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Ten Questions to Ask Before Choosing a University
(Continued from 1)

4. What is the average length of time it takes a student to graduate? You must be specific. Some universities have programs that graduate students in three years, and other programs take five years to complete. Be specific and ask about your intended area of study. Many universities charge students fees on a semester-by-semester basis. This means you pay the same fee whether you are a full-time or part-time student and whether you use the services the fees
are intended to pay for. The longer it takes to graduate, the more of these fees you will pay.

5. What is the average age of the student body and gender breakdown? This question will not necessarily reveal a “good” or “bad” answer, but it will help determine whether a particular school fits your personality. The older the average age, the more likely you will be in classes with other returning adults. Some returning students, especially women, prefer to be in classes with other women in similar situations. It might be intimidating to be the only 40-something in a room full of 18- to 22-year-olds, especially if most of the class is of the opposite gender.

6. Will I get course credit for work experience? If you’ve worked in a field and now are finishing a degree in that field this is a particularly important question to ask. Some universities are happy to extend credit if you can present them with copies of your work and a list of references. You may want to have the particular courses for which you will be given credit verified by someone with the authority to have it posted to your transcript and keep a hard copy for yourself. If a university won’t give you credit outright for your work, ask about testing for credit. You might be eligible to pay a fee ($25 to $100 typically) to take an exam to get credit for a class.

7. How much course credit will transfer from my previous university? If you’ve already received some college credit, have those transcripts evaluated for credit. You may find out the math or English class you took 15 years ago will not transfer even though adding, subtracting, and the English language have not changed one bit. Sometimes simply explaining to an official in the records office or someone on the transfer student advisory board (these titles differ by university) what was entailed in the class can get you credit for a course they might otherwise have made you retake.

8. How much experience do professors in my intended department have? Some universities have prepared brief biographies of professors. Ask to see them and meet with a few professors if possible. It is always a bonus if a professor knows your face before the first day of class, and meeting him or her in person can give you a feel for the way classes will be structured. Are the professors people you like immediately, or do they seem too casual or too formal? Are they easy to talk to? Are their offices organized or messy? How do they dress? These are all clues you can notice to determine if a university is a fit for you.

9. What are my payment options? Going to college is expensive, especially if you are paying for it yourself. Some schools require full payment by the first day of classes. Others may let you pay your bill in installments.

10. May I sit in on a few classes? Before you finally decide which university you will attend, ask to sit in on a few classes you will be required to take. Do this anonymously if possible. You will get a feel for the teaching method of the professors and the attitudes of other students. You will have the opportunity to double check the facts the admissions office gave you. If they’ve touted the use of multimedia in the classroom, check to see if it’s there. Are the professors using it, or does it sit on the sidelines because no one has been taught how it works?

The main idea here is to think through your decision to return to school, and choose a school that is right for you. You will be spending many hours on campus and in classrooms and working on projects, so the more you know about a university before you decide to attend, the more likely it is to be a positive experience for you.

Misty Mills began college in East Texas at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. She took several years and worked as a massage therapist and grant writer before deciding to return to college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. She is a communications major and will graduate in April 2003.

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