Sunday from 1-4 p.m.,” “Look out your window. Yeah, those folks want to see it now!”

Let’s not forget you also have to move somewhere. The buying side can be worse. You download every possible real estate app: one from your realtor, not to mention all the other real estate search engines on the web. Whatever you can find. You set your parameters on the number of bedrooms, bathrooms, location, price, and so on. Then the notifications start coming… or they don’t. Either way it is maddening. If you are moving locally, every trip to the grocery store becomes a detour “just to see if anything has popped up” (as if your realtor’s search would not have caught that). You become the one that is manic about getting in to see houses before other potential buyers. You are the one in the driveway asking to “see it now!”

Conversations over meals are about houses and prices and what else might come up next week. Everyone in the family (even ones who are not going to live there and don’t even visit regularly) have an opinion about how you’ve priced your house and what you need in the next home.

We’re Moving!

If you are a high school senior, all of this may sound familiar. Every time you get home there is another glossy, shiny brochure telling you with a $75 fee and a few essays you might be able to move in for four years. You have also been “caravanning” around to colleges and creating pro/con lists about size, price, location, and other factors. Like the real estate apps and websites, I’m guessing you also have found conflicting information and question the accuracy or relevance of data like test score ranges and admit rates. Everyone from coaches to aunts to random baristas are asking you questions and expressing their opinions about which place you should choose, what schools are overpriced, or which ones are unwarranted in their popularity. It’s uncertain and protracted. Let’s face it, as humans we just hate the waiting. For too many students and families the college admission experience, like the home buying and selling process, can be exhausting, maddening, and not a lot of fun.

I’m here to tell you there is a better way. You have a choice. Since I was recently trying to teach my kids the concept of alliteration, I present to you “The Three T’s.”

1 – Time. It is incredibly easy to let the college conversation permeate life, especially as a high school senior. Where are you applying? Did you write your essay yet? Aren’t we visiting Northwestern next month? When is that financial aid deadline? Did you see that brochure from U Conn? Left unchecked these queries and conversations are like incessant app notifications: after practice; on the way home from school; during breakfast, or when you are just sitting on the porch trying to relax.

I propose you and your family allocate just three hours a week to college applications and discussions. Sunday afternoons from 2-5 p.m., Thursday nights from 6-9 p.m. Find a time that works. You do you (Southern Translation: Y’all do y’all). Protect your time, and protect your sanity.

Here is how this works:

PARENTS: This is your time to bring the brochures you’ve noticed in the mail and say, “Hey, look honey, the leaves are turning in South Bend. Isn’t it pretty?” You get to ask, “Have you written your supplemental essays for SMU?” Or “Do you still want to take that trip to California to look at schools in November?” It’s all fair game.

Outside of that time, college talk is banned.  Drive past a car with a University of Colorado sticker? Not a peep. Sean next door gets accepted to Auburn or Washington State? Mute button is on.

STUDENTS: You don’t get to bring your cell phone, crunchy snacks, or a bad attitude. Three hours a week. You come ready to string multi-syllabic words together and use intonation. No shoe gazing. You are committed to being fully engaged in the conversation because it’s the ONLY ONE! One time a week… only three hours (1/8 of one day). You got this!

Three hours a week is also plenty of time to get college applications done (just not the last three hours before the deadline!). If you use three good hours for several weeks, you can absolutely do a great job and in truth, your essays will be better having re-visited them in multiple sittings. There is a lot to say for letting something sit for a week and then coming back to it with fresh eyes, some sleep, and a new perspective.

Note to students: I know sometimes your parents’ questions and opinions can sound like nagging or overreach. See that for what it really is—love and deep affection in disguise. The thought of you heading to college brings a crazy mixture of emotions, and frankly sometimes they are still trying to reconcile you are taking AP Biology or standing at over 6 feet tall. Somehow, carpool lines and tricycles do not seem like that long ago. Give them a break. Fear, excitement, love—these all warrant your being fully engaged. Three hours is less than 1.8% of your week. Phone down. Answer their questions—and every now and then, how about a hug?

