It's Not Just a Vibe Thing
Short Answer: Do your homework and be purposeful.
Before you spend boatloads of money and time to actually visit colleges, you should have done enough research to be able to know which of the questions below have not been answered to your satisfaction.
In addition to these questions, I always encourage students to do some stream of consciousness writing at the end of the day when they are by themselves. This kind of expression reveals a great deal in terms of intuition and their emotional reaction to the visit, their comfort level, their concerns, etc. Not a bad idea for parents to do this, too. (But do it separately!) If you are visiting lots of colleges, this helps you document an important, non-quantifiable experience for future reference when comparing institutions.
Admissions and or Financial Aid Counselor Meeting
1. What are the application options? Online app, institutional only, The Common App?
2. Are there separate parts of the application for Honors College, Arts or Theater performance components, athletes, scholarships?
3. Is there an Early Action, Early Decision or only regular admissions application processes? What are the specific requirements of each? If you choose EA or ED are you automatically rolled over to the regular admissions process or do you need to request it?
4. Is there an appeal process for EA or ED? Is there a general admissions decision appear process?
5. What is the application fee? Is there a discount for applying online, during the summer visit, for economically disadvantaged students?
6. Come prepared for this meeting with your income tax information from the previous year so they can give you a fair idea of how much you might be responsible for paying out of pocket. FA: How much of each students need is met by the college? How much does tuition increase on a yearly basis? How much debt does the typical student incur after four years? What is the job placement average for graduating students? Is there any guarantee for job or grad school placement? (Check out the NYTimes FA section: http://topics.nytimes.com/your-money/loans/student-loans/index.html)
7. Complete the college cost calculator with the college’s information http://www.nytimes.com//interactive/2009/04/14/your-money/20090415-college-calculator.html?ref=payingforcollege:
8. What was student participation like? Did the students seem smart and engaged? Did you feel a desire to participate in the class discussion?
9. Did the students appear to respect the professor? Did he appear to have expertise in his academic discipline?
10. Did the professor treat her/his students respectfully?
11. Did the class teach you something new? Did you find the class challenging? Did the professor answer student questions to your (and the student’s) satisfaction?
12. How does the college incorporate new technology into the classroom setting? Skype? IM? FB? Twitter? Is it embraced and to what degree?
Academic Department Visit
1. What was your impression of the rigor of the department? Did it seem challenging and energetic? Were they trying to sell you on their department, or were they trying to sell you on their field of study? Are they truly excited by what they are doing?
2. Is the academic department nationally ranked? By what ranking agency? Does this matter for your field?
3. Did the faculty and students appear to have positive and respectful interaction?
4. What are some of the independent projects that students are working on and how is faculty assisting them?
5. What does the department do to assist students in becoming connected with the work world post-graduation? How connected are they with professionals in their area of expertise outside the college/university? Where have students interned? Where have students gotten jobs?
6. What does the department do to assist students who are interested in continuing on to grad school? What grad schools have their students attended?
7. What is their academic advising like? Are they proactive in their interaction with students whose grades and homework show struggle? Or are students expected to succeed or fail on their own? Do students start off with faculty for advising or is there an advising center? Do students get assigned to a faculty member once they declare a major? Can a student select an advisor or is it assigned to them? How available are the advisors? Can you only see them during office hours or can you make an appointment? Do they give you their home phone number?
8. How easy or hard is it to get the classes you need to progress toward graduation in a timely manner? Do they guarantee four year graduation? If not, what % students graduate in four years?
9. Can you double major?
10. Many students discover interesting ways of combining different concepts and areas of interest within their degree program. What is the interdisciplinary work like within the major? How open is the department to helping you achieve your needs academically as you progress? How supportive are they of creative thinking?
11. Is the department equipped sufficiently and currently? Is there enough staff and department funding to maintain the equipment or space in such a way that there will be no deterioration within the time that you are a student?
12. What are the faculty office hours? Do the students in the program feel they have adequate access to faculty outside of the classroom?
13. What is the reality of the student/faculty ratio?
14. What projects/research is the faculty in the department working on? Is this of interest to you or is there enough diversity in the work going on with the faculty that you are confident that you would find a mentor?
15. How does the department interact with and support the activities of any associated clubs or organizations?
16. Is there a clear path to graduation? Is academic advising readily available and how accurate is it? How does the department work with the registrar’s office to ensure seamless and accurate academic progress and course choices?
17. Will you have to pay extra to receive academic credit for your internship(s)?
1. What is their orientation program like? Is there a first-year experience office or program at the college? What is the structure of the program? (common reading material, learning community, first-year seminar) What are the expected outcomes from this experience? How is it supposed to help you? Is it new or has it been in place for some time? What have been the results of their students having gone through the selected experience? Do you think it is comprehensive enough that you would be able to manage your first year or know where to go to seek the necessary help?
2. Do you see enough activities available that you would find a some activity in which to be involved? What are the ways that the college/university gives you the opportunity to learn about these activities/organizations?
3. What is the size of the college/university total? Are they going to grow in size in the coming years? If so, by how many students? Does it appear they could handle this growth and still service you as you would expect them to? If the college is large, how do they make it seem smaller/more manageable for you personally as a student?
