College visit: Questions to ask on your overnight stay


Decision letters have arrived and—surprise! You’ve been accepted to your top-choice schools. Now that you’re deciding where to go, one of your best sources of uncensored information is the overnight campus visit. The work isn’t over just because applications are in. Here’s a rundown of questions to ask to get the most out of that campus visit. 

How is the school affected by its location?

You’ll be visiting the campus when it’s at its best—the lawns are green and the flowers blossoming. But did the snowdrifts just melt a week ago? If you’re used to warm weather, ask: how cold and dark are the winters? Or is it always hot on campus? Do the dorms have air conditioning? If the school is isolated, see if students feel like they suffer from a lack of things to do. Is there a big city nearby that students visit? For those looking at colleges far from home, there are many things to consider. How close is the nearest airport or train station? Do most students go home a lot during the year?

Do you feel safe on campus?

On practically every campus tour, the guides will point out the “blue light” alarm phones scattered around for nighttime emergencies. But safety on campus doesn’t end there. You should ask students: how safe do you feel walking around campus at night? Are there certain parts of town people avoid? How late are most buildings open? If the school is in a big city, safety might be more of a concern. How do students get home from a late-night class across town?

Who would have a hard time fitting in at this school?

You want college to be your new home, so make sure you’d be comfortable with the people. Does one affiliation dominate the school? See what kinds of groups there are to make the community more comfortable for you, whether that’s an LGBT alliance, Pacific Islanders Club, or Campus Republicans. Is the campus body very self-segregated? Do minority students generally feel accepted? College is a great time to leave your comfort zone and meet people that you’d never normally encounter, so be prepared to take some chances.

Where do you go when you want a good meal?

So…how bad is the dining hall food, really? Many campuses have a variety of dining halls that specialize in different types of food, so get the lowdown on the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to campus food. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, ask: how easy is it to find foods you can eat? You’ll be up late, whether you’re partying with friends or pulling an all-nighter for an exam, so you’ll want to know where students get food after hours. Are there any great delivery places? Twenty-four-hour  delis? Late night hot dog stands?

How well does the school financially support its students?

If you plan on getting financial aid, it’s important to know how much support the college offers. Ask students: is aid consistent over all four years, or do students leave with hefty loans? Even if you’re not applying for financial aid, a lot of schools offer research grants or subsidized study abroad programs over the summer, so find out what your top schools have to offer.

Where’s the best place to live on campus?

One of your biggest concerns is probably where you’ll be living. Get a look at multiple dorms to find out what you can expect from a typical freshman room. If you’re a cooking nut, ask: are there rooms with kitchens? If you’re sick of sharing a room at home with your younger sister, ask: are there singles available, and how do you get one? What are the worst rooms on campus? At some schools, dorm life only lasts one year, so get a head start and find out what to expect after freshman year. Do students rent apartments or houses? Is it hard to get guaranteed housing if you want to stay on campus?

What are the classes really like?

Delve into schools’ academics: are there required core classes or distribution requirements? If you’re not a math person, find out if there are easy alternatives for the math requirement. And if you can’t stand the idea of a foreign language class, ask: can you use a summer abroad for credit? At some schools, professors teach almost all the classes; at others, TAs have primary teaching responsibilities. Do students get to interact with professors, or do they usually work with graduate student TAs instead? How competitive are students, and how much free time is there for extracurriculars?

What do you do on weekends?

College isn’t just academics, though. So what do people do for fun on campus? Here’s your chance to ask the stuff they won’t tell you on the tours, like how are the parties? What do students do on a typical Saturday (or Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.) night? If you’re not into the party scene, ask: does drinking culture dominate campus, or are there other fun things to do? Find out what the social scene is like—will you hate it if you don’t want to go Greek/listen to reggae music/play intramural sports? Where are the most popular hangout spots?

How does everyone get around?

Transportation doesn’t seem like an interesting thing to ask about, but if you’re not prepared, you could end up frustrated when you arrive. How far away are classes and how students get there? Do most people have cars? Are freshmen allowed to have cars? Check how easy it is to bike to class, or to just walk. Look into the public transportation system—lots of schools have their own shuttles. And if the school is in a big city, ask: do students take the subway or bus to class, and how much does it cost per year? You don’t want to be stuck high and dry when you find out your first class in on the college’s “other campus!”