2 – Talk. One of the main issues with home buying and selling is how public it becomes. Everyone can see pictures, prices, statistics about square footage, and the number of bathrooms on flyers and online. Neighbors are chatting in the streets about why someone is moving, when the house will sell, who might move in, and if it is over or under priced. After the sale is finalized, that too is public information—setting off another wave of gossip. That type of unnecessary, unhealthy, and unbridled noise can also occur in your admission experience if you share too much publicly. I strongly encourage you to consider how much you are going to volunteer with friends and online about where you are applying, because that opens you up to questions later about whether you are admitted, deferred, denied, or waitlisted.

Students, consider holding this process a little closer to your vest (or sweater or shirt for non-vest wearers) and only letting in a very small subset of trusted people. Parents, commit (before any admission decisions are released!) to not adding to the speculation and consternation surrounding college admission by sharing stories at parties or games or online about where your son or daughter is admitted, denied, or offered scholarships. Keeping decisions and deliberations private has incredible potential to build trust and bond your family in what should be a very personal process.  Taking this a step further, do not ask others about their college admission decisions. Not only is it really none of your business, but typically the information shared is exaggerated or inaccurate. Sorry, but sometimes… people, you know?

3 – Trust. Paranoia often surrounds buying and selling a house making it even more all–consuming. We are not going to be able to sell our house for the amount we want. I just know we are going to get outbid. There are almost no houses for sale and lots of people buying in that neighborhood. All of this, again, is extremely similar to college admission. There are thousands of applicants for a limited number of seats in classes. You apply (make an offer) and then have to wait anxiously to see if you are going to be admitted (offer accepted). With tens of thousands of dollars involved and a potential move out-of-state, it’s expensive and emotional.

I am asking—scratch that—I am telling you this is all going to work out. How do I know? Last Sunday, we hosted a program at Tech called Give 1 Get 1. Before Convocation, students brought shirts from other colleges where they visited, applied, or were admitted. That day we got lots of different shirts, saw lots of different faces, and heard lots of different backgrounds and stories about how they arrived at Tech. They were bonded by one commonality—they were all excited to be on campus and get started with their college career. This is the beautiful and inevitable other side  I described a few weeks ago.

Trifecta: Combining the 3 T’s

Anyone who has bought or sold a house has had some disappointments and made some adjustments during the process. With so many variables in timing, pricing, and other buyers and sellers, things never go exactly as you hope or plan. But they will also tell you that a house becomes a home because you move into it. You make it yours.

The truth is there are lots of great colleges in the nation where you could move in, succeed, and be thrilled with the community—where you could make friends, do well, be happy, and thrive. Right now these places are just names and addresses—don’t place any more emotional attachment on any one of them than that. Talk to friends this year when they come back from college for Thanksgiving or Winter Break. Ask them where they thought they would be a year prior—for many their current school was not their first choice or even on their radar. But then they moved in. They made it their home. And so will you.

Time, Talk, Trust. Apply these well and behold the power of alliteration, my friends!

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Ask Good Questions

In the world of college admission there is always debate about the “best school” in the nation. As quickly as someone holds up Stanford or Harvard, someone else will poke holes in the methodology, or challenge that they may not be tops for  every major, and so on and so forth.  There are so many varying “sources” online these days that almost every school can tout a high-ranking or review in one area or another. “We’re among the nation’s best in ROI, or in STEM fields,” “We are the nation’s Greenest college” or “We have the best ice cream.” There is almost never a consensus or agreement on who really is “the best.” Perhaps that’s the beauty of this field– lots of great options and a desire to be the best in one thing or another, but clearly there is not a unanimous #1.

But in the world of music  a definitive leader is apparent; a band that rises above the rest and leaves no room for debate:  U2. From their lyrics to their history to their longevity, they simply define greatness. Glad we’ve established that.

A lesser known but important U2 song is 11 O’Clock Tick Tock. And in typical fashion, they always bring a lyric that is profound and broadly applicable to life:

“We thought we had the answers. It was the questions we had wrong.”

Asking the right questions, and being persistent in the asking, is a fundamental life lesson. And it’s absolutely vital as you go through the college admission process. So as you head out to college campuses, whether you are a sophomore or junior who is just starting to understand how one school varies from another, or a senior who is trying to figure out the best fit for the next few years, commit to being a relentless questioner. If you leave the question asking to the colleges, you can bet you’re  going to hear the same answers over and over again. “Oh, yes. Our biology program is great.” “Sure. You can double major in English and Sound Design. That’s actually extremely common.”

