First Steps

I would like to discuss my goals in attending college and ask how your college will help me fulfill them.

Discuss these goals with college admissions staff, sometimes called enrollment managers or student success guides. You can also help clarify your intent by asking for appointments with others on campus who can help you, including faculty. In cases where these individuals cannot answer your questions, be sure to keep a list of any unanswered questions and ask for appropriate referrals.

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The Big Debate: Credentials Vs. Degrees: What Do I Need to Know?

  1. What is the difference between a degree and a certificate?
  2. What do I want to be able to do once I complete my degree or certificate?
  3. What are the time commitments?
  4. What are the documented potential earning outcomes by program?
  5. What are the graduation rates of the institution?
  6. Where can I find the graduation rates of each program?
  7. What are the job placement statistics of the college’s programs?
  8. What are the earnings of the credential I will pursue?

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What is the admissions process?

  1. What do I need to do to apply?
  2. What are the deadlines?
  3. Is there a cost for applications?
  4. When will I find out about the decision on my admission?
  5. Does the college have “early admission” paths, and if so, how does it work?

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Student Populations

How many students are enrolled in the school and the program I am considering?

Knowing how many students are enrolled in the program under consideration is an important question, as it can demonstrate the amount of attention you will get from faculty and potentially small class sizes, and the overall viability of the program and the institution. Institutions provide many services that can make a large college much less intimidating. Smaller institutions might feel more personal to some students. Be cautious not to over-generalize about size, and ask questions about the kind of support, attention and services available at any institution you consider.

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Is information about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) easy to access and how is it lived in the culture of the institution?

Attention to DEI issues is rising and the response may vary from institution to institution. Finding ways to determine not only how the college or university “talks the talk,” but also “walks the walk,” is important. Look for DEI markers which can be found such as enrollment mix, faculty diversity and other strategic documents.

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Other Questions to Ask about Student Populations

How does the institution serve adult learners?
How many students attend as transfer students?
If I am an online learner, how can I become part of and connect with the campus community?
What is the diversity composition of the college?
How does the institution serve minorities?
Are you interested in an institution designated as a Minority-Serving Institution (MSI) or Historically Black College or University (HBCU)?
How can I evaluate if the campus culture is the right fit for me?

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Military & Veterans

Does the program or institution I am looking at qualify for the Department of Veterans Affairs G.I. Bill?

Sources and Information

The U.S. Veterans Administration has two tools: one for choosing a college and one comparing G.I. Bill Benefits.

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I just transitioned out of the military. Should I fill out a FAFSA Application?

Yes! Individuals transitioning out of the military, regardless of age (under 24), are considered independent students. This, combined with how much money you make each year, might qualify you for financial aid. It is also important to note that any VA disability payment is not considered as income when applying for FAFSA.

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What is a Veteran student loan discharge?

For Veterans who are deemed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to be 100% Disabled Total and Permanent (T&P), you can apply for student loan discharge. A total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge relieves you from having to repay a William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program loan, a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loan, and/or a Federal Perkins Loan or to complete a TEACH Grant service obligation.

Sources and information:

Federal Student Aid Information

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Is there a Student Veterans of America (SVA) Chapter, or other veteran centric organizations on campus?

Sources and information

Visit Student Veterans of America for a list of SVA chapters on college campuses.

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Learning Formats

What learning formats/options are available?

There are face-to-face options that are entirely in person, hybrid models that are a mixture of face-to-face and online, or entirely online. Most institutions will provide a description/definition in the catalog or in the class schedules.

  1. Classroom
  2. Online/distance education
  3. Hybrid classes offered both online and in-person

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What is the frequency and time of meeting times?

  1. Weekdays
  2. Weeknights
  3. Weekends
  4. Variable
  5. Your Choice (Independent Study, arranged with a faculty member)
  6. What other options are available?

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Are any courses or programs offered through Competency-Based Education (CBE)?

Competency-based education is an outcomes-based approach to earning a college degree or other credential. Competencies are statements of what students can do as a result of their learning1 at an institution of higher education. While competencies can include knowledge or understanding, they primarily emphasize what students can do with their knowledge. Students progress through degree or credential programs by demonstrating competencies specified at the course and/or program level. The curriculum is structured around these specified competencies, and satisfactory academic progress is expressed as the attainment or mastery of the identified competencies. Because competencies are often anchored to external expectations, such as those of employers, to pass a competency students must generally perform at a level considered to be very good or excellent.

Sources of information:

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Does the institution offer any accelerated paths?

You may have acquired knowledge through your work or other experiences that could help you satisfy the requirements of a course through challenge exams or other assessments without having to take the entire course.

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Selecting a Major

How do I change my major?

It is always a good idea to meet with an academic advisor to discuss possible changes and the path to completion if you decide to change your major. It is not uncommon for students to redirect to other interests and majors while in college, or when returning to college.

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What happens to my credits from my previous major or other courses?

Again, meet with an academic advisor to discuss the effects of changing the major.

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How likely am I to be able to enroll in the classes I need to graduate?

Many institutions will give priority for enrollment in courses to returning students before opening enrollment to new students. Likewise, often institutions will have policies in place allowing for students nearing completion of their programs first priority in upper-level courses.

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If I need to leave my program for a while to attend to family or work issues, will I be able to complete my program?

