The mission of Institutional Research & Evaluation, Inc. is to identify exceptional educational opportunities deserving of recognition based on objective, measurable criteria. Our first and last concern has always been, is now and will always be that what we say is true, based on fact, without bias and serves the public interest.
IR&E, Inc. is an independent consulting organization serving the private, public and for-profit sections of higher education in matters of recruiting and retention.
Questions & Answers About College
Question: How should I pick my college?
Answer: The very first consideration in picking a college should be the quality of instruction. The entering freshman averages give an excellent indication of quality of instruction because the best schools attract the best students.
Cost must also be a primary consideration. Location has a direct effect on cost due to local and regional cost of living. Colleges located in those areas of the country with the highest cost of living must pass on those costs while schools in the less expensive regions have a lower base operating cost and can pass on those savings to their students. It is possible to save so much money at one institution over another for the same quality of instruction that it pays to travel a long distance to attend a particular college.
Question: Should I go in-class or online?
Answer: Which best suits your needs? You get the same diploma regardless of your choice, so there is no employer preference of one over the other. There may be a lower cost to you by attending online, but you must be more self-directed and able to act without direct prompting by an instructor “standing over you.” Online programs are designed to convey the same course material and require the same level of performance as traditional “sticks and bricks” institutions and, in fact, nearly all traditional colleges and universities offer many if not all of their degree programs online.
Question: How do I know I can afford to go to college?
Answer: There is a system in place to help virtually everyone attend college who wantsto go regardless of their financial situation. It may to a community college for the first two years where you can attend for literally a few hundred dollars a year in many cases,or it may be a prestigious national institution where you pay a hundred dollars a day, butthere is one out there for you. The first step in determining what you can pay, what youmust pay, what you might receive in grants and what you may get in loans is the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) that your parents must file after January 1stof your senior year of high school.
Question: To how many schools should I apply?
Answer: Pick several schools that you are interested in and apply to each of them. Be sure to let them know in a cover letter which other schools that you are applying to. This can create a sense of competition for your commitment to their school and may bring some additional offers for financial aid.
Question: Is private better than public?
Answer: Whether a college is public or private should make absolutely no difference to a prospective student in terms of evaluating the quality of instruction and in many cases even the cost of attendance. State supported institutions may offer lower cost educations to residents of their state because the taxpayers subsidize the cost of operating the schools.
Out-of-state residents can still benefit because all of the real cost of attendance is not passed along to non-residents. This is done to encourage well qualified students to come from out-of-state and add to the overall quality of the student body.
Cost does not always reflect quality. Some lower cost public colleges may not provide a quality education while some provide the very best quality in a college education. Some private colleges cost less than public institutions and also provide quality educations while others have very high costs and yet a student can get a better education at a local public college. You must investigate each school to see what you get for what you pay. A smart college shopper gets the lowest cost and highest quality.
Question: Should I attend a college or a university?
Answer: There is really no valid reason to favor a college over a university or visa versa. They are really the same thing as far as your individual education is concerned. They are accredited by the same agencies, and they can issue the same type of undergraduate degrees. They offer many of the same majors and many of the same activities. For basic comparison you can think of a college as offering bachelors and sometimes masters degrees while a university can offer bachelors, masters and in most cases doctorate degrees. While we tend to think of universities as being larger than colleges and offering more degree programs, there are many colleges that offer more degree programs than many small universities. What is most important to a prospective student is the quality and cost of a school in relation to the availability of your particular major.
Question: Should I go in-state or out-of-state?
Answer: Don’t automatically limit yourself to just colleges in your state. If you stay within your state of residence and attend a public institution you may save money, if you can get the major that you need. But be sure to check with a number of colleges and universities before you automatically assume that it is cheaper to attend a school within your state. Many public and private colleges outside your state may not be as expensive as you think. Go for quality and value in the degree program that interests you.
Question: Should I take the SAT or the ACT?
Answer: There is no difference in the difficulty of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and the American College Testing Service Exam (ACT), and you should have no preference between the two. Most colleges will accept either, but some do specifically require one particular college admission examination. If you register for and take both exams then you are in the best possible position.
Question: What do colleges look for in a prospective student?
