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State of Student Debt in America

What to Ask at Your Next College Visit

When the time comes to tour colleges and Universities, you’ll no doubt find yourself following a campus ambassador as they walk backwards all over the campus. These students are masters of sharing successful alumnus stories, historical perspectives on certain buildings, and of course the virtues of the dining center, workout facilities, and residence halls.

While taking all of this in, keep in mind that the purpose of the college visit is to try to see yourself going to school here.

The college visit and guided tour have been long-standing traditions on college campuses. However, what drives the decision to go to a school has changed substantially over time.

“The right fit” was the primary motivator for many students over the years -- finding a school that had the right courses, the right majors, the right experiences. Colleges and Universities then began talking about the campus “feeling” right as ambassadors toured their guests around. According to research commissioned by The Association of of University Directors of Estates, reported on, more and more students describe the reason they chose their campus as a “feel” today than ever before. (As in, “I don’t know, it just felt right to me. I liked the campus.”)

What better way to sell the “feel” of a campus than to highlight the amenities in the dorms, the quality of food in the dining centers, and the opportunities as they relate to student life.

Today, as students and families begin to understand more about the college decision, the factor of ‘value’ begins to enter the conversation. Measuring value is about paying an appropriate price for the education, services, and amenities you’ll receive in return. To that aim, while taking in all of the ways the campus feels right to you, consider asking the following questions of your ambassador, Admissions Officer, or even the Dean of your college to determine whether or not the school you’re considering offers VALUE:

  • What are the completion rates for the major I’m considering? This question is meant to determine how many of the students that begin in this major actually finish in this major. If it’s not a high completion rate, it may suggest that the course load is particularly difficult or that students who begin in this major end up taking longer to finish their degree because they change majors mid-stream. If the completion rate seems low, ask why that may be and what services are offered to help students identify a suitable major for their skills and preferences.

  • What are the placement rates for graduates? Any college or university worth the tuition will aid in the process of helping you find a job after graduation. Dig into the answer a bit and ask if it’s a high placement rate. Do the majority of those graduates have jobs in their field of study? It’s in the school’s best interest to have a high placement rate - sometimes adding full-time baristas to the “successfully placed graduate” category. If you’re an accounting student, as an example, it would be important to know how many of their graduates are working full-time for an accounting firm. Another valuable question might be how many companies recruit from this campus, noting that there may be companies who find the graduates here to be especially great hires.

  • What is the average student loan debt of graduates? The average student loans carried by graduates from the school will give you a basic idea of how much you might have to take out in loans - assuming you’re not on scholarships or grants. A good rule of thumb is to keep your borrowing levels below what the first year salary is for someone in your major. If you’re looking at an out-of-state school and the average indebtedness is $10-20,000 more than your starting salary would be, it’s best to look in-state or at less expensive alternatives. There are a myriad of ways to lower your indebtedness while in college, so the average may not be what you can expect to graduate with, but it will give you a sense of what is “normal” at the school.

  • How involved is the Career Center and Alumni Office? The Career Center and Alumni Offices are there to provide resources for students looking to get job placements. Some schools have a very robust Career Center that does mock interviewing, helps to place students in internships, and does resume reviewing. The strong Alumni Offices will hold events that feature alumni of the institution desiring to give back to the current population. Ask specifically how many hiring fairs happen on campus and the success of students at those events. You could also ask how important future employability is to the campus leadership -- the institutions that are focused on this will most likely do more work to build quality relationships with industries that are hiring.

  • What (and where) are the scholarship and grant opportunities on campus? Most schools have a variety of scholarships offered through the various colleges (College of Humanities, College of Business, College of Education, etc.). Knowing where to find these could help you graduate with significantly fewer loans. If your ambassador doesn’t know much about the scholarships, ask in the Dean’s office to see a listing of awards available. The more dialed in you are with where these free money opportunities are, the better chance you have of graduating with less debt.

Asking questions like these will help you choose a college that will ultimately provide a high Return on Investment (or ROI). The investment is much more than money -- it’s time, energy, relationships, and ultimately the focus on your education. By understanding how to get the most value out of the school you choose, your ROI should be significant.

Choosing a college should be about more than picking one that “just feels right”. The price, opportunities, and ROI should also “feel right” to you and your family.

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