When you're trying to decide on the right school and program, one of the best ways to get a feel for your decision is to chat with current students. Talking with people who've been through it can give you new perspectives on academics and student life.
That said, sometimes coming up with good questions in the moment can be tough. So, we've gathered some ideas to help you get the ball rolling and start the conversation! Remember that current students may not have all the answers themselves, but they may be able to help put you in touch with the right people.
Speaking up at an event or info session can be difficult — there's a reason so many folks are scared of public speaking. Still, if you've got a question on your mind, you can bet a dozen other students are wondering the same thing. So be brave, step up to the plate, and be the one to ask! You might even find you enjoy it.
First, a bit about questioning in general. There are two basic types of questions: "closed" and "open." And of course, there are also "follow-up" questions.
"Closed" questions have a definite "yes or no" answer.
"Did you participate in campus sports?" is a closed question: it's either yes or no.
"Open" questions invite the respondent to offer more information. Open questions usually use one of the journalistic Ws (and H!): Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.
"What campus sports did you take part in?" is an open question: there's no yes or no answer, so the respondent has to give at least a bit of detail.
Whenever you're able, choose open questions instead of closed ones. You may be able to reformulate your questions to be more open: you'll generally get better, more complete answers from open questions!
Asking good follow-ups is an art of its own. The trick is to actively listen to the response, and try to connect it to your own lived experience. How does what the person is saying fit with your background or experience? Where do you agree, and where do you disagree?
When you're asking a follow-up, try to be specific, and do your best to formulate your follow-ups as open questions!
Questions to ask students at events, tours, and open houses
These questions should help you get started, but be sure to modify them, or replace them entirely, where it makes sense to you. After all, you're looking for answers about your specific situation, and everyone's unique!
(Also, bear in mind, if the respondent seems uncomfortable with a line of questioning, drop it. This isn't an interrogation!)
Choosing your college or university
- What initially drew you to this school?
- How did you eventually decide that this was the place for you?
- Which factors were most important to making your decision?
- Now that you're a year or more in, does reality match your expectations?
- Have you ever considered transferring schools and continuing elsewhere? Why or why not?
Choosing your program of study
- What's most interesting or unique about your program?
- Where does the program exceed your expectations? Anywhere it falls short?
- What would you change about the program, if you could?
- How closely do you feel your program matches your goals for the future?
Co-op or internship placements
- What kinds of co-op or internship opportunities does the program offer?
- Which co-op/internship did you take part in, if any?
- How was the experience overall?
- How was the placement selected? (Did the school place you, did you have to find your own placement?)
- How well did the co-op/internship match your program and interests?
- What teaching assistant (TA) or research opportunities are available to undergrads?
Housing and residence
- What's been your experience of the on-campus residence(s)?
- Have you or your classmates had any trouble finding housing around campus? What sort of supports does the school offer to students looking for a place?
- What's the cost of living like? Rent, groceries, transportation, etc.
- What are the most interesting parts of the town around campus?
- Where would you recommend new students look for housing?
Academic and student resources
- What sorts of campus supports have you used? Eg:
- Academic support / tutoring
- Financial aid department
- Accessibility services
- Career services
- Professor / TA office hours
- How was the support you received from these offices?
- How ready and willing to help (in and outside the classroom) were your instructors, profs, and TAs?
- What advice would you give to students who haven't used these services before?
- Anything you wish you had explored earlier?
Clubs and student life
- What clubs or student associations are you involved with?
- Any clubs you wish had existed?
- How can students set up their own clubs?
- What's the vibe like on campus? Do students tend to buckle down, or is it more of a party school?
- What's it like balancing life with your academics?
Scholarships and bursaries
- What scholarships and bursaries did you apply for?
- What was the application process like? Were you able to get help from the financial aid office?
- Were you automatically considered for any awards that didn't require an application?
- Did you receive any scholarships from a provider other than your school? Where did you find them?
Jobs and careers
- Are you able to hold a part-time job while you study?
- What sort of on-campus job opportunities are there?
- Were you able to get help in finding a part-time job?
- How prepared do you feel to enter the workforce after graduation?
- What sort of professional network have you built at school / in your program?
- Have you considered further studies after graduation? What kind? What appeals to you about higher level studies?
- Would you stay at this institution or go elsewhere? Why?
- How prepared do you feel to succeed in further studies?
Miscellaneous grab bag
- What's one piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?
- How do you unwind after a stressful day of school and/or work?
- What kinds of study strategies do you use to help retain info?
- What would you do differently if you could do it all again?
That's a lot of questions to consider — more than enough to sustain a conversation, to be sure!
Remember to ask follow-ups and request clarification wherever needed. Phrases like "what was that like?" or "unpack that for me, please" can help a speaker open up and share more personal information — so treat your chat like a conversation!
Start chatting with students today