Congratulations! You’ve been accepted into one of the schools on your college list. I assume you approve of the academic program of the school, since you applied in the first place. Now at Accepted Students Day, you can see if you’ll be a good fit as the intelligent and ambitious individual I know you are. As a psychology major, I will be helping to represent the psychology department of my school at Accepted Students Day. I know this day is about us answering your questions so you can know what you want to know. But today, I’ll be telling you what I want you to want to know. In other words, here are some questions you should be asking:
About college life in general, you want to how you’re going to feel waking up to face the same campus every single day for month-long stretches. If you get the chance to talk to individual students, ask the following:
Where do you spend most of your time?
If most of the students you talk to answer with “Alone in my dorm,” then maybe the school doesn’t emphasize community between students much (or there’s not many fun things to do on campus). If you get answers involving certain rooms or areas for clubs, such as the Pan Asian Room or Women’s Center at my school, you can assume there are some close-knit communities and that the school values the needs of certain communities by designating spaces for them. If everyone says “Library,” you know the school’s emphasis is academics.
What’s a typical weekday for you?
Asking this question can give you an idea of the various lifestyles and priorities of different students. Someone might say their typical Tuesday is: “Breakfast, class for two hours, lunch with girlfriend, group project meeting, gym, class for two hours, dinner with friends, work until I go to bed.” That’s a pretty well-rounded day for a well-rounded student. That may indicate the ease of finding the all-important balance between academics, friends, and health. Conversely, if the same person’s typical Tuesday is: “Sleep in too late to make it to class, wait until lunch to eat with girlfriend, group project meeting, gym, fall asleep in class, dinner with friends, go out to a party until 4:00 AM,” that may just be that particular student. But if, in your mini-interrogations, it becomes a pattern that students skip class to sleep in or push off work to go party, maybe that won’t “jive” with your desired college lifestyle.
Where do you spend your weekends?
This may make or break your decision, depending on your definition of “fun.” I hadn’t realized until my sophomore year at my school that there aren’t many regular things to do that most people would consider fun or exciting (or legal) unless you are 21, you have money, you have a car, or your friends have a car. As an introvert, I’m personally content to spend a weekend recharging with Netflix and conversation with housemates. If you need out-and-about excitement, you may need a school with plenty of activities or interesting surroundings or, for the underaged crowd, very lax campus police should you partake in, ahem, certain festivities.
As for academics, I advise asking the following questions, ones I’ve found myself asking in my three years as a psych major. (I’ve written them with psychology specifically in mind, but I’m sure some of these questions can extend to other departments.)
What are the processes for earning a place in higher level classes?
For my reproductive and sexual health collaborative research course where I help develop a professor’s personal area of research, I satisfied the requirements of a minimum 3.0 GPA, sophomore status, and permission from the professor after arranging a meeting with her in person. It was relatively simple. I attend weekly lab meetings consisting of discussion of empirical articles and research design, and contribute two hours of work in the lab per week. But for other collaborative research courses, there may be course prerequisites, formal interviews, and intensive training. One biopsychology professor requires two lab meetings and 12 lab hours per week, a potentially exhausting commitment. Awareness of how advancement in the department works, and the commitments involved, may attract or deter you from pursuing a major with a school.
What opportunities can I expect to find (or be offered)?
There may be certain volunteer, internship, job, or involvement opportunities within the department itself, or outside the school. For example, I know students who serve within the school as assistants to the psych department program coordinator, student representatives at faculty meetings, interns for counseling and psychological services, and members of the department advisory board. For outside experience, the department provides a public record of sites where students have volunteered, interned, worked, or ended up working after graduation. Also, don’t forget to inquire about opportunities to present research or submit research for publication, both of which can greatly contribute to your career. If a certain school doesn’t provide as many internal opportunities as stepping stones for your career, it may mean you’ll have to work on finding them yourself, which is an intense process.
What are you looking forward to gaining from experience in the department?
Drawing from the previous question, I would personally answer this with, “I’m looking forward to gaining a stronger understanding of research methods and design, and the practical, interpersonal, and professional skills needed to put my knowledge from courses towards a potential career regardless of whether or not it has a basis in psychology.” That expectation covers what I’ve learned from past experience in the department and what I know I can gain from experience in the department in the future. If I heard that response, I’d believe that the student values and trusts the school. Conversely, if I heard most students respond with, “A good job, I guess,” I’d be less comforted that the department shows promise for their students.
How “intimate” is the department?
In my department, the professors joke about each other and the students joke about the professors (when professors aren’t around). Most of the students have an idea of who all the full-time professors are and their areas of research. It’s a great comfort having a certain intimacy in the department. I can’t imagine being as comfortable and trusting in a department where a professor may not remember my name or which of their classes I’m in.
Of course, there are hundreds of other questions you’ll have that we’ll be eager to answer. But make sure you do your research thoroughly and don’t just wing it on Accepted Students Day. Be prepared to see if you fit on campus and in your department of choice.