The emails and the brochures paint the same Pollyanna pictures, mixing appropriate diversity with studious learners closely inspecting a beaker or electrical circuit.. Don’t accept the Charlie Brown speeches. As you talk to people at different colleges, turn off the switch that has them rambling about studying abroad or the number of applications they received and ask them something better.

1) You ask: “What is your faculty: student ratio?” This number may not include faculty who are doing research and teach only one class, or those who are on sabbatical, and so on. For example, Tech’s ratio is 20:1, but that doesn’t mean you and 20 buddies will be sitting around a table in Calculus I your first year. These stats are compiled for publications to be comparative. So while helpful in that regard, they don’t tell the whole story.

You SHOULD ask: “What is your most common class size?” This question gets you right into the classroom. Schools rarely publish average SATs or GPAs but rather bands or ranges. Likewise, you want to look at their ranges and variances within class size. 85 percent of classes at Tech have fewer than 50 students. That type of information will be far more helpful to you in framing expectations and determining what kind of experience you will likely have.

And THEN ask: “How does that vary from first year to fourth year? Is that true for all majors? What does that look like for my major?” I had an intro Econ class at UNC-Chapel Hill that had 500 students in it. But that was not my undergraduate experience. In fact, that was the only course I took all four years that was over 100. Similarly, one of my favorite student workers at Tech was a senior Physics major whose classes had seven, 12, and 16 students in them. But rest assured that during her freshman year she sat in a large lecture hall for Physics I.

Your job is to probe. Your job is to dig and to clarify.

2) You ask: “What’s your graduation rate?” Schools do not answer this the same. Some will give you  their four-year grad rate, some five, and some  six. The variance is not an effort to be misleading or nefarious; they have been trained to respond with an answer that is  most representative of their students’ experience. Most four-year, private, selective liberal arts schools would likely not even think to respond with a five or six-year rate because there is no significant differentiation and their goal is to have all students graduate in four years. That’s how they structure curriculum and it is their culture.

You SHOULD ask: “What is your four and six-year graduation rate? And at those two intervals what  percentage have either a job offer or grad school acceptance letter?” Who cares if you have a high graduation rate if your job placement rate is low?

And THEN ask: “How does grad rate vary by major? What percentage of students who double major or study abroad or have an internship finish in four years?” My opinion is too much emphasis is put on this clock. Unfortunately, much of this is antiquated and driven by US News and World Report rankings (we won’t delve into this too much, but you can read about here). If you are taking advantage of opportunities on a campus like picking up a minor, or participating in a co-op, or working to offset costs, or going abroad to enhance your language skills, and all of those things are translating into lower loan debt and more job or grad school opportunities when you are done, then who cares about the clock?

3) You ask: “What is your retention rate?” Great question.. and an important one. Most put the national average somewhere around the 60% range. But as you can see from that link, it varies by school type and student type. So when a school says their first-year retention rate is 85%, that’s great, right?

You SHOULD ask: “Why are those other 15% leaving? Is it financial? Is it because the football team lost too many games? Is it academic and they’re not prepared for the rigor of the school? Is it because the school is too remote or too urban or too big?” Follow up. Ask them to articulate who is leaving. Tech has a retention rate of 97.3%, which  is among the top 25 schools nationally and top five for publics (these are statistics here, friends, not rankings). But we are constantly looking at who is leaving. Surprisingly, for many alumni and others who know the rigor of Tech, it’s not exclusively academic. It’s a balanced mix that also includes distance from home, seeking a different major, financial reasons, and, increasingly, because students are starting companies or exploring entrepreneurial options.

Some schools have retention rates below the national average, but they’re losing  students who are successfully transferring to state public flagships or into specialized programs in the area. If that’s your goal, then you can be okay with a lower retention rate, right?

Don’t be too shy to ask questions. This is your job… Not your mom’s job…. Not your counselor’s job. Your job. DO YOUR JOB!

And THEN ask: What that’s it? Nope. I have more questions…and so should you.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in February 2017. Links have been updated.

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