Five Questions Most Students Don’t Ask Before Applying to College
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Five Questions Most Students Don’t Ask Before Applying to College


Today, nearly one in three college students will not graduate from the school they enter and the majority of college students will take six, not four or five, years to graduate (Jeffrey Selingo, College (un)Bound). Meanwhile, tuition and out-of-pocket costs relating to degree attainment continue to rise. In fact, Time Magazine reported in October that between 1990 and 2008, the average cost to attend a four-year college increased by 60%. The American public is questioning the value of a college degree. 

As applicants begin to examine their potential return on investment, a shift in the traditional paradigm of college choice is now in the hands of students and their families. But, college is affordable; students can graduate in four years and better position themselves to get a good job after graduation. However, this takes patience and an understanding of the college admission, finance, and graduation processes. The following questions will help students understand how to find the right school for a successful future.

Five Questions You Should Ask Before Applying to College

How Many College Applications Should I File?

Many prospective college students spend a great deal of time and money filing applications to 15+ schools. Students are advised to divide schools into safety and stretch schools. I don’t think this is the most effective way to select the best school. I advise future college students to consider the following before applying:

  • School location - Do you want to be near home or a plane ride away?
  • Size of school- Do you want to enroll in a large or a small school?
  • Type of school - Are you interested in a small, liberal arts college or a large university?
  • Majors offered- Do the schools on your list offer a wide variety of majors?

Can I Afford This School?

Most prospective college students apply to colleges and universities and then, after receiving acceptances, begin to consider if they can afford to attend the school. I recommend meeting with an admission or financial aid counselor before you turn in your application to determine if you and your family have the financial resources to attend. Many schools offer excellent financial counseling services during the application process. It’s better to get this information before you apply. It may save you time and an application fee.

How Much Debt is Too Much Debt?

Don’t believe all the hype about student borrowing. About 2/3 of all college graduates have some debt, but less than 1% owe more than $100,000. The majority of student borrowers owe $30,000 or less.

Can I Graduate in Four Years?

Not only can you graduate in four years you should graduate in four years! Although a majority of college students take five or six years to graduate, there are many things future college students can do to set a four year graduation course.

  • Take 15 credits (five courses) a semester instead of 12 (4 courses). 
  • Take classes online or at your local community college over summer break or in addition to your classroom courses.
  • Meet with your academic advisor in the first semester and get an “academic map” outlining what courses you need to graduate.

When Should Career Counseling Begin?

A majority of parents and students believe that colleges are not doing enough to help students find employment after graduation. Career counseling should begin in freshman year. Some of the best schools in the country are beginning to counsel students in the first year about career options after graduation.

Applying, financing, and graduating from college can be a complicated process. It need not be so difficult. I beleive:

  • There is at least one school for every student who wants to enroll. 
  • College costs can be managed. 
  • Debt need not dominate life after college.
  • Career counseling will help you get a job after graduation. 

Hopefully, you will look back on your college years as the best time in your life!

Marguerite J. Dennis has been a college administrator for more than 30 years, first at St. John’s University in New York, then at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and finally at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts.  Her book, 100 Questions to Ask before You Enroll in College, While in College, and after College: An Insider’s Guide, will be published in March.

Marguerite Dennis

Marguerite Dennis

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