Answer: A college or university considers your application as the first sign of the odds of your ultimate success – graduation. If they see that you have the basic level of ability typical of students at that institution then you have passed the first step to admission. They know you can do the work required to pass your courses and your odds for success are good. Good grades in high school and solid scores on college admissions exams show that you are disciplined, motivated and goal-oriented. Schools want to know how you will add to the overall college community. Have you participated in a wide range of extracurricular activities in high school? Have you been active in community efforts that show you are interested not in yourself but also in others? Do you do just what is required to get by, or do you make an extra effort that shows enthusiasm?
Are you a leader or a follower? There is certainly nothing wrong with being a good follower, it shows a degree of cooperation and acceptance of authority that everyone needs. Colleges and universities need as many prospective students as possible to be organizers because an organizer will get things done and at the same time make people glad that they volunteered to help; that leads to community spirit that a college benefits from long after you have graduated.
Question: Will going to an expensive college help me get into the best graduate schools?Answer: The cost of your college has absolutely nothing to do with acceptance to graduate school. If you go to a college that is known for educating above average students then what will get you into the best graduate schools is how high you graduate in your class. A top graduate from a small, inexpensive, but high quality college will have a much better chance of getting into the best graduate schools than will a graduate who is just average at a big, but lower quality university or an expensive private school. Class rank has much more to do with getting into graduate school than the cost of the so-called prestige value of an expensive school. There are many very good, very expensive colleges and universities, but they don’t give you an advantage over many of the less expensive colleges and universities with a strong academic reputation.
Question: Will I have to write an essay:
Answer: Probably not. Most colleges and universities do not require an essay from applicants unless you are applying for a scholarship. Some schools that receive a high volume of applications use the essay to find out who is really serious and is not afraid to tackle an essay as part of the admissions process. If an essay is required the school will you a topic or a selection of topics and a general length for the essay. Follow their instructions to the letter because if you don’t that tells them something about your ability to follow instructions. Everyone knows how important it is for your essay to be grammatically correct. After you finish your first draft ask several of your high school English teachers to read it for mistakes. Ask them to do it again after you have a final product. Keep the following things in mind as you write your essay.
Try to write about personal experiences if the assignment allows.
Write it like you are saying it.
Use relatively simple sentences.
Do not use big words people don’t normally use in conversation.
Use an interesting first sentence to “hook” the reader’s attention.
Include details but avoid getting too deep into those details.
Don’t be controversial. An essay doesn’t need to stir up trouble.
A good essay paints a picture, not just tells a story.
An essay that is a little short but precise gets the best review.
People actually read essays; make it enjoyable.
Don’t try to shake civilization with your revelations.
They know you are seventeen or eighteen years old; be your age.
Question: Why do colleges charge to make an application?
Answer: Just to process your application can take several hours. A reasonable charge is justified since there is no guarantee that you will decide to attend that particular school even if you are accepted. The average cost of an application is about $50.00. This charge tends to eliminate those prospects who are not really serious in their intentions to attend a particular institution. There are some few colleges that don’t charge any fee for submitting an application
Question: Should I apply early?
Answer: Yes, there can be some advantages in early application. At schools where you are a very strong candidate you may get an early acceptance because the school could get an early commitment from you; they then have a better idea of exactly how strong their next entering freshman class will be. Many scholarships are also earmarked for promising prospects who will commit to a school in the early phase of recruiting for the next fall class.
Question: Do I have to go to an interview?
Answer: Probably not. Colleges know that it is often expensive to make a special trip for an interview. But if you are required to give an interview keep the following in mind:
Dress casually, but neatly. A jacket for men is optional.
Shake hands with every member of the interview panel.
Look directly at each member as you answer questions.
Stay loose. Don’t worry about saying something wrong.
Don’t hesitate to say “I don’t know” to a question.
Give short answers, just two or three good sentences.
Don’t try to impress anyone! Let your application do that.
Be casual and easy going. Don’t be older than you are.
Remember: Panel members usually have children, too!
Question: What is work/study?
Answer: Employment by the school, whether the money to pay comes from federal funds or from the schools own operating budget is called “work/study.” Although there can be variations in the program that you participate in the basic requirements are:
It is need-based – eligibility is determined by family income.
