What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?
1. When you’re visiting several colleges during the same trip, and you’re getting toward the end and they all seem to say the same things, and yo’re getting a little tired of it all – hang in there. One of my students who visited 19 campuses during a ten-day trip from overseas told me that she stayed focused all the way through because, as she said, “I figured that the next one might be THE one for me, and I didn’t want to miss it.”
2. Take photos and take notes during the visits; then each night, write your reactions to the school in a journal. This will come in very, very handy two months later.
3. Parents and students might think about taking different tours, and comparing notes later. If you do take the same tours, try to keep your reactions to yourselves until afterwards – then compare notes.
4. Before or after the tour, eat breakfast or lunch somewhere on campus. Ask current students what they like and don’t like about the school. Don’t ask IF they like it, but WHY they like it. Come up with two or three questions to ask at every college and ask them of the tour guide and random students you meet.
5. Have fun!
First of all, if you did advanced planning, you’d have already had an interview w/the chairman of whatever dept your looking to get into, and more importantly, an appt w/the provost of the university. That surely can be the coup de gras!
Make sure you eat in the cafeteria if you’ll take meals there, talk to students, visit a dorm, stay out of the financial aid office, and take pictures to be reviewed later. Ask the guide what % of need-based aid is usually met, & what % is gift aid.
Ask students: Are you happy here? Would you go again if you had the chance? Do you really get to know your professors? How hard is the work?
students should prepare a list of important questions during the college visit. one of the important thing to do is to schedule on campus interview for admissions.
When on a college visit some important things to ask are…..
– Is there a core curriculum?
– What year is housing guaranteed?
– What percentage of students stay on campus during the weekends?
– Are there sororities and fraternities on campus?
– What is your four and five year graduation rate?
– What is the retention rate at the school?
– What is the average class size?
– What is the student to faculty ratio?
– How is the study abroad program?
– In your cafeteria do you have vegetarian, vegan and kosher options available?
– What is the average financial aid package offered at the school?
– What work-study opportunities do you have available for students?
Additionally, I would suggest visiting the cafeteria, dorms and classrooms to get a better sense of what the school is like.
Start before the visit by reading all the information sent by the college and on the college website, then write down questions that those sources haven’t answered – those are the ones to ask. Then consider whether you would like to speak with a professor in your areas of interest, or a coach, or …. And email admissions to request that contact. When you get go the campus, do everything you can both to get your questions answered and to get beyond the college’s marketing: read bulletin boards wherever you find them, including the chalked stuff on the walkways if students do that on the campus. Eat in the dining room and check out everything there. Cruise the library, art studios, music practice rooms, gym. And see when they’re open and how people behave there. TALK to people: remember that most students have done what you’re doing, and don’t be shy. (“People” includes adults: are the librarians friendly? How about the dining hall staff, people in the book store? If you’re at all worried about campus safety, talk to the campus police.) And take time to walk or drive around the area around the campus.
After your campus tour you should set aside some time to just wander and explore. You should make sure to stop in places such as the food court or dining hall so you can see how students interact with one another and what the general mood is on campus. If you’re planning to live on campus you’ll want to see the dorms. If this isn’t included in your tour, you should ask someone in the Admission Office if it’s possible to see a room before you leave. Another important thing to do during your visit is to eat the food! Many schools include lunch in the dining hall as part of your tour but, if it’s not included, just ask in the Admission Office if you can head over there on your own to eat.
Please ask for business cards from anyone with whom you interact. Common sense: now you know their title, email, and can spell their name correctly.
1. Ask specific questions.
Don’t throw your guide softballs like, “So, what are your most popular majors?” Instead, ask questions that will produce unique responses. Try asking, “What are some of your unique on campus traditions?” or “What’s your favorite thing to eat in the dining hall?” or “What type of student wouldn’t fit in here?”
2. Visit a class.
The percentage of tour time spent on academics is paltry. But, academics are the point. Just because the website doesn’t advertise it, you can sit in on a class at almost any college that you visit. Before you visit, read through course descriptions. If something sparks your interest, contact the professor yourself and set up a time to sit in on the class. Or, visit a “signature” required course like Reed College’s Humanities 110.
3. Spend time on campus off the tour route.
At most colleges, the tour showcases the best a school has to offer in under an hour. But, taking time to walk around areas off the route may help you to learn about the nuances of an institution. If you are able to see the entire campus on tour, go “off route” by people watching in the student center for 15 or 20 minutes. Overhearing student conversations, viewing the bulletin board announcements, and entrenching yourself in the culture of a school will help reveal distinguishing characteristics of any institution.
