Each summer, future college students of all ages begin to narrow down where they might apply to college. Part of this process includes answering the typical questions on college applications.

Important as those questions are, however, it is the questions not included on the application that these future college students should be asking.

No person better raised these “other” questions than Elie Wiesel, who passed away earlier this summer. The author, essayist, human rights spokesman, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor often described himself as the “teller of the story,” the inside witness to one of the darkest moments in human history. He would spend his life posing some of the most complex and painful questions of the 20th and 21st centuries – and attempting to answer them.

These weighty questions ranged from the personal to the philosophical to the practical: Is there, and should there be, collective guilt? What role does a just person play in an unjust society? How do we honor the dead? What have I been brought here to do – why am I here? How could a God exist in the face of such cruelty? How do we effectively raise our voices against injustice? Does universal love exist? Is forgiveness possible – or even wise?

I claim no earned right to discuss Wiesel. Like most Americans, short of having read Wiesel’s “Night” (when I was a high school history teacher) and coming across occasional descriptions of his work in The New York Times, my knowledge remains light. As an educator, however, I have deeply admired the power of his inquiries and the courage of his pursuit for answers. He was a man directed and driven by the often-tortuous questions laid at his feet at an unfairly young age.

His commitment to examining the essential but unsettling challenges of our world seemingly offers us an insight into a sometimes-missing component of American education. Specifically, the college search process is often devoid of this simple but crucial self-analysis: What great questions do I seek to answer? What issues have been laid at my own feet through my own life experiences, predispositions or cultural context? What worries me, or gives me hope? Where does my curiosity take me?

Even a few minutes with these questions can shift the college search experience from a laborious game of carefully crafted applications to the vital fulfillment of a deeper purpose.

Some will argue that teenagers are simply too limited in life experience to adequately develop such questions. Research seems to indicate otherwise. Some studies suggest that curiosity is most potent at younger ages and, as experience grows, we adults tend to shut out world views and data that clash with our assumptions. In other words, youth is the perfect time to ask these questions.

Choosing a college or university ought to begin with the simple inquiry: Who can help me answer my important questions about the world? There are certainly many colleges that can and do – and the University of Southern Maine is one of them.

At USM, we take our students’ questions seriously. Our faculty facilitates a productive and often life-changing exploration of these essential inquiries. Moreover, many of these professors invite their students into their own research through community-engaged studies, internships, volunteerism and community service. It exemplifies a powerful method of answering our difficult but essential questions.

In the end, it is our duty as an institution of higher learning to not just prepare our students for careers (which USM does extremely well), but also to ensure they graduate as well-rounded critical thinkers. Students who will become global citizens with an understanding of the larger issues at play, right here in our own communities and also around the world.

Indeed, it has been decades since so many major, poignant, provocative and often-polarizing issues have been playing out on the world stage and across our country.

So to those of you who are preparing your college applications, whether you are a high school senior or an adult returning to college, I offer this advice: Wherever you may choose to study, take the time to remember your deepest curiosity and ask your most compelling questions during the college search process. A world in acute need of great questions and helpful answers awaits.