Preparing for College

Questions to Ask the [Other] Dean

Questions: I'm looking at one of the schools of the university I want to go to, and with the school that I want, I am offered the choice to sit down and have a talk with the dean. Should I take this opportunity? And if I should, what do I talk about? Should I have any questions? I've looked for some tips online, but no one has really a good idea of what to do or say because most schools don't offer this option.


Unless you are pathologically shy or are prone to hiccups in stressful situations, then this is an opportunity that you should grab. For starters, it will help to show your interest in this college and also it will provide an opportunity to get your genuine questions answered.

So what ARE those genuine questions? Skip the boring and predictable ones. Don’t ask what percentage of the professors hold Ph.D’s (Do you really care? Although the grapevine will tell you that these are the best and most committed teachers, this isn’t necessarily true. Some scholars only teach because they have to.)

Don’t ask questions that are answered on the Web site (“Is there a math requirement?”)

And don’t ask questions that are surely going to lead to “party-line” answers … e.g, "Are your students ever selected for internships?" (“Of course ... duh!”).

I can’t tell if you will be meeting with the academic dean of this particular college within a university or with an admissions dean. If it’s the latter, keep in mind that an admissions dean will probably not be well versed in academic specifics (e.g., Don’t ask, “What are some of the recent honors thesis topics in biochemistry?” or “What do students in the Women Writers class typically read?”)

Querying the dean about his or her own experiences might provide you with unique insight into this school. Also keep in mind that most people like talking about themselves, so allowing the dean to sound off should leave a good impression about you in the process. ;)

For instance, you could try questions like these:

-Did you attend [name of university]? If the answer is yes, ask if s/he was in this particular school within the university or another one. Also ask about his or her most special memories.

If the answer is no, then ask what might draw the dean to this college if he or she were applying all over again.

(If you really do your homework, you can probably find out in advance if the dean is an alum, and then you can begin your question with, “I know that you graduated from this college” or “I realize that you didn’t attend college here yourself, but …”)

-What do you like most about living or working in [college location]?

-What makes you proudest of your association with [name of college]?

-If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about [name of college]?

-What do you think sets [name of college] apart from your typical competitor schools?

(Again, if you do your homework, you can ask this last question a little differently. Start by mentioning one or two atypical aspects or offerings and then ask for others. For instance, you could say something like, “I know that [name of college] allows students to cross-register at four other nearby institutions, and I know that you offer stipends to enable students to elect unpaid internships. I think that these opportunities help to set your school apart from others. What else would you say is on this list?”)

In addition, make sure that you have researched the college before the session, and be prepared to present at least three reasons explaining why this college interests you. These reasons should be specific, not generic. (A generic answer would include, “I really want to major in biology and your department is good.” That doesn’t really set this school apart from hundreds of others. A better answer might be, “Your ‘Health Explorers’ program is a big draw for me. I haven’t found anything quite like it elsewhere, and I think it will really help me decide if med school is in my future.”)

I hope that these suggestions are helpful, and I also hope that you can come up with some questions on your own. As you do, just be sure that they are truly meaningful to you … but avoid the creature-comfort questions (“Is there premium cable TV in the dorms?” or “How big a refrigerator do you allow in the student rooms?”)

Finally, feel free to jot your questions in a notebook and take the notebook right into the session with you. You certainly want to make eye contact with the dean and not dwell on your written list, but the list will make you seem well prepared and organized, and it can also be a life-saver if you are nervous and are afraid you might start hiccupping. ;-)

(posted 7/25/2012)