Visiting universities can be extremely exciting for prospective students, but it can also be a bit nerve-wracking. The overarching question is always, “How do I get all the information I need in order to make a knowledgeable decision for myself, and how do I do it all in one day?” A great way to get acquainted with a school is by taking a guided tour. Asking the right questions to get all this information during your tour will ensure that you are comprehensively informed about the college before you leave. Here are the top questions you should ask on your next college visit:
Can I stay overnight?
Before you visit a college, ask the admission office if you can stay on campus overnight. Many universities provide a shadowing program where prospective students are paired with current students for an overnight stay in a residence hall, where they get to attend the student’s classes the next day and take a guided tour. This allows you to experience campus life, as well as the classes you may be taking.
- Follow-up questions: Can I be paired with someone in my intended major for the overnight stay? What kind of events may be going on that I could attend while I'm there?
What are the academic programs really like here?
If you're interested in marine biology, you obviously want to attend a college that offers it as a major. If you are undecided, you’ll need to attend a college that offers a wide variety of solid programs. And though you should do the basic research regarding program offerings before you show up (you’re not going to impress anyone asking questions that could be answered by spending 30 seconds on the school’s website), the campus visit is a good time to ask more detailed questions about the programs that interest you. For example, ask about the size of programs and their national rankings.
- Follow-up questions: Can my tests (AP, ACT, etc.) be applied to these programs for credit? Do students in that program tend to do well on average? What are the faculty in that department like?
Who teaches classes?
Teaching assistants, graduate students, or professors: it helps to know who you’ll be learning from and working with. And whether the college enrolls 4,000 or 40,000 students, it is important to know whether all or most of your classes will be lecture-style in huge auditoriums or discussion-oriented in smaller classrooms.
- Follow-up questions: What are the average class sizes and student-faculty ratios for freshman/introductory and senior/advanced classes?
What kind of academic support does the university provide?
This question hits everything from professor availability in office hours to official support services such as tutoring, a writing center, and disability/learning differences services. This is also good to ask because someone may be able to take you around to the offices to get to know where everything is. Academic support is crucial because college isn’t always easy. You should be taking advantage of these services for your academic and mental well-being when things get difficult.
- Follow-up questions: How easily accessible are these services in terms of location, hours of operation, etc.? Do you have to sign up for any services ahead of time to access them?
Are there any academic “extras” here?
Academic extras include things like an honors college, learning communities, first-year interest groups, undergraduate research opportunities, and major- or academic achievement-related fraternities and sororities, basically anything still academic in nature that heightens the learning experience for students. It's good to know about these opportunities ahead of time as some of them may need to be applied for when enrolling and not after the semester starts.
- Follow-up questions: How many students participate in these “extras”? Do you have to continue to participate if you find it doesn't work for you?
What is student life like?
Try talking to an enrolled student or two you meet on campus to get their perspective! After all, who knows what campus life is like better than the students who go there? Students attend the school for a reason, and they’re usually all too eager to tell you about it if you ask. Don’t be afraid to approach students, tell them you’re a prospective student, and get a conversation going. You may be surprised by what you learn about the school.
- Follow-up questions: What student organizations, intramurals, and other activities are available? What percentage of students stay on campus over the weekends? Where do students eat? What is on-campus housing like? How involved are students?
What kinds of financial aid packages are offered?
Financial aid availability is a large factor for many families when sending their students off to college. Though your tour guide may or may not be well versed in these areas, if your visit includes a stop at the financial aid office, you can ask some general questions to get a sense of their offerings.
- Follow-up questions: How many students receive financial aid? What kind of academic and need-based scholarships are offered? Is there a work-study program? If so, what jobs are available?
What does the college do to ensure campus safety?
Whether urban or rural, safety is a huge concern for all students, faculty, and staff on campus. Providing a safe learning environment should be a top priority. You wouldn’t want to get stuck in a situation where you feel unsafe and find you don’t know anything about or feel comfortable calling for campus security. If you can, go so far as to stop by the campus safety office and meet the officers on duty. If you end up going to that school, you’ll feel leaps and bounds safer if you’ve already met the people tasked with protecting you.
- Follow-up questions: Is there a “campus 911” number? How are residence halls secured? Is there an escort service? Is campus security available 24/7?
How can students stay healthy?
Find out what kind of health facilities the university provides, including physician services and a gym. Are there health-related student organizations? If so, how active are they on campus? Remember too that mental health is just as important as physical health. Again, seek out the offices of different campus resources to meet the people that will best be able to help you were you to attend that school.
- Follow-up questions: What kind of counseling and/or mental health services are provided? Are there any stress-relief initiatives during midterms and finals?
What’s the job placement rate for last year’s graduating class?
One of the most important reasons for going to college (or the most important reason, depending on who you talk to) is to receive a degree that will open up job opportunities to you. Find out how many students have secured positions within companies before or shortly after graduation; it all depends on the individual student, of course, but job placement rate is usually a pretty good indicator of career readiness and resources available.
- Follow-up questions: Are there career support services to aid students in the job-search process? How successful are these services? How long are they available to graduates?
Now that you're armed with these need-to-ask and unique questions (along with follow-up questions that will lead you to comprehensive information), all that's left is to schedule your campus visits. Write these questions in a notebook to bring with you, and make sure you take notes while you're there so you can remember everything. Good luck!
If you want to head off to your college visits with plenty to ask, check out the “campus visit questions” tag for all the queries you could possibly need!