The process of picking a school isn’t complete without the campus visit. Most colleges look pretty good as you flip through their glossy brochures and read statistics about their star students and athletes, but it’s important to inform yourself to make sure you’re getting the most trustworthy information. One of the best ways to do that is by visiting and touring the campus in person to get a feel for the atmosphere. Much can be accomplished during one of these excursions, and it’s important to plan well so you can get the most out of it. Taking a look at the following dos and don’ts will help ensure that you don’t waste your time.
DON’T assume that you can take whatever time off you want to head to your chosen schools.
DO check with the campus to see if they have special visiting days or events for prospective freshmen.
DO check with your high school to see what their policy is regarding time off for campus visits. It doesn’t hurt to check with your parents as well to see if their vacation time can mesh with your high school’s policy.
DON’T think you can see five colleges a day, five days a week, cover 8 different states and get anything useful out of your trip.
If you’re going on a big road trip, DO plan on seeing no more than five colleges in three days, and plan well in terms of driving distances so you can figure out what schools are the most sensible to visit in a single trip or a single day. Plan hotel and motel reservations accordingly.
Also, DO save the colleges that are one to two hours away from your house for day trips.
DON’T just show up without doing any research on your destination or asking any questions at the visitors center.
DO find out if you need an interview to apply for the college you’re visiting, so you can knock it out while you’re there.
DO call the school a few days in advance to set up your visit, tour and interview, and have a list of two or three possible dates on which you can meet.
DO find out what is on the tour, and, if there’s something you want to see that isn’t listed (classes, labs, sports facilities, theater, etc.), ask them if you can tour it, as well.
DO ask if you can see professors from your prospective major, students that might share your same interests or coaches for your sport. You may have to call specific departments, but these meetings will be invaluable to you in deciding if this school is the place for you and meets your needs.
DON’T forget to confirm your appointment.
DO remember that colleges are busy places and you are not the only prospective student visiting that week or even that day. Call the day before to confirm your visit, tour and, if scheduled, your interview.
DON’T forget to make sure everyone you met with remembers you.
DO send your interviewer a thank-you note along with any professors, coaches or students you meet with. It’s a simple thing that makes you stand out.
The perfect college visit allows you to simultaneously learn about the institution while they learn about you. Not only does that result in you being able to make a more informed decision about where to attend, the campus visit can allow the administration to see you in a new light, and when they receive your application, remember that this was a qualified student who was also very professional and interested in attending. Visiting the right way can only help you, as long as you take advantage of the opportunities available.
What activities are taking place on the upcoming weekend? Which organizations have flyers on the bulletin board? Is social justice important? Is environmentalism prevalent? Is the social life centered around one type of association? Do you feel comfortable on campus? How is the food? Is there a lot to do on the weekends or do people go home? Do students and faculty meet outside of class?
When visiting a college it is important that you ask intelligent questions during the information session. DO NOT ASK standard questions that you can find out on the website: how many students go here? do you have a business major? Ask questions that show you have done your homework. Ask about particular programs you may be interested in, ask about housing and if they have learning communities, ask about first year programs, or ask about a particular feature about the university (such as a great outdoor program or leadership program.) Show the college admission representatives that you have really looked into their university. During the tour, ask questions. Don’t let your parents upstage you. Colleges want to know that your have driven the college application process, not your mom or dad. Read my blog about what parents should not do on a campus visit at http://collegeadventures.net/blog/2009/08/11/campus-visitswhat-parents/!
A visit to campus is the chance to get a feel for the vibe of the school. Pick a class of interest and sit in on the lecture/discussion. See if you can connect with a faculty member in your area of interest. Have a meal in the cafeteria and initiate conversation with your table mates. Pick up the school newspaper to read when you get home. Pay attention to bulletin board postings, student activity tables, library traffic. Try to get a sense for how engaged the students are on campus. Do folks stay around on the weekend, if so what do they do? Make sure the residence halls look like a place you’d feel good about going home to after a tough day of classes. If recreation is important to you, are you pleased with the facilities? And most of all, if possible see if you can spend an overnight on campus. That is when you’ll really see what goes on.
It depends on what your goals are for the visit, but it is always important to visit admissions, completing a tour and information session. If allowed, do an interview or an overnight visit with a current student. Attend classes, tour special facilities such as Engineering or Athletics. Meet with a coach, or a learning support specialist. Explore the neighboring community, eat on campus, and observe!
Ask about the labs, libraries, sports facilities, security, health centers, a chance of interaction with the current students and faculty, college culture and history, notable alumini etc.
First of all, if you did advanced planning, you’d have already had an interview the chairman of whatever dept your looking to get into, and more importantly, an appt w/the provost of the university. That surely can be the coup de gras!
