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10 Questions to ask College Admissions Officers as a High School Student

Asking the right questions can make a big difference when you're trying to gain insight into a college's admissions process and overall fit. As a high school student, you'll likely have opportunities to interact with admissions officers at college fairs, campus tours, interviews, and other recruitment events. These interactions present valuable chances to get your questions answered directly from the people evaluating applications.

Admissions officers want to see that you've done your research and are genuinely invested in learning about their institution. Asking thoughtful, specific questions demonstrates your interest and allows you to gather information that can help guide your college decision. The questions you ask also provide a window into your priorities, intellectual curiosity, and ability to think critically – all qualities that admissions teams look for.

With that in mind, here are 10 key questions every high school student should consider asking college admissions officers:

1. What does your institution value most when reviewing applications?

This question allows you to gain insight into the specific criteria and qualities that the college prioritizes during the admissions process. The response can reveal a lot about the institution's values, academic philosophy, and what traits they seek in potential students. This can also help you tailor your application accordingly. If they strongly value collaboration, writing an essay about your teamwork and leadership skills can be a great idea. Or, if they place high priority on standardized test scores, it may be worth it to increase your test prep efforts! 

2. How would you describe the academic community and support services on campus?

Inquiring about the academic environment and resources available can help you gauge whether the college fosters an intellectually engaging and supportive setting for students. Look for details about faculty-student interactions, tutoring services, research opportunities, and other enrichment programs. If you encounter difficulties during your transition to college, it’s essential to know that there’s a support system to help you adjust! 

3. Can you tell me about the school's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion?

A college's approach to creating an inclusive, welcoming community for students of all backgrounds is an important consideration. The admissions officer's response can shed light on initiatives, organizations, and resources aimed at promoting diversity and fostering a sense of belonging. You can tailor your question based on relevant factors of your identity, such as race, gender, or sexual orientation, to ensure you’ll feel supported on campus.

4. What makes your [insert major/program of interest] stand out?

If you have a particular academic interest, ask the admissions officer to highlight the strengths and distinguishing features of that department or program. This can reveal details about faculty expertise, unique course offerings, research projects, internships, and other opportunities within your intended field of study. Since academic experience is the ultimate focus of attending college, it’s imperative that your major perfectly fits your interests, goals, and needs. 

5. How would you describe the campus culture and student life?

Beyond academics, it's helpful to understand the overall vibe and social scene at the college. The admissions officer can provide insights into popular student organizations, traditions, school spirit, and the general energy on campus. However, make sure to take this answer with a grain of salt. Admissions officers want to maintain a strong reputation for their school, so they’ll typically avoid controversial topics such as the partying scene or Greek life, or concerns such as high levels of stress among the student body.

6. What kinds of career services and experiential learning opportunities are available?

Many students want to know how the college will prepare them for life after graduation. Ask about resources like career counseling, internship programs, alumni networking, and other hands-on learning experiences that can enhance your professional development and job prospects. If you’re hoping to pursue an advanced degree, asking for statistics on the percentage of student applicants who are admitted to law school, medical school, or PhD programs can also give valuable context on the level of preparation you’ll have.

7. Can you tell me about the housing options and residential life?

If you plan to live on campus, it's wise to inquire about the different housing options, amenities, and overall residential experience. This can help you envision what your living situation might be like and assess whether the college's housing aligns with your preferences. Consider the following questions, which touch on key features of college housing: Do many students live off campus? Is it typical to have roommates, and how many? Is there a residential college system? 

8. How does the college encourage students to explore their interests outside the classroom?

College is about more than just academics – it's also a time for personal growth, pursuing passions, and gaining new experiences. Inquiring about extracurricular activities, student organizations, volunteer opportunities, and other ways to get involved on campus can help you gauge if there are ample chances to expand your horizons. The admissions officer's response may highlight unique clubs, recreational facilities, community outreach programs, or traditions that foster an enriching student experience beyond the classroom.

9. What makes alumni proud of their alma mater? What kinds of post-graduate success stories do they share?

The perspectives and accomplishments of a college's alumni can be very telling. Ask the admissions officer to describe what former students often cite as points of pride or meaningful experiences from their time at the institution. They may highlight influential professors, transformative learning opportunities, a tight-knit community, or prestigious careers and achievements among graduates. These insights can give you a sense of the long-term impact and value a college strives to provide its students.

10. What kind of student would thrive and find success at your institution?

This important, open-ended question allows the admissions officer to describe the attributes, mindsets, and qualities that align well with the college's culture and academic environment. Their response can provide valuable insight into the types of students who tend to flourish on that particular campus.

The admissions officer may cite characteristics like intellectual curiosity, self-motivation, a collaborative spirit, or a drive to get involved as being ideal fits. They could also touch on the importance of traits like resilience, open-mindedness to different perspectives, or a willingness to step outside one's comfort zone.

By understanding the college's perspective on what makes a student successful there, you can reflect on whether those qualities resonate with your own strengths, goals, and interests. It can help you envision how well you might acclimate to the academic rigor, social dynamics, and overall experience.

Ultimately, this question prompts the admissions officer to outline their vision of an engaged, thriving student. Comparing their response to your own qualities and aspirations can further clarify if the college cultivates an environment conducive to your definition of success.

These ten questions cover a range of important topics that can help you evaluate whether a particular college is the right fit academically, socially, and financially. Remember to ask follow-up questions as needed to fully understand the admissions officer's responses.

Ultimately, the questions you ask demonstrate your level of preparation, areas of interest, and desire to find a college environment that aligns with your goals and needs. By engaging in thoughtful dialogue with admissions officers, you'll gain valuable insights to guide your college search and application process.

One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.



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