There are 3 essential books you should be reading.
College fair season is in full effect. Prepare to get swept away in a sea of your peers and competition, all dressed similarly, carrying folios and streaming into the already packed event space. Some common adjectives for these sorts of events include: itchy, smelly, and overwhelming. Now, take a deep breath and stop paying attention to everything going on in the outside world. College fairs are not about anyone but you. Believe it. No one else matters. It doesn’t matter if that guy wore the same shirt or those people got the last of the black and orange m&m’s from the Princeton table. These events are about research, getting the information you need to make an informed decision about your target schools.
A college fair is also a prime opportunity to gather information that may be helpful on a future college essay. Many schools are in the habit of asking applicants why they are applying. It would be great if you had some reasons. You may not have the opportunity to visit all the schools on your list, so the college fair is the next best thing. It’s your chance to gain specific, personal information directly from an admissions officer, so make sure you ask the kinds of questions that will get you the information you need. Don’t worry. We made you a guide.
This is a basic one, but it’s important to make sure that the schools you apply to even offer the kinds of programs you are interested in. Beyond simply having a department, though, you also want to know what kinds of resources are available to you. How big is the major and what kind of community will you have access to? Learning more about the clubs, facilities, and other offerings related to a certain subject area will help you figure out how much emphasis and value the school places on your interests.
Similar to the question above, this question is a great alternative for folks who have no earthly idea what they want to study. Learning about the strongest or most popular programs that a school has to offer may help you home in on your true interests. When you ask this question, take note of what excites you.
This may seem like a touchy-feely question, but many schools do take the time to lay out these kinds of values in an honor code or other official school document. And when there isn’t an official document, there’s still usually an unofficial answer to this question based on the way the college president or prominent professors have spoken about the school. Getting to the core of what the school stands for will help you decide, on an intimate level, what you have in common with the school.
A school’s research contribution can say a lot about the academic quality of the school, both positive and negative. By asking this question you’ll learn a lot about how much professors focus on students and how much they focus on their own research and publications.
Disclaimer: this is NOT a question about partying. The point of this question is to get a feel for the school culture. What are the students like? What is the workload like? What does the school do to foster an on-campus community and what kinds of resources are available to students in the world beyond campus? While academics are a very important piece of the puzzle, location and community will also have a huge impact on your quality of life and your happiness, so don’t count them out!