Make sure you eat in the cafeteria if you’ll take meals there, talk to students, visit a dorm, stay out of the financial aid office, and take pictures to be reviewed later. Ask the guide what % of need-based aid is usually met, & what % is gift aid.
To get the most of your face-to-face time with college admission representatives, ask questions that cannot be answered on their website. And always try to have one more question for them. It’s best to ask for examples rather than statistics. For instance, ask for stories about professors meeting with students outside of class. Instead of asking about the average class size, try asking, “How many students are in the largest class?” To get information about the grading system, try asking, “Last semester, how many multiple choice tests did you take compared to the number of papers you wrote?” Any time you can ask for real stories instead of generalities, you’ll get more out of your conversations.
Ignore the “song and dance routine” being presented to you by the admissions office, as it has been specifically crafted to engage you. Be an astute observer, critical thinker, and question asker.
Your college search is one of the first steps you will take to more fully become the person you will be throughout your life. So your college visits are a great place to begin developing the critical thinking and observation skills that will serve you well in every aspect of living. Be a smart consumer of higher education. Do your homework before you go, and be an astute observer and critical thinker when you visit.
First, listen critically to everything that is told to you. Traditionally, admissions counselors have been caring, knowledgeable individuals. However, many admissions counselors attitudes today are being driven by pressure from the administration to bring in students, which equals tuition and room and board money. Admissions counselors are selling you their college, because their jobs depend upon the numbers of students they recruit. So, unfortunately, you can no longer believe them any more than you would believe a used car salesman, despite everyone’s good intentions. (BTW, the term “used car salesman” is one I hear often now, used by admissions counselors weary of the pressure to recruit students who are not a good fit.)
I have attended and participated in many, many info sessions over the years. In the past several years, it is astonishing how similar these sessions have become. They are almost interchangeable. The truth is that admissions departments everywhere have deeply researched your generation and know exactly what to say to attract you — from diversity, to community service, to safety, to anything and everything.
Honestly, visiting a college is much more about considering the details that will affect your day to day life and sussing out the truth behind the marketing and reputation.
1. Observe the way that professors and administrators behave around students. Are the employees respectful of the students? Do they seem to enjoy interacting with them? Do they seem helpful and not dismissive of students with questions?
2. Consider the situations at Penn State and Rutgers. Consider your own ethics and then think about what questions you need to ask to learn about the ethics of the institution. For example, what is their student judicial system like? How have they handled bullying in the past? Do they have campus-wide programs in effect to increase inter-human sensitivity? How do they handle substance abuse issues? How do they deal with student conflict? What is their approach to handling student mental and emotional health issues? If a student is in crisis, and that crisis may reflect poorly on the institution, will the institution act on behalf of the student or will it cover up the crisis in order to protect the institution? Does the institution seem punitive or does it seem to approach jurisprudence as a learning opportunity? Don’t just ask them open ended questions, ask for specific examples.
3. Ask about their first-year student intake program. How are they going to ensure that you are socially integrated and academically supported? What are the mechanisms for students to confidentially express their fears and anxieties? Do they have an Early Alert system? If they don’t, what is their process for ensuring that no student falls through the cracks? If they do, is it one that is designed to truly help students who are struggling, or is it intended to seek out struggling students and punish them for buckling to the high pressures of college life?
4. Look at the “bricks and mortar.” Does the campus look well-cared for? Does it look safe? Lights in alleyways and hallways, etc. That stuff matters. But college is a place to learn. It’s not supposed to be the Golden Door Spa. Be aware that fancy, expensive residence hall facilities should make you question where your tuition and room and board money will be going — especially if it is an institution that is charging higher tuition and it has little or no endowment. It should be going to ensure that the academic facilities and equipment will prepare you to enter your profession. That’s what you’re going to college for.
5. Before you go, read the local newspapers online and see what’s mentioned about the college or university. Does the institution have a good reputation within the community? What is the relationship of the college to the surrounding community — “town and gown”? Is the college genuinely invested in the people and community that surround it, or are they simply taking up space, creating a universe of their own with no interest in bettering the world around them? Some institutions, such as Indiana University — Bloomington, are fully integrated into the community in every way, ethnically, socially, and economically. This integration creates a rich personal and professional experience with lots of real world possibilities for building a resume aimed at gaining employment upon graduating.
