Prep Questions for College

Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to major in, it’s important to make sure a college offers the classes and programs you might be thinking about. It’s also useful to find out how a college will support you academically.

Here are key college prep questions to consider as you research.

What Majors and Minors Are Offered, and Do You Need to Apply for Them?

You don’t have to know what you want to major in before going to college (or even in the first year, usually), but having a general idea—are you interested in the sciences? Engineering? Arts? History? English?—can help you narrow down college choices. 

Large universities offer many majors, some very specialized, while small colleges offer fewer, more generalized majors. Small colleges don’t typically offer engineering, for example. Explore different-sized schools and look for schools with academic programs you’re interested in. 

Also, find out what it takes to get admitted to a particular program. For instance, a major like engineering or nursing can be competitive to get into, so look at what the school requires. That could be a certain GPA, a separate application, or direct admission to the program when you apply to the college. What would you do if you didn’t get accepted into a particular program? Would another major offered at the school work for you?

If you don’t know your area of interest yet, find out if you can take the school’s common core classes before declaring a major. Many colleges allow students to start without declaring.

When Do You Have to Declare a Major or Minor?

Some schools give you a short period of time, and others allow a year or two of exploration. That timing could be important, depending on how clear your interests and goals are.

Are There General Education Requirements? What Are the Requirements for Specific Majors and Minors?

Schools differ in their academic requirements, so explore each school you’re considering. Here are some questions to ask and think about: 

  • Are there specific classes all students need to take in their first or second year regardless of major?
  • What classes are required for each major and minor, and do they sound interesting? 
  • Would you need to do lab work or a specific internship or project for a major or minor you’re interested in? 

For a starting point, explore coursework requirements on the college website. Look up majors and required courses. To dig deeper, reach out to a particular department with specific questions, or contact the admissions office to find out if it can connect you to a student in that major. Many colleges have student ambassadors ready to answer questions for prospective students.

Is Help Available in Choosing a Major and Minor?

Many colleges make academic advising mandatory and assign advisers to students, but some don’t. They expect students to reach out to advisers on their own. Questions to ask: 

  • Will you have an assigned academic adviser who will help you match your interests and goals to a major and/or minor? 
  • How accessible will this person be and for how long? 
  • What is the student-to-adviser ratio? Knowing how many other students the adviser is working with can help you gauge how available they will be. 
  • Does the college have a career center? (Most do.) If so, ask the staff how they help students with career exploration, major/minor requirements, and the internship and job search, and at what point they recommend students come in for guidance. 
  • If the college requires a general curriculum, is it set up in a way that allows you to explore multiple disciplines in your first (and even second) year, to help you choose your specific area(s) of interest?

How Rigorous Are the Academics at Each School?

Think about how challenging your high school courses have been (or were) and what you’d like out of your college courses. Do you want them to be more or less challenging than high school? It’s important to find a balance here. A college that is too tough can be just as bad as one that is not challenging enough. Stretching yourself academically can be a great thing, but getting in over your head and struggling too much isn’t good for you academically or emotionally. 

It’s not always easy to figure this out, but one way to get a sense of this is to reach out to professors and current students (especially if you can find a student who went to your high school). They have firsthand knowledge of the ease or difficulty of classes, and, as an added bonus, it’s also a good way to see how helpful professors and others are at each school.

How Will I Be Supported Academically?

Whether or not you have a learning disability that requires accommodations, you will need (or definitely benefit from) academic support from time to time. In fact, students who are most successful in their work reach out for support before they’re in trouble. 

Research what the student support services are, and also take a look at how accessible professors are to their students. Faculty support can be as important as the tutoring center, especially once you’re in your major. It’s important to find a school that has the resources you need to be successful.

Does the Academic Environment Support My Interests, Goals, and Higher Learning?

A college or university’s overall academic culture—their philosophy around learning, response to current events, position on new ideas and challenging old ones—can have a big impact on your college experience. To get a better sense of a school’s academic climate, explore things like: 

  • The university’s mission, vision, and values, which are likely posted on the school website and can give you a sense of how the school approaches learning, personal and professional growth, and more. 
  • Faculty bios, which you can also find on the school’s website. You can get an idea of their work and research, perspective, and more. If you know what you want to major in, look at the faculty in your specific department of interest.
  • Different departments and what they do. For example, if a school has an equity, diversity, or inclusion office or initiative, that might give you a sense that the school values these things.
  • What the school highlights on its website. Is it giving shout-outs to particular student causes or putting out statements on current events?

You can ask a high school teacher, guidance counselor, or mentor who knows you well to review these things with you as part of your decision-making process.

Check out these tips for exploring what major or career you might be interested in

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