SparkNotes Blog

Ask the Right Questions!

One of my jobs as an admission counselor is to spread knowledge about the institution I represent. I travel to approximately 168 high schools every fall, attend at least four college fairs a week, and interview dozens of students along the way. One thing I’ve noticed in my travels: most high school students don’t ask the right questions.

They ask about tuition, dorm rooms, freshmen car policies, and GPA requirements. Nothing wrong with those questions, but you answer them yourself with about three clicks of the mouse.

When an admission counselor or alumnus is standing in front of you, you want to ask questions that will elicit more than a one-word response, and that will give you a better sense of the school than you can get from that school’s website. Here are a few questions I recommend:

“What are some of the college’s traditions?
Every college and university has cool and quirky traditions: pins, rituals, anthems, harmless initiations, and so on. For example, at Colgate University, freshmen are led up a tall hill on campus; as outgoing seniors, they walk down that same hill. At Cornell University, there’s a legend that a couple that kisses in the precise middle of the campus’s suspension bridge will get married. And, for the more adventurous, at Tufts University, there’s a “Naked Quad Run” on the last Friday of finals week.

“What’s your least favorite part about campus/the college?
Always a great question that’ll draw interesting responses.

“What’s the best/worst thing in the cafeteria?”
It’s okay to get specific with your food questions (Is there soft-serve ice cream? Home-cooked style foods? Are there any theme nights?). The counselors will have strong opinions about the food issue—they eat at the cafeteria, after all.

“What are some unusual internships students have had? What are some interesting jobs graduates are doing?”

“What’s the first-year/freshmen experience like? Any orientation programs, special seminars, or activities?”

“What’s a typical day in the student center like?”

“What was your first impression of the school?”

The idea is to ask counselors and alums questions that they’ll answer with adjectives, descriptions, opinions, and personalized stories. Drawing out the college rep will give you a much better picture of the college then you’ll get from boring facts and stats.

Email questions for Corinne to