The Most Overlooked Question You Should Be Asking During Your College Search Process

Swarthmore CollegeColleges, like all other organizations, love to market themselves positively. Their brochures are bright and shiny, filled with impressive statistics, pictures of happy students, and never-ending lists of reasons why they are great. Talk to students, too, and they’re likely to gush about how much they love their schools and how happy they are to be there.

For the most part, these things are true – many colleges have lots of great things about them, and many students are really happy where they are going to school. But for someone doing the college search process and trying to determine which school is the best fit for him or her, this uniform positivity can be a bit unhelpful.

As any rational person will say, no place is perfect, and hence no college is perfect. Every school has at least a few minor issues, and in my opinion, knowing what the negative aspects of a school are is almost as important as knowing what the positive aspects of a school are. This way, a student can make a decision on which school to attend based on a comprehensive understanding of the school, not just a one-sided view of it.

So, one really important question to ask students and staff when considering a school is, “What are some things you don’t like about this school?” Or, in other words, W”hat would you change about your school if you could?”

This might not be the question that you want to ask, or even one that you feel comfortable asking, but it is of utmost importance. You will spend 4 years at the college of your choice, and that time will be a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. The best way to make sure you’ll be prepared to handle those “downs” is if you have an idea beforehand of what kinds of “downs” they might be.

For example, a school might seem great to you on its website, yet still have a student body culture you don’t like or a greatly underfunded department you thought you wanted to major in. Maybe the walks between classes are really long, or the food options on campus are boring. Maybe the student body differs too greatly from you politically, or the professors care more about research than teaching.

Information like this is hard to find out on your own; finding it requires talking to people who actually live at the school and are willing to offer their honest perspective. Admitting that a school has flaws doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend the school – it just means that you should choose a school with negative aspects that you are comfortable with and prepared to manage. Whether the issues are big or small, you’ll be a more informed college search-er if you take the time to figure out both the positive and negative parts of a school.

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By Aidan Calvelli.