It doesn't matter who you are or where you apply: college applications are stressful. According to the New York Times, it isn't uncommon for college applicants to lose sleep, get headaches or even become depressed throughout the process. The process can be especially stressful for new students who are starting an online course for the first time, or returning students who have been out of school for a while and aren't sure what to expect when they return to academia.
Here is the best advice we can give you: relax. It's not easy, but it's important to keep you sane during this trying time. One thing that can prove surprisingly helpful is scheduling an appointment with your college-to-be's admissions counselor. Such a person can provide valuable insight into the application process for their school, demystifying the process and helping you feel better grounded and informed. Here are 10 questions you should ask any admissions advisor that might help take the pressure off.
1. "What do you look for in an applicant?"
This is a very basic but important question. All campus-based and online colleges have their own selection criteria, and while they may not be willing to divulge too much information, you can certainly get a feel for what accomplishments they value. Ask about the relative ranking of things like grades, standardized test scores, AP coursework and extracurricular activities, so you can focus on those aspects when you're writing out your forms and essays.
2. "How and when should I apply?"
Knowing how and when to apply is essential information, as most schools don't accept late or incomplete applications. Be sure to ask what additional submissions are recommended and how they should be delivered to the school, including standardized test scores, letters of recommendation and school transcripts.
3. "What is the average high school GPA of students at your school?"
This question pulls double-duty. Understanding how your GPA stacks up against the average student can give you a sense of your chances for admission, but it can also help prepare you for how competitive the academic environment will be when classes start. Even if you are not a high school student, you might learn some valuable information from this question.
4. "What is the average SAT or ACT score of students at your school, and how important is it?"
As with GPA, average test scores are an indication of admissions criteria and academic competitiveness. Be sure to ask what standardized tests they prefer (or require) and how important these scores are, particularly if you have excellent grades but don't excel in test taking.
5. "How much does it cost to attend your school?"
Knowing the tuition cost of your chosen school is only part of the story when it comes to cost. Be sure to ask for the other costs of education; additional fees, housing, and even other expenses such as books and materials add up.
6. "Is financial aid available?"
Financial aid can make college a reality for students who otherwise could not attend. Be sure to have your admissions adviser specify which types of aid are available: are they grants? Scholarships? Are there loans, and are they private or federal? How about work-study, or internship opportunities? Learn all you can about how and when to apply to these forms of aid, and make a note to fill out your FAFSA if you haven't yet.
7. "What are your minimum technology requirements?"
When getting your education depends entirely on your computer and other devices, it's vital to know that you have all the devices you need and that they will be able to handle the course requirements. A low-tech program such as early childhood education probably won't ask too much of your home computer, but something like graphic design may require expensive computer programs and hardware.
8. "How do online students interact with teachers and students?"
Whether you're applying to fully online colleges or campus-based schools that offer online programs, there are a lot of variables you should know before you apply to school. Understanding how you attend class, submit work, receive feedback and interact with your peers is essential for determining whether your learning style is well-suited for online degree programs.
9. "What is your student-to-faculty ratio?"
Smaller class sizes reduce competition for your professor's time, which can impact the quality of your education overall. You may also want to ask about the number of students in the specific program you intend to apply for; if a program is impacted from too many interested students, it can be difficult to declare as your major. In such a case, ask about suggestions for possible alternate programs; for example, a student hoping to major in an impacted writing program may decide to switch to an English concentration instead.
10. "When can I expect a decision?"
This might very well be the most important question when it comes to your stress levels. Knowing how and when you'll receive your admissions decision can save you weeks of needless torment. No admissions advisor is going to be able to give you an accurate-to-the-day answer, but their best estimate — and their explanation for possible reasons the decision might be delayed — can help keep your expectations realistic.