You’ve graduated high school and are ready to major in business or engineering at a top school.
Here’s how you can get insights about a university you’re thinking of attending.
- 1. Talk to your high school guidance counselor and ask for contact info of fellow alumni who are attending your target schools.
- 2. You can also call your target college (in my case, the University of Texas at Austin, Red McCombs School of Business) and ask to speak to a current (business) student.
Talk to Current Students
Most universities have student representatives who will talk to applicants and prospective students. When I attended the University of Texas, I was a student representative who talked to applicants and answered any questions they had. This is an important process because school brochures are often just marketing/promotional materials that provide a high-level introduction of a campus (i.e., number of students, program rankings, etc).
Due Diligence on a 100k Purchase
As a college student, you’re making a $50,000 to $150,000 purchase of a diploma. If you’re going to spend enough money that can buy a house or portfolio of investments, you need more comprehensive due diligence. And that involves speaking to current students in your program at the university you want to attend.
Too Much Sales Talk
From my experience at the University of Texas, there’s too much marketing and promotional talk by school employees. Often, they’re advocating what’s good for the state of Texas, and what will help them (the employees) keep their jobs.
As an applicant, you get more value from talking to unofficial representatives — that is, actual students in your (future) major.
Many college employees who interact with high school seniors have quotas to fill, such as class size, number of top applicants, diversity of incoming class, etc. Their quotas have a financial impact on their institutions and may also result in bonuses and other employee rewards such as promotions.
These incentives often result in personal bias, and many incoming freshmen won’t have made optimal decisions.
Go to the website of your target department, say the University of Michigan college of engineering. Call the department and ask to speak to a student representative.
Here’s some useful information you can get from such a phone call or email exchange (and it will likely be more insightful than talking to a university salesman):
- Degree requirements
- Networking opportunities with future classmates
- Finding potential roommates
- Difficulty level of courses
- Exam formats
- Professors and teaching assistants (who to work with, who to avoid)
- What classes to take, and which ones to avoid
- Class sizes
- Practical tips for succeeding in a class
- Where to live, eat, exercise, etc.
- Cheap and/or safe living accommodations
- Practical tips on study areas (library vs. student union)
- Recruiting with companies
- Tutors and mentors
- Remedial classes
- Jobs that may provide tuition assistance
- How to get in-state tuition
- Scholarship opportunities
- Other non-promotional info
- Efficient ways of getting to class
- Student or support groups
Practical Tips Come From Students
A school employee won’t tell you not to eat at a certain expensive food joint for fear of being sued or fired. But a fellow student can.
A school employee will never tell you to avoid a bright professor who has terrible communication skills. But a student can.
That’s the importance of talking to actual students of your target college.
Don’t rely on promotional brochures and websites. These are designed to hook you, because more student enrollees result in more federal dollars for the university.
Most college employees (i.e., sales pros) who talk to high school seniors are not alumni of the college program you want to major in. That means your due diligence needs to involve current students (or alumni) — meaning people who actually went through what you’re about to go through.
There’s a $100k — and your college future — at stake.