Last Updated: May 28, 2013
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: Can I be paired with someone in my intended major for the overnight stay?
What are the academic programs really like here?
If you are 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: Can my tests (AP, SAT Subject Tests, etc.) be applied to these programs for credit?
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: 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 services. Follow-up: How easily accessible are these services in terms of location, hours of operation, etc.?
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. Follow-up: How many students participate in these “extras”?
What is student life like?
This is a broad question that encompasses all of the following: 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? Follow-up: Try talking to an enrolled student or two you meet on campus to get their perspective!
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-ups: 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. Follow-ups: Is there a “campus 911” number? How are residence halls secured?
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. Follow-ups: 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-ups: 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 are armed with 10 “need-to-ask” questions (and many follow-ups), all that is left is to schedule the campus visits. Good luck!