You’ve heard about saving for college, but what about saving for college tours? According to IST Campus Tours, an independent student travel tour service, families with college-bound students can spend up to $3,500 just for a campus visit. With the cost of air travel, meals, and accommodations adding up, virtual tours are a good option for those who can’t swing in-person visits. However, since you won’t be able to wander around campus or ask random students about their experiences, preparing creative and nuanced questions is essential.
If you’re unable to visit a prospective college but have the opportunity to speak with a representative over video chat, avoid asking questions that you can easily find the answers to online. For example, asking “How many students go here?” can easily be found in the college’s pamphlets and guidebooks. Instead, try these questions to get a deeper understanding of whether the campus is a good fit for you.
1. What student facilities does the school offer and what’s their condition?
Chances are you’ve seen photos, curated videos, and virtual tours of the most attractive parts of the colleges and universities that interest you, like new state-of-the-art athletic fields. This question goes a step further by asking for a rundown of the academic and student life facilities your tuition will pay for: the student gym, library, career center, computer labs, and more—and how they’re maintained, which gives you an idea of the school’s priorities.
2. What types of student organizations are popular?
Whether you’re interested in intramural sports, academic organizations, or social groups, knowing which organizations and clubs that students flock to can help you make new connections and develop a fulfilling life on campus. If you’re curious about participating in a fraternity or sorority, for instance, this question can help you understand how prominent these organizations are at a school. If a college doesn’t offer a certain extracurricular you’re interested in or doesn’t allow students to create their own groups, you might want to consider ones that do.
Related: College Organizations and Activities Worth Getting Excited Over
3. Are classes taught by professors or teaching assistants?
Although you’ll receive credit for successfully completing a course regardless of whether a professor or a TA leads the curriculum, you may prefer one over the other. For example, if you decide to attend a particular school because of its stellar Creative Writing program and it just hired a best-selling author to teach classes, you’ll want to make sure you don’t end up in a class taught by a TA instead.
4. How accessible are the school’s faculty and staff?
As a college student, you’re bound to need additional help outside of the classroom. You might have follow-up questions after a lecture or need guidance on paying tuition, especially if you’ve taken on a lot of debt to pay for school. Knowing when and where staff will be available can help you understand whether getting the help and resources you need is straightforward or a pain to schedule.
Related: How to Find a Great College With Amazing Professors
5. What’s the on-campus freshman experience like?
No matter where you enroll, there will be a notable transition from high school to college life. Asking about what life on campus is like for first-year students can point you toward unknown resources, school-sponsored events, and special activities exclusively for entering freshmen. These are all great ways to make friends in college, which will also make the transition easier.
6. What’s the surrounding community like?
Although you can choose to spend your time exclusively on campus during the academic year, most students venture beyond school boundaries at some point. Learn about the overall community vibe and the different activities students partake in off campus. Is the school within a reasonable walking distance to a public beach? Is the area an established college town with affordable restaurants, cafés, and shops? And even better, do these places offer student discounts?
Related: Spotlight on 3 Great College Cities on the East Coast
7. Does the school offer valuable health services?
Aside from maintaining good academic standing, you’ll need to ensure you stay healthy at any college. Health-related costs can put a dent in your budget, but many campuses have an on-site health services office. Ask about the type of services students can access (e.g., mental health counseling, annual physical examinations, etc.). You’ll also want to know about the process required to get support—from making an appointment to what you can expect the day of and the quality of follow-up communication.
8. What’s the class registration experience like?
Registering for classes is a critical part of the college experience. However, securing your ideal class schedule isn’t always guaranteed, particularly if you work part-time and have a less flexible schedule. This process can also be challenging if you’re eager to get into a high-demand class, register with a high-rated professor, or if a school simply doesn’t offer enough seats for a required class. Digging into current students’ class registration experiences—from logistics to competitiveness—can help you understand how likely you are to get the academic experience you want.
Related: How to Be a Course Registration Wizard
9. What on-campus safety measures are in place?
Aside from ensuring the college checks out academically and socially, you’ll want to know about on-campus safety practices and how school administrators respond to problems. For example, does campus police offer an after-hours escort service? This could offer peace of mind if you pull late study hours at the library and would like a guard to walk you to your dorm. Similarly, you can learn about how frequently patrols are conducted and where 911 call boxes are located. Beyond safety measures, how do staff respond to simple or serious issues? Asking this question will help you examine current students’ concerns, from campus sexual assault allegations to on-campus student wage protests. The answers you receive will shed light on how a college’s faculty and staff address these issues and whether students’ voices are heard in a meaningful way.
10. What’s something unexpected you had to adjust to here?
This type of open-ended question gives the responder a chance to share their personal experiences with the college. The answers may identify dealbreakers you didn’t know you had, like no free campus transportation, or offer insight into clubs or activities that make the school even more appealing. Real stories about life at a school can beat any number on a page when it comes to making your final college decision.
Related: How Can I Make the Transition to College Easier?
You can get just as much out of virtual college tours as you can visiting in person, but only if you ask the right questions. Engage in every online event and take advantage of every resource possible to really get to know your colleges of interest. You’ll make your final decision with confidence knowing that you found a great school to attend.
Whether you’re visiting in person or online, check out all Our Best Advice for College Tours and Campus Visits to be fully prepared for either experience.