Admissions officers may seem like the big scary gatekeepers when you’re in the middle of college applications.

But the truth is, they are passionate about higher education and looking to admit students to their university who will thrive on campus and beyond. As part of that process, these individuals want you to ask them questions and seek out information to ensure that you’re applying to their school because it’s the right match for your educational, personal and professional goals. Here, admissions experts share the questions potential students should be asking colleges.

1. What Are You Looking for in an Applicant?

Greg Kaplan, a California-based independent college counselor and the author of Earning Admission, says, “Many students feel the need to be perfect at everything to present a ‘well-rounded’ application.” However, that’s often not what schools want. “Colleges are looking for specialists to fill niche roles at a school, which enables students to excel in a field that matters to them,” he says. Instead of trying to present yourself as perfect at everything (which is impossible), ask admissions officers to weigh in on what they ideally look for in an applicant.

“Ask the admissions team what makes students stand out more than others for a specific program.”

— Tracy Wood

If you are interested in a particular program or major at a certain school, Tracy Wood, a guidance counselor at Virginia’s Dominion High School, says, “Ask the admissions team what makes students stand out more than others for a specific program.” Being told about a summer internship opportunity or prerequisite classes that the school uses to narrow down the applicant pool can do much to improve your chances for acceptance. 

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2. What Sets Your School Apart From Other Schools?

Remember that colleges want to position themselves as logical, desirable choices for you as much as you’re working to make yourself look like an impressive choice for them. John Schaffer, assistant director of admission at Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania, suggests that students examine both the school as a whole and whatever major or program they’re leaning toward. Then, Schaffer advises, follow up by asking, “‘How will the school prepare me for my career goals?’ and ‘What are recent alumni doing with this degree?’” Be sure your target school is able to offer the tools necessary to achieve your objectives over the next four years and well beyond that.

3. What Does the Student Debt Load Really Look Like?

The importance of understanding the true cost of your college education before you commit cannot be overstated. Schaffer says he “always encourages students to look beyond the “sticker price” of a school.” Students can learn more about the affordability of a specific school by asking questions such as: “What percentage of students receive [financial] aid?” “What are the qualifications for academic scholarships?” and “Are there additional scholarships to apply for as an incoming student?”

4. Which Events Should I Attend to Learn About Campus Life?

One of the best ways to determine if a school’s a good fit is to spend time on campus, if possible. You stand to learn the most if you know exactly when and how to spend your time there. Heidi Reigel, director of admissions at McDaniel College in Maryland, says, “We often have students who are overwhelmed by our offerings when it comes to visit events.” Reigel suggests the simplest solution is to reach out to admissions and start a conversation. “Call or email [an admissions] counselor and ask for advice about which program to attend or the differences between the events. We can help students determine the best way to see our campus and get their questions answered.” Admissions counselors can also provide information about virtual and online visit information if needed.

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5. How Do You Support Students After Graduation?

College may feel like the end goal after working so hard to get in, but it’s actually a stepping stone toward your career. As you consider your college journey, ask yourself what you might like to do once you’ve earned your degree, and then ask your admissions officer how that school can support and guide you. Kaplan says students should understand how a school can serve their postgraduation goals. He says it could be through “grad school admissions [support], placement in a niche field or access to a desired job market.”

Most of all, remember that there’s no such thing as asking the wrong question when you’re deciding where you’ll spend four years of your life and earn a college degree. Schaffer says, “Don’t fear a question being stupid or insignificant. If you have a question about something, it’s important to you and that’s all that matters!”

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2018.