The Question Behind the Question

A student raises his hand

By: Richard Onyejuruwa, Assistant Director for Diversity Outreach

While attending a conference, a high school guidance counselor and guest speaker pointed to the audience of college admissions counselors and university and colleges representatives and asked:

“We are always told it’s not about the numbers. However, we are in a position where we have to be realistic with our students and know that a student who performs very well on the standard exams and who has a high GPA won’t automatically get into one of your selective institutions. So, I am often confused on what my students should be asking as they look into colleges. Now that I am here with you all, can you tell me — what should my students really be asking about?”

No Question Is a Dumb Question

From students who need high-level support to the most capable, most students generally have a hard time asking questions for fear of sounding unprepared. There is no such thing as a stupid question, especially when you are new to a process. All questions are valid, including: “What is college?” Believe it or not, many prospective students from different backgrounds do not know what exactly college is, though they often have an idea from mass media, friends, teachers/counselors, and/or campus visits. Students need to understand and feel comfortable knowing that they won’t know exactly what college is until they have experienced it. It is important that your students ask any questions or concerns they have about college and the application process. Ultimately, it will be the information gathered from their research that will help them best determine which institution will be the best fit for them.

Residential and On-Campus Support

Students begin one of the most transformative times in their lives when they enter college, especially a four-year residential institution. It is important that they get a feel for student life on campus outside of the classroom. As students, they will live on campus or in a city that will be their new home for the upcoming years. It is important students know not only what they are getting themselves into academically, but also be aware of where they will be living and growing. Students need to know whether a rural or more urban area will better fit their personality and provide a supportive environment. Beyond residential spaces, it’s important to find offices and members of the campus community who support students. From faculty members to staff and students alike, students should reach out to a number of resources on campus outside of the admissions office to get better insight into the campus community. Your discussions with the campus community are enhanced if the student also takes the time to do research and explore.

No Dumb Questions — but There Are Good Questions

Fortunately, many students today have access to information about schools they are interested in, either at their fingertips or by accessing the computer at their school or public library. We have gone from brief descriptions in a large textbook of colleges/universities to in-depth web pages full of information. With so much access, it would benefit students to take a few minutes to examine the college or school online as it can often provide answers to preliminary questions regarding the application process. In addition to utilizing available online information, it is important that students keep matters in perspective and ask questions relevant to the college experience. Students, reasonably so, tend to be more concerned with what job they will get as opposed to how they will impact the world. As counselors, you know that an undergraduate degree is not a professional degree. With this in mind, it may be best to encourage students to avoid professionally-oriented questions. Instead, they should focus on the academic resources they will be using to explore certain subject areas — such as professors, research opportunities, and classroom experiences. Above all, students must be reminded that the school doesn’t make the student, but rather it is the students who make the school. While the school may help them explore academic interests, it will always be their work ethic and effort that will get them to their goals.

Having Options and Deadlines

No one school is perfect for everyone. Students should have at least a “top five” list of colleges or universities that they would be content with — not to be confused with a “safety-school list.” Students should have a list of colleges that they want to attend not only because they feel like their test scores and grade point average (GPA) fits, but rather a list of institutions they believe will challenge them academically and personally. To create such a list requires in-depth research into each institution. If students are looking at a particular college like Cornell, they should note that we have seven colleges and schools, which will take some time to research. In addition, students should be cautious of application requirements and deadlines. Not completing the application properly or on time could either delay its review or cause it to not be reviewed at all. Students should ensure they have at least submitted the parts of the application within their control, like the written portions.

Reach out to Us… You Are Not Alone

As counselors, you are busy keeping up with all aspects of your students’ lives. When it comes to the college process, you do not have to work alone. We are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to our office with any questions or concerns you have about our college application process. We appreciate the hard work you do with these amazing students. We look forward to working with you and your students in any way we can.