6. Listen closely and think critically. Make sure that the institution you are visiting is marketing itself HONESTLY through its tours and info sessions. For example,Tulane University is in New Orleans, which in its admissions tours touts its diversity. However, look around you on campus and you see virtually no evidence of varied ethnicities. Then drive to the other side of town and see a completely different, devastated community. Then remember the admissions officer telling you that their football team plays in the Superdome, which had housed all the people from the Ninth Ward. They have an almost billion dollar endowment, yet they accepted $135 million from FEMA post-Katrina to upgrade their data systems, yet the city is still devastated. Again, institutional ethics and truth in marketing — pay attention to what they are telling you, then pay closer attention to anything that supports or denies what they have said.
7. Before you go on your tour, research safety statistics and everything that’s been in the general news about the college. And when you are there, pick up a copy of the student newspaper — that’s where you will see what’s really going on. And learn about what’s being discussed at the Student Government Association meetings. Pay attention to what you find out about efforts students and student groups make to express their concerns to the college’s administration. What are the concerns being expressed and how are those concerns being responded to.
8. Ask where your tuition money and room and board goes. Better yet, ask to be directed to published information that details where your money will go.
9. Don’t ask what their average SAT score is, or their graduation rate, or their student/faculty ratio. You can find all that info online, even though it’s not very important. The fact is, you learn more from astute observation and research than you do from asking questions.
10. Four-to-five years is a long time to be someplace. Before you leave for your visits, you should read online the college’s Strategic Plan. When you visit the campus, check to see if there is evidence that the institution is moving actively in the direction its Strategic Plan indicates it wants to go.
11. Also research online where funding cuts are being made. If it’s a public institution you are looking at, research what kinds of funding cuts are being made to make up for reduced state funding. Many, many institutions around the country are being faced with having to pull back on programs or eliminate them completely. When you visit, talk to a professor or students and find out what the continued funding outlook is for their department. You don’t want to end up in a program that cannot keep up with it’s needs for educating you, or worse, in a program that is in danger of being eliminated. And make sure you research what they tell you — they may be trying to save their department by recruiting anyone and everyone. That doesn’t mean the department isn’t good, it just means they are struggling and you want to make certain that you understand the truth and possible outcomes of their struggles, because they will affect you.
12. Ask if tuition money is being spent to attract international students or if it is being used to help students such as yourself pay for college. How much money is being spent to recruit international students? Where is that money coming from? The latest statistics show that colleges are now spending more money on general marketing and marketing to international students than they are on scholarships for talented, low income students. Colleges claim that they recruit internationally because they want the diversity, but it’s just about the money. The fact is that there is plenty of diversity in this country that is not being served by our institutions of higher learning.
The most important things to do and ask during a college visit will differ to a certain extent depending on where a student’s interests lie. It will be worthwhile to visit the facilities of the areas in which you are considering focusing your primary studies – science labs, math facilities, art or performance studios, etc. If possible, you might want to schedule interviews with members of the teaching staff in departments relevant to you. Ask about typical class sizes (the faculty:student ratio indicated in college statistics is not an indication of class size), the amount of interaction students have with their professors, whether classes are taught by professors or teaching assistants, research opportunities open to undergraduate students if this possibility if of interest to you, performance opportunities . . . Feel free to ask about anything that is important to you.
If you’re interested in athletics, you will want to take a look at the athletic facilities, and of course, if you are a high-performance athlete and are hoping to participate on one of the college teams, you would do well to schedule an appointment with one of the coaches.
When you are looking at facilities, arrange to see the type of dormitories/housing facilities available to entering students. As you progress through your college years, you will probably have accessibility to increasingly more desirable housing opportunities, but it will be good to know what your entering housing situation will be. Also take a good look at the dining facilities; many schools have more than one. See if you can plan to have a meal at one of them. What better way to get a feeling for the dining experience and the type of food available?
Many schools have formed consortia with other institutions in order to expand offerings to their students. If you are looking at a school that is a member of a consortium, investigate what this actually means. What kinds of interactions are facilitated among the member institutions of the consortium? What are the limitations of the relationship?
Ideally, you would be able to visit a campus when classes are taking place and students are on campus as this is the best way to get a feel for the social culture of the campus. Because of your own schedule, however, this may not be an option. In any case, if you have time, plan to wander around the campus for awhile on your own, just soaking up the “vibes” and trying to get a feel for what it would be like to be involved on that campus for four years.
Below is the answer I gave for a similar question on the UNIGO site, which will give you a broader overview of a typical college visit. There is occasional repetition of advice.
“Most successful campus visits are centered around an information session and a campus tour. It is also sometimes possible to schedule a personal interview with a member of the admissions staff or with academic or sports staff in areas which are significant to you. Information about when information sessions and tours are scheduled can be found on the websites of most schools. You can then schedule an interview that correlates with those pre-scheduled events. Some admissions offices do not offer interview options, however.