There are a maximum of 20 hours allowed to work per week.
Pay is based upon federal minimum wage rates.
Question: How can I get a scholarship?
Answer: Scholarships are great because they don’t have to be repaid. They are always worth an effort on the part of anyone who meets the basic criteria. Getting a college scholarship is a lot like getting a job. If you meet the basic qualifications that the school has established, you are evaluated in relation to the other applicants and the strongest candidate wins. Apply early and make sure your application is complete. Emphasize extracurricular activities and community involvement. A short video of yourself can be helpful, especially if you have a talent that is critical to the awarding of the scholarship. Most schools do not require a video but send it along.
A scholarship is a gift with strings attached. For four-year scholarships you only have to quality one time but you must maintain your grades at whatever level the scholarship requires. Most students who meet the academic qualifications can maintain the grades – they have the ability to do college work or they would have never received the initial award.
Question: Should I live on or off campus?
Answer: All freshmen should live on campus! You can get into enough trouble on campus, but for the average eighteen-year-old living in a totally unregulated environment, as much fun as it sounds, can be a potential disaster. Even if you are the most responsible eighteen-year-old in the world, you are going to have friends who are not. They are always the ones who want to come visit.
Living on campus also gives you a much better opportunity to really become a part of the campus community and experience all the day-to-day, good and bad that comes from being part of the community. Safety is a primary concern of every parent who sends a child off to college and every college has the safety of its students as its first concern. There are no guarantees, but your odds are better in a controlled environment than they are if you are living off-campus.
Question: Should I make a campus visit?
Answer: Yes, if at all possible. Most schools have a good introductory video online that can be very helpful in getting a better feel for the campus and what you will find when you actually get there. There has never been a school that deliberately set out to give a bad impression so you always have to figure that you are seeing the best aspects of an institution.
The very best way to get a true feel for a school is to stay there. Most schools offer visitation weekends specifically designed to give prospective students an opportunity to experience life on their campus. You stay in a residence hall and eat in the dining rooms. Special activities are usually scheduled to keep you entertained. This can be a great way to meet potential classmates, current students and professors and really get a feeling for what it might be like to live there.
Question: Will my campus be safe?
Answer: Crime can and does occur anywhere at any time. You must always use a reasonable amount of caution. The odds are actually greater that you can be a victim of crime away from the campus rather than on the campus.
Federal law requires every college and university to maintain, compile, report and provide statistics on crime on their campus each year. These reports are sometimes available on the college’s website or they will always be provided on request at no cost to anyone who requests the most recent report. Most reports show crimes against property as the most common problem and least commonly crimes against people. Thefts from automobiles are common crimes on campus, just like they are in many hometowns.
Ask you college admissions contacts about the security situation on their campus. Be sure to find out about the following:
Are residence halls secured by limited access and/or cameras?
Are parking lots well lighted and patrolled?
Is the campus well-lighted?
Does the college have its own security or police department?
Are late-night escorts available upon request?
All of these are very important questions. The answers are readily available if you ask. Remember light and visibility play a large part in deterring crime.
Small colleges may actually have an advantage as far as campus crime is concerned. Although most small colleges do not have their own police forces, the major advantage they offer is the simple fact that everyone knows everyone else. It is a small community where outsiders are more likely to be noticed and reported. An intruder is less likely to come on the property simply because he knows that he will stand out. A small college is also more likely to have just one entry, allowing easier control of who comes onto the campus especially at night.
Question: What should I take with me to college?
Answer: Less than you think! Every student always starts out taking too much. The basics that you will definitely need are:
Alarm clock, maybe two if you are a sound sleeper.
Computer/printer (don’t buy until you check with the school)
Credit card (with a fixed limit)
Dictionary (the old-fashion kind)
Extension cords (three or four)
Ice cube trays (if refrigerators are provided in your room)
Insurance card for automobile coverage
Insurance card for health coverage
Microwave oven (if allowed and not provided by the school)
Padded mattress cover (twin bed size)
Pillow (very good, expensive one)
Pillow cases (two sets)
Power strip with multiple outlets
Refrigerator (if allowed and not provided by the school)
Sheets (two sets)
Umbrella (you don’t need one until you don’t have one)
Remember, no college in America is probably more than an hour from a Wal-Mart, so you can always pick up things you need. If possible find out who your roommate will be. The office of admissions can usually give you their telephone number so you can get introduced to them and also avoid bringing two of some items.
