What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?

College Search

Our counselors answered:

What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?

Scott White
Director of Guidance Montclair High School

What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?

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?

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

Questions to ask college students

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?

Erin Avery
Certified Educational Planner Avery Educational Resources, LLC

Be Professional

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.

Patricia Krahnke
President/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

Be a Careful Observer

Short Answer: 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. Detailed Answer: 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.

Janet Elfers

What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?

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.

Mark Gathercole
University Advisor Independent University Advising

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!

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?

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.

Kristina Dooley
Independent Educational Consultant Estrela Consulting

What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?

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.

Joyce Vining Morgan
Founder and college counselor Educational Transitions

What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?

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.

Kiersten Murphy
Executive Director and Founder Murphy College Consultants LLC

What are the most important things to do and ask during a college visit?

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!