What to Do