Many students “stop” out and return to finish at a later time.  Before you leave, find out if you need to complete a “Leave of Absence” process and if there will be new program requirements when you return.

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Is it possible to enroll part time?

Ask questions about how long you may be enrolled in a program before graduation if you consider going part time. Check on financial aid requirements.

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Costs and Finances

What Is the cost of attending college?

This should include data and information on tuition, fees, books, parking, residence halls, food plans and other determinants. Be sure to ask questions and sources that will map out the full cost. It is also important to project out any tuition or other increases across the time you will attend. Keep digging with the right questions until you get satisfactory and complete answers.

Tuition is the cost per credit hour of instruction. Fees are costs associated with other services such as a technology fee for internet access or a course fee for courses with special equipment and supplies such as a science lab course or a program fee for higher cost programs like nursing. Many institutions help students create a financial plan for the entire program so they can anticipate if they will be able to complete the credential. Be very cautious if you are not given complete information.

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How do I qualify for financial aid at my institution?

One of your best sources of information is the financial aid office at the institution that you are considering. The FAFSA, often required for accessing federal and some forms of state financial aid in states where it is offered, is a form that is required to access federal and other forms of financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study.  It is important to meet relevant deadlines and complete the forms fully and may also require submission of other relevant financial information (e.g., tax data).


Sources and Information:

Federal Student Aid: https://studentaid.gov/

FAFSA Application: https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa

USA.gov: https://www.usa.gov/financial-aid

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What are the differences between grants and scholarships as compared with loans and financial aid?

You will learn there are many sources of grants and scholarship, which you would not have to repay. There can be parameters that you will have to meet, such as keeping up a Grade Point Average (GPA), progress toward a degree, etc. This varies by institution.

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Prior Learning

Does the institution recognize advanced course work such as college in the high school, dual credit, concurrent enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB)?

In some cases, students can earn credit that can apply to your degree or credential while still in high school.  Be sure to inquire what the institutional policies are for awarding such credit since it varies by institution.  Some higher education institutions may not recognize dual or concurrent enrollment.

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Does your institution have a process for recognizing prior learning?

Many people have knowledge that they have gained through their work, military, or volunteer experiences. Prior learning assessment (PLA) is the awarding of academic credit based on the evaluation of verifiable college-level learning achieved outside of an academic environment. Some institutions award credit for this knowledge and this could help you more quickly earn a credential or degree.)

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Transfer of Credit

Is there a limit on the number of credits that can be transferred into the institution?

The institution that you are considering transferring to may limit (or choose not to accept any of) the amount of credit that may be applied to your degree, particularly from two-year institutions, i.e., community colleges.  And some institutions may require you to retake a course if the credit was earned several years ago, for example.

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Will the institution recognize my credits earned at another institution?

Many institutions publish their agreements (often called ‘articulation agreements’) with other institutions, showing what they will and will not accept as transfer credit.  In some instances, the credit from certain institutions may not be recognized in transfer.  Be sure to inquire whether the credits you earned at your previous institutions will apply toward your degree. 

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Life and Support Services

What types of services are available to support me (academic advising, mental health counseling, food bank, housing, childcare, tutoring, career services)?

Check to see what is available, the hours they are offered and if there are additional charges.  Many institutions offer free options to help students be successful.  Your success at a particular college or university may depend upon the services and support offered and how easy it is to access that support.


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Is there access to practices, like first year seminars, e-portfolios, capstone courses, student research opportunities, and study abroad?

Research shows that colleges and universities that provide students with opportunities to engage in practices that have a high impact on learning promote greater student success. The Association of American Colleges and Universities has promoted this research and these practices.

Sources and information:
Association of American Colleges and Universities

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What opportunities for student voice in the governing of the institution are available, i.e., student governance?

Academic culture often reflects the value of considering multiple perspectives including that of students themselves, often in service to the goal of preparing students to be informed citizens in a vibrant democracy. If you have an interest in the overall governance of your college or university, it will be important to ask questions about these opportunities for offering your voice.

Sources and Information:
American Student Government Association

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How do I find out if I can participate in athletics?

By expressing interest in competing on some of the teams, coaches may contact you to explain the athletic programs and opportunities.  Make sure to find out how you can still complete your studies and compete.  Many institutions offer additional support services to make sure athletes maintain good grades.

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How will my rights as a student be considered and upheld? Where do I go and what do I do if I believe they have not been?

Colleges and universities must provide students with the ability to bring grievances or complaints to the administration to be addressed. Ask your institution about the processes for addressing issues of student rights. Information is usually posted in the Student Catalog/Handbook.

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How will the school communicate with me in emergency situations like extreme weather, active shooter, security breaches, etc.?

The ability of an institution to communicate with students and to act quickly in an emergency is vital and can literally save lives in these increasingly more common situations.

In addition, colleges and universities are obligated to publish an Annual Security Report because of the Clery Act.

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Housing and Transportation

For residential students, will I be able to select my own room and if not, roommate?

Many residential institutions require first-year students to live on campus for the first year or two.

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Are the dorms closed during vacations and holidays?

This can be especially important for international students who will not be able to find accommodations during those times.

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Do fraternities and sororities count as “on campus” to meet any residential requirements, and if so when will it be an available option?

Some institutions require students to live in dorms first.


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