what to know before you talk to an enrollment specialistSo you’re at home. You’ve expressed interest in a few schools. Maybe you’ve requested more information or you’ve stopped by their office. Suddenly, the phone rings. It’s an enrollment specialist, and they want to talk to you about attending their school.

First, take a deep breath. Second, get your thoughts straight. Most likely, if they’re calling you, this person will want to convince you to attend their school–they might be getting paid to do just that. But the truth is, there are a dozen schools out there that will do the same thing. So, don’t go into this thinking that it’s your only chance to attend college. It’s not. You are shopping, plain and simple. You owe it to yourself to find the best college for your situation.

Now, before you let the enrollment specialist sign you up, you need to ask them a few questions. These five are a great place to start:

1. “What kind of financial aid will be available to me?”

Before you commit to thousands of dollars of tuition payments per semester or term, you need to know how you are going to pay for it. Depending on your financial and household situation, you might (or might not) qualify for financial aid. Some schools will offer scholarships or grants of their own to deserving students.

Unfortunately, this is one topic that enrollment specialists will skirt around at some schools. When asked, they may respond, “Let’s complete your application first. Then we can fill out your FAFSA and determine how much.”

Beware! Many less reputable schools will string you along and postpone your questions until you find yourself sitting in a classroom, not knowing how you got there or how you will pay for it. Although it is difficult to know exactly how much you will qualify for in government aid until you are actually enrolled, do NOT register for classes until you have a general idea of how much (if any) you might be able to get from the government or the school, and how much you will have to pay out of pocket. A good enrollment specialist will be able to give you estimates.

2. “What kind of study assistance does your college offer for students who struggle in their course work?”

Several schools have gotten into hot water lately because of their lack of support for their students once they get them in the door. Whether the school you are interested in is a traditional not-for-profit school or a for-profit (like University of Phoenix or Capella University), they owe their students a certain level of support, including tutoring or guidance services.

Make sure you understand exactly how they will help you. If the way they explain it is unclear, ask again until you understand and ask them to send you written material explaining the process to you. Unfortunately, some schools will falsely say they offer these services, but by the time students realize they’ve been lied to, they have nothing in writing to back up their claim. It’s a matter of hearsay. Fortunately, some schools offer very good guidance programs.

3. “What is your college’s graduation rate?”

Push aside all the fancy brochures, commercials, and websites and you have a few numbers that illustrate the success or failure of a college: one of those is its graduation rate. People pay to get an education and graduate so they can apply their newfound knowledge to better their careers. If students fail to complete their program, they don’t get that benefit. And that is a huge red flag for any number of problems.

Just as a warning, many colleges will be bashful about sharing this with you, and it’s no surprise why. While the average graduation rate at four-year colleges is 53 percent, many colleges will only graduate 10 percent or less of their student body. Although these numbers are not always an indicator of the quality of education in the classroom, they should make you a little suspicious about their advisement or tutoring services.

4. “How does your college help students get jobs when they graduate?”

Most likely, you want to go to college to improve your career. But what if you put in your time only to find yourself jobless at the end? Well, not all schools are created equal when it comes to job placement. Some schools have impressive networks of alumni who come back to their alma mater to recruit. Others colleges, well, let’s just say you may be completely on your own in trying to find your first job out of college.

Don’t be afraid to ask the enrollment questions like, “What is your school’s job placement rate for graduates?” or “How do you help students get internships?” If they can’t give you a very reassuring answer, you might want to reconsider enrolling with them.

5. “Which companies recruit from your college?”

This is a good measure of the quality of their job placement programs. Specifically, you’ll want to know if companies in your industry of choice will be recruiting there. Not every college will have recruiters from Apple or Nike, but they should be equipped to place you in the right position in the right industry. If they can’t name any companies, then, well, you get my drift…

Bottom line: don’t settle for just any school that calls you. And, if you don’t get satisfactory answers to these questions, don’t be afraid to turn down their offer. This is five minutes of their life, but it will determine the next four years of yours. So be picky. Bombard them with questions, and don’t sign up unless you get the answers you’re looking for.

Are you expecting a call from a school? What questions will you ask them? Share in the comments below!

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