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Choosing A College: Questions to Ask Alumni and Current Students


Congratulations, Seniors!


Not only have you finished applying to college, but you’ve also now hopefully been accepted to a school and maybe even multiple schools! 


What are your next steps? In our previous article, “How to Conduct a Virtual College Tour During COVID-19 Closures,“ it’s especially valuable during this time to reach out to current students or alumni to gain a better understanding of the schools you are considering of attending. 


While it’s important to remember that each person’s experience is unique, you can likely gather genuine insights through talking to current students and alumni.


Now, you might be wondering, “but what if I don’t know any current students or alumni!” Or even if you do, you may be confused on what to ask them. 


Don’t worry, at Insight we are here to guide you on who to reach out to and possible questions to inquire about!


I Don’t Know Any Alumni or Current Students. What Should I Do When Choosing a College?


Insight counselor Amy shared great resources—Facebook, Reddit, Quora, YouTube, LinkedIn—in her article where you can begin connecting with current and past students.

One other resource worth mentioning is to reach out to your existing community.


What does that mean?


We’re all part of a community, and often, multiple communities:

  • Are you on a sports team or orchestra group? Community.
  • Do you attend church or religious services? Community.
  • Do you spend every major holiday with a group of family friends? Community.


These people within our community are also part of their own communities.  Leverage these connections—your mom’s friend’s son might currently be a student at Cornell.


Your church friend’s sister’s boyfriend might have recently graduated from UCLA.  Your boss’s nephew at the part-time job you work at every Tuesday could be an alumni from CSU SLO. 


You get the picture—people know other people, so reach out to trusted members in your community and see if they know trustworthy individuals who currently attend or graduated from a college you’re considering. (The key word here is trust. As a safety precaution, make sure that you’re connecting with people who you or your love one’s believe have good intentions).


After finding a few individuals who are open to connecting with you, you may be wondering “What should I ask them?” Below is a list of questions to get you started.



Question #1: How was Transitioning From High School to <College Name>?


This is a very open-ended question, which makes this a great starter question.  The recipient might allude to academics, social life, dorm life, environment, culture etc.


Consequently, you can now ask follow-up questions and get the conversation rolling! If they need a little bit more direction, you can ask, “What similarities or differences did you notice between high school and college?” Alternatively, you can inquire, “What aspects about <college name> was easy or difficult for you to adjust to?”



Question #2: What Clubs or Extracurriculars did You Participate in, and What Clubs do You Recommend Checking Out?


 This question allows you to better understand the person you’re speaking with and also breaks the ice if both of you have similar interests.  Equally as important, it may be worth asking, “What clubs have a strong presence on campus?” Students generally have an understanding of the culture within the organization and which clubs are notably active.


Question #3: Which Professors/TAs and Classes Would You Recommend Taking?


It can be overwhelming scrolling through hundreds of classes, so it’s helpful to hear from current and past students about any memorable professors or classes they’ve taken. You might hear about an interesting class that you’ve never imagined existed or thought of taking had you not asked!


If you’re speaking with someone who is or graduated with the same major you’re thinking of pursuing, this question can particularly be helpful as you will likely encounter these professors, TAs, or classes during your time there.


Question #4: What are Your Favorite Places to Study? Favorite Restaurants? Favorite Places to Hang Out? Favorite Dorms? Favorite Apartments?


Besides classes, current students and alumni are hopefully well-versed on the campus and the surrounding area, so they can give fabulous advice on places to study, which dorms to apply for, which apartment complexes are nice, where to eat, and what places to hang out in the surrounding area—all important information to make your college transition as smooth as possible.  


Question #5: What Activities are Around the Area, and What Benefits Come With My Student ID?


Alluding to the previous question on favorite places to explore around the area, you can sometimes get discounts or perks with your Student ID, so be sure to inquire about that!




Question #6: What Facebook Groups Would You Recommend Joining?


Oftentimes, there are a variety of Facebook groups for housing, selling used items, or rideshare groups for students from a particular college, which can give you access to information that you wouldn’t have otherwise. However, as with any online forum, use these resources wisely and with caution.


Question #7: In Your Opinion, to What Extent is the Reputation About <College Name> True?


It’s easy to believe whatever you hear, even if what you hear isn’t fully legitimate. If the college you’re thinking about has a certain reputation, it’s valuable to ask current and past students on their opinions regarding this matter.

It not only allows you to hear genuine experiences, but it also provides a space for students to clarify if they feel like anything is misconstrued about their school. Remember, this can be a somewhat sensitive topic to some, so be polite and open-minded during the conversation.

If the recipient is a recent graduate and the conversation seems to be going well so far, you might consider politely asking if these opinions about their alum mater has impacted them after they’ve graduated from school.


Question #8: How are Minority Students Treated? How Accessible are Resources for Minority Students?


If you identify as a minority student in some way—race, gender, sexual orientation, learning difference, health concerns etc.—it can be important to ask how you could potentially be perceived or treated on campus by your peers and professors if that is a concern.

In addition, hearing how readily available or effective these resources are to students would be essential if you anticipate utilizing them during your time in college.  


Question #9: How Safe do You Feel On-and-Off Campus?


When it comes to safety, it’s important to hear from personal experiences, and students or alumni may be able to provide input on what areas are generally safer.

In addition, asking current and past students about their experiences using resources that intend to provide safety to students would be helpful to inquire about. Keep in mind that each person’s experience can be different!  



Question #10: Any Last Bits of Advice That You Would Give to Potential Students?


This is a strong wrap-up question because it provides a space for the recipient to mention anything that they feel is important but may not have been addressed already.           

Students and alumni are beneficial resources for providing authentic accounts of their experience at a certain school. After reading this article, I hope you have a sense of who to reach out to and a list of questions to get you started. At the end of the conversation with your recipient, you will hopefully have a good sense of the culture, academics, extracurriculars, housing, support services, and the surrounding area of the school.


Concluding Thoughts on Choosing a College


However, it’s important to remember that we will all have different experiences at each school based on our own identities and preferences. 


For example, a STEM majors experience could vary significantly from a Humanities students experience. For this reason, try to also find individuals who share similar interests, majors, or identities as you if possible, so that you can ask more tailored questions to your specific needs or major.  


Regardless, all our experiences are pieces of a puzzle that create a picture of our school or alma mater; therefore, you’ll want to collect as many puzzle pieces as you can.


Start collecting, and good luck!


Authored by Jenny Huang.

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