You might also consider arranging an overnight stay in one of the dorms. Contact the admissions office to see if/how this can be set up. You would be paired up with a current student and would have the opportunity to get a much better understanding of student life at that school.
The information session, usually led by one of the admissions officers, will provide input on institutional offerings, application requirements and procedures, and other areas of general interest. The information sessions are typically followed by a question and answer period. This will be a chance for you to ask about issues of particular relevance to you. Do your research ahead of time, so that your questions will be appropriate to the institution, and be sure not to ask a question that the admissions officer just answered in his/her presentation. That doesn’t make a very good impression. You should feel free, however, to ask about points that were not clear to you. It’s best not to ask questions that are very specific to you. These would be better addressed privately with an admissions officer – either in an interview situation or informally, after the information session.
The campus tour, which usually lasts from an hour to an hour and a half, will most often be led by a current student or recent graduate of the school. You will probably be taken to most of the important academic departmental buildings, dormitories, sports facilities, performance facilities, the library, etc. This will be a good chance for you to ask questions about any of the facilities that are of particular interest to you and to get a better sense of what life is like for a student on campus. Ask anything you wonder about. Ideally, you would be able to visit the school during a time when classes are in session, so that you could get a feel for the campus “vibes”. Unfortunately, however, the time when you’re free to visit will often be when school is not in session at the colleges/universities. But, never mind, you can still learn a lot on the tour even if the campus is not teeming with students.
As you’re touring the school, try to imagine yourself in that environment. Would you feel comfortable and happy? Most of the schools you visit will have some kind of building/renovation projects underway. At least that’s been my experience. That’s a good sign. A “red flag” should go up if you see many buildings which are run-down and if the campus does not seem to be well cared for.
If you do arrange an interview, this will be a chance for you to present yourself personally – your prior accomplishments, your interests, your abilities. You will be able to ask any questions which relate very specifically to you. Some schools say that their interviews are just for the exchange of information and will not be part of your evaluation. Others require or recommend (read that as “require”) an interview as part of their admissions evaluation procedure. Remember that the impression you make will be based on things other than just your prior academic and extracurricular accomplishments – things such as whether you choose to dress appropriately, how you speak, your level of confidence, your manners, and so on.
Keep in mind that you may be able to arrange interviews with members of academic departments in which you are interested. You would always want to go into those interviews with a good understanding of the departments as they are configured in each school, as well as gathering some background information about the person with whom you’ll be speaking. If you are a talented athlete and hope to continue a sport in college, you will probably want to arrange interviews with the relevant coaches.”
That will depend on what you need and want to know. Before you visit be sure to prepare. Go on the website. Look for the answers about the things that matter to you—the program and majors, costs and financial aid, the make-up of the student body, the realities of the social life, freshman retention and grad school placement rates. If you can’t find it in advance ask when you are there. See if you can sit in on a class and stop by the student center to see students in their natural habitat and see what they think of their school. Get answers to the things that matter to you and that will be important to the experience you seek.
Questions to ask which may help give an overall idea of the culture at the college:
Who chooses which college dorm they live in (i.e. is it random or can students choose)?
What type of security is in place at the dorms?
How do you enrol in the courses you need?
How many students are in each class? What is the faculty-student ratio?
How many hours per week do you spend in class and how many hours are you expected to study?
If I do not own a car, are there places nearby for groceries etc… within walking distance?
What types of clubs are offered and which is the school most famous for?
What sports is the school known for?
What fun student activities does the college host?
What is student life like when not studying?
How many cafeterias does the school have and what types of food do they offer?
Are on-campus jobs available and who is eligible to apply?
Things to check out while on a college visit to see for yourself where you may fit best:
Definitely check out the dorms and hangouts – if you happen to see a ‘local’, jump on the chance to ask about what they like to do for fun
Eat at the cafeteria and judge for yourself how often you will need to do your own groceries…
Sit in on a class – can you hear properly? How crowded is the classroom? How interested are the other students? Will you need a recording device in case you nod off…?
Gym/Recreation Center – can you picture yourself working out there?
And… last but DEFINITELY not least… walk around randomly if you get a chance to break away from a tour to talk to the students… they are your best gauge for what it’s REALLY like there.
Please don’t ask anything that can be found by looking the information up. This is your chance to really gain the student perspective. Ask questions that relate to you as the learner or you as the potential student. Look for verification as to why a particular school is on your list. Ask questions that provide proof that what you are looking at is the real deal.
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EducationDynamics maintains business relationships with the schools it features. The sources for school statistics and data is the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.
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