Don’t take too many clothes with you. There will never be enough closet space! If you live fairly close you can always add to your wardrobe as seasons change. I you live far away, UPS can always deliver more clothes when you really need them.
Question: What do I do if I get in trouble?
Answer: It can happen and if it does it will probably be in your first year. Even innocent people can find themselves dealing with possible accusations. If you get in trouble over a school policy you will probably be under the jurisdiction of the school’s student judiciary system where your fellow students under the direction of the institution’s staff will hear your case and make a recommendation to the proper office of the college, normally the Dean of Students or a similar department. Penalties can range from a written reprimand for your file to some type of community service or even to the extreme – suspension or expulsion. Most schools do not charge dollar fines except for restitution for the cost to repair damage to property.
Every college should have a written code of conduct and a formal, written policy on discipline and judicial hearings. At a hearing you will generally be given the right to have a student-advocate help you defend yourself, sometimes even one from a law school class. There is generally a right to appeal a verdict directly to some higher review authority if you disagree with the decision.
If you are accused of breaking a statutory law (local, state or federal) on campus or off campus, most colleges and universities have no choice but to report you to the proper authorities and you will be processed through normal legal channels. These types of violations of law include alcohol, illegal drugs, theft, assault and other serious crimes. If you find yourself in trouble with either the institution or law enforcement departments do not wait. Go to the office of the Dean of Students and ask for advice.
Question: What do I do if I get sick?
Answer: Keep your family insurance card on your person at all times! If you need medical treatment or prescription drugs you must have it. The size of the institution you attend will play the greatest role in the health care services available to you on campus. Small colleges may have a nurse with office hours, but the nurse will only refer you to an outside doctor for serious treatment. Some colleges have a relationship with a local doctor who will treat you at his office and defer payment until you can afford to pay under a guarantee by the college. If you attend a very large institution there may be at least a clinic on campus capable of treating many ailments, and it you attend a major research university you might have a hospital right on campus. But you will still need your insurance card.
A local contact for a dentist is always a good idea. Be sure to ask your family dentist for a referral to a dentist where you could get assistance. If he does not personally know a dentist to recommend he may know of a referral network where you can pick from a list of potential dentists who meet specific requirements of the network.
Question: Will I make friends?
Answer: Yes, if you want to make friends you will! That is certainly something that prospective college students think about. Leaving your friends from high school and starting all over with a completely new group of people creates a certain level of anxiety for all students Even if they don’t voice their concerns, it is still something that is in the back of their minds. Some people make friends very easily; others may have more difficulty. Living in a residence hall assures that you will have constant contact with lots of students your own age, all with similar concerns and insecurities. This provides many, many opportunities to make friends.
Question: What if I don’t know what I want to major in?
Answer: Most students don’t know in what they want to major. They may have some interest in one or in several potential occupations, but not all eighteen-year-olds have a fixed career goal. The first two years at nearly every college or university are devoted to the core courses that every student must take for every degree program. While you are completing the required courses you will begin to get some ideas for your major.
Every college has a category that they call “undecided” so students have time to explore their options and settle on a major. Over fifty percent of college students change their major at least once. Don’t feel overwhelmed with choices on the first day. Everythingwill work itself out over time.
Question: Will I make the right decision?
Answer: You won’t know if you picked the right college for you until you have been there for at least one term and more likely for at least one full academic year. Don’t make a decision based on just the first few weeks or even the first month. Usually everything that can go wrong in the first few weeks will go wrong and with that behind you the worst is past and everything will smooth out. You will find yourself settling into a routine that you will probably like.
Many students stay at the college they first attend not so much because they like every aspect of life there but because they make friends they do not want to leave. If at the end of your first year you cannot see yourself coming back in the fall then make a change. Most of the credits you accumulate will probably transfer since they are core courses, especially if you transfer within the same state assuming you have at least a “C” in those classes.
Question: What will I see when I look back on my college years?
Answer: The best years of your life.
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