4. Should you need emotional help or counseling, is there a safe and welcoming environment for this help on campus?
5. What is the college’s health system like? How many doctors and psychologists are available to assist the student body? Is there a decent hospital nearby? How close? Does the college provide health care coverage for their students? What does it cover? When does the parent health care kick in after the college/university provided care? ? What is the EMT response time? What is the relationship between campus health organizations and their comparable organizations in the town/city?
6. What is their judicial and community approach to binge drinking and/or drugs? What is the judicial approach to drug and alcohol abuse on campus?
7. What is their judicial and community approach to sexual assault issues on campus? What is the mechanism by which students report sexual assault and how does the college work with the town/city law enforcement operations and hospitals to combat and deal with sexual assault?
8. What is their judicial and community approach to bullying? Is there a mechanism for students to report bullying?
9. Do they assist in mediating roommate disputes? How easy is it to change roommates, rooms, or residence halls?
10. How easy or difficult is it to get to and from class? Is there a bus or shuttle system? Does the climate and/or campus size make getting to class or campus events easy or difficult?
11. How readily available is transportation to get you off campus to doctor’s appointments, community events, shopping, etc.?
12. How accessible is public transportation to and from airports and trains for travel home? Will the distance of the college from public transportation to major transportation options negatively impact your ability to get home for holidays or to see family? Will the cost of this transportation be prohibitive?
13. What do current students say about their college? What does their body language say when you ask them about their college?
14. What’s on the bulletin boards? What events are being announced? What kind of activism is present on campus? Does the club you are interested appear to be active?
15. What does the student newspaper report about the college? Does the newspaper reflect a concern about college fiscal issues, social problems, etc.? Does it celebrate student and faculty achievement? Does it give you a positive or negative impression of the college? (Remember to consider this information with caution. This gives you a flavor of the campus but sometimes the student newspaper can be very one sided. Use this as one source of many to understand the climate of the campus).
16. If you plan on using the fitness center, does it appear to be well maintained and clean? Is the equipment current? How crowded is the fitness center and at what times of day? Do they have on-site managers and trainers to ensure safety and appropriate etiquette?
17. Does the college provide opportunities to participate in activities off-campus such as visiting the local mall, city, sports events, out-door activities such as skiing, rock-climbing etc.?
18. Is the dining hall clean, well maintained, and well run? Does the staff seem polite and happy? Do the students eating in the dining hall seem happy? Do they serve healthy options? Do they offer a variety of meal options for students with special dietary needs, such as vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, Kosher etc.?
19. Does the student center seem orderly and well maintained? Does it have all the amenities you would need, such as toiletries (in the student store)?
20. Does the library meet your academic and personal needs? Are there quiet areas for studying? Are there areas for group study? Are their media collections and equipment well maintained and current? What are the library’s hours? Is there sufficient transportation or an escort program to ensure that you are able to travel safely to and from the library at all hours?
21. Is there a security team or police force presence on campus? How does the campus security team work with town/city law enforcement agencies? What is the response time to assaults or crises?
22. What is the college’s response to the current national trend of increased mental illness among first-year students? What mechanisms are in place to handle concerns of friends, roommates, etc. Would you be able to make a confidential request for help for a friend or a roommate? Would your concerns for your own mental and emotional health (perhaps stressed induced) be respected and responded to by the RHDs, RAs, administration, and health service?
23. Are there clearly articulated steps and authorities for handling crises of any kind? Are these steps made clear to all students, faculty, staff, and administration, and if these steps are taken by a student, is that student’s concerns respected?
24. Does the college present safety training exercises?
25. What are the details about the college’s cell campus-wide crisis alert system? Do they have a text message alert system?
26. What is the campus like on the weekends? Are there enough students that remain on campus to keep it interesting and fun?
27. Does the career center offer guidance regarding internships? Will they continue to work with students after they graduate?
28. What will the climate be during the time you will be on campus during the school year (August/September through April/May)? Does the climate/geographical location of the college suit your personal desires?
29. Do they offer support services and/or groups for other students with your particular personal needs (LGBT, therapy, learning disabilities, etc.)?
1. Are student services all located in a central place? Do you have to travel to distant parts of campus to deal with financial issues, registrar, parking tickets, etc.?
2. What is the demeanor of the staff? Do they seem to have a positive attitude? Do they appear to respect and like the students?
3. If you had occasion to interact with staff, were they welcoming to you? Do they seem patient with the students they interact with, or are they impatient?
4. Is the college’s Internet and computer technology current? Do they have enough funding and staff to maintain and support students’ tech needs? If a student has trouble with a computer or the Internet, what is the response time for repair? What is the IT staff like? Are they respectful and eager to help, or are they difficult to deal with? What is the mechanism for reporting a difficulty?
5. How many students each year are unable to graduate because they are missing one or two credits (when they were consistently advised otherwise)? How does the college ensure that this does not happen?
When you are done with these questions, jot down general notes, such as the following: Positives; Negatives & Concerns; What matters to you and does this college meet those requirements?; What do you need to learn more about?