As prospective students, and especially international students looking into an unknown territory, it is essential for you to understand the college, university, or program, you are about to commit to, not just the few years of tutelage, but the future of your career.
A survey, conducted by the American based research company, Gallup, and the Strada Education Network, found that 51% of the nearly 90k respondents regretted making uninformed decision for their college education. 36% regretted their choice of major in their undergraduate program, 28% wished they had chosen a different institution, and 12% wanted to do-over their level of degree.
This dissatisfaction is almost homogeneously distributed throughout the spectrum of either college degree holders (52% dissatisfied) or college-dropouts (59% dissatisfied).
According to the report, the reasons, behind the regret, are driven from making the decision to join a college, or program, without sufficient information of the impact of said degree on employment opportunities, lack of knowledge of the returns of the education investment, or the assumptions that students make about their prospective institutions.
So, researching your school, and program, is at the heart of removing misconceptions and understanding your needs against what the schools have to offer. Talking to alumni and scouring the internet are great ways to get to know more information.
However, sometimes it is easier to directly communicate with their admissions team or university representatives. Most aspiring international students can avail the opportunity to explore the wonders of the various available options through education fairs.
For instance, in India, the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) organizes US University Fairs where a large number of prospective higher education students gather to meet various university representatives who are happy to guide them and entertain their questions.
To make the process effective, the questions should be able to gather the most pertinent information, enabling an informed comparison between all schools of your choice. From the survey above, it is clear that the questions should focus on three major areas,
- How will the university / college / program help you get to your goals?
- Whether the school can take care of your needs – financing and other resources
- What will you need to make it to the program?
So, here we are, with a list of questions that should cover all the related information necessary to shortlist your school and program.
MBA Crystal Ball got in touch with Cliff McCormick (Assistant Dean of Admissions at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business). We asked Cliff what impresses him the most about prospective applicants he interacts with. Here’s what he shared with us:
To me, and speaking for my entire team, there is nothing more energizing than connecting with an MBA candidate who exudes energy and drive, can passionately envision their future and confidently articulate their plan for getting there.
When we think about it, those actually represent some of the key qualities of strong leadership.
These candidates come prepared and can quickly demonstrate a comparatively deeper knowledge than most when it comes to MBA program attributes. They’ll tend to ask questions which delve just a little deeper into curriculum, experiential learning and career outcomes.
At Maryland Smith, our MBA is specifically designed to help students develop sophisticated analytical skills and an integrative systems understanding of how business functions interact. We know this is critical for anyone who wishes to lead people and support them to deliver innovative solutions.”
We asked Cliff about the big mistakes candidates make while interacting with university officials. Here’s his list of the top 4 turn-offs:
1. One-way Communication
The best kind of communication employs balance between or among its members; appropriate amounts of “give” and “take.” Sometimes candidates may feel constrained with time causing them to take a unidirectional approach to aggressively sell themselves at a rapid pace. My advice is to take a deep breath, slow down and let the conversation develop from both sides.
2. Interrupting Others
I have been to plenty of MBA fairs and events in my tenure, and I fully understand the urge to capture quality one-on-one time. That said, behaving in a courteous fashion and waiting patiently in the queue is still the “golden rule.”
Admittedly, I have loosened up a little in my latter years, and while I don’t expect everyone to come to an MBA fair in strict business formal attire, I do expect business casual at a minimum. For evaluative interviews, business formal attire is still preferred and expected.
4. Collateral Collectors
Some candidates may desire to simply collect brochures or other collateral rather than engaging with the b-school representative. My advice is to take the time to introduce yourself and ask a question or two. It is great practice and you just may be surprised to learn something.
Questions to ask College and University Representatives
A word of caution before we get to the question list. Many colleges have comprehensive, well-designed websites. Make sure you’ve visited them to see what information is available and what isn’t. Filter your question list for the college representative accordingly. Read MBA Fair Tips: Questions to avoid at information sessions
Apart from getting answers which are specific and not already addressed in their official documentation, you’ll also make a better impression on them. Read this: What admissions officers expect from you during education fairs and admissions events.
A glimpse at questions about the University and Program
- I am interested in pursuing XYZ major. How is the program structured at your university for this major?
- How does your university stand apart in accomplishments for this major, from other similar programs in other universities?
- My research interests are ABC. What kind of resources are available to students interested in pursuing their research interests?
- How many students have graduated with published research papers, in the past five years, and what kind of support does the program/department provide to students interested in participating in conferences/workshops, etc?
- How is the program designed? What is the curriculum structure? How are the students assessed?
- Does the program have internships and how does the school help in securing one?
- How is the program divided between lectures and practical learning? Are classes interactive?
- Do students usually engage in self-study or are there tutorial/study groups?
- Can I transfer credits from my previous program? Can I opt to take up electives outside my specific major/department? Can I pursue a dual/combined program?
- Are tutoring, peer learning opportunities, or professor office hours, available to students for assistance outside the classroom environment?
- How many students has the program historically admitted? What is the track record of graduating students – employment statistics, future prospects, etc. (Read MBA programs with the best placement)
- What kind of internships or jobs have previous students landed in the program?
Example questions about Program financing and other resources
- Are scholarships available for the program? What is the eligibility criteria to qualify for scholarships and how many scholarships are handed annually? What are the deadlines for scholarship applications? (More articles on MBA scholarships)
- What are the tuition fees, plus additional costs,for each semester?
- Do international students qualify for financial aid? How many students are given financial aid? (Read How will scholarships and financial aid influence your admissions decision?)
- What kind of graduate assistantships are available to students? What does one need to do to become a teaching, or research, assistant? What is the amount of stipend associated with the assistantships? How does it compare to the living costs in the area? (Read Graduate Assistantship jobs)
- Would I be eligible to work on, or off, campus? Are there immigration rules pertaining to the number of hours I can work, as a full-time international student?
- Can I avail the facilities at the campus medical center? What are the means of getting medical coverage? Would I be insured as part of my status as a full-time student or would I need to apply for medical insurance separately?
- What kind of career services does the university provide? Does the university conduct campus placement drives? What is the percentage of students who get offers in the campus placement? What are the firms/companies that participate in campus placements?
- What are the other career counselling/services provided to students?
- Is there an office to see to the needs for international students – Visa, OPT, and other legal or immigration issues?
- I will be staying away from home for the first time. What kind of safety and security resources are available for students? Is the campus, and nearby areas, safe for students to work after hours?
Sample questions about applying to the university / program
The questions can, quite obviously, target more appropriate queries corresponding to the program in consideration. For instance, MBA aspirants can enquire after expected/average age of work experience required to apply, specific details of companies that are known to hire graduates from the university, what kind of class profile has the school typically possessed, and more.
The concept is closely related to interrogating your way into familiarity. Don’t shy away from getting your queries answered. The representatives are there for just that – to offer you their knowledge in exchange for peeking your interest. So, carry on and let us know what other questions, you think, should present themselves in this most opportune situation, short of having the means to visit every school there is.
Meanwhile, a few links to keep churning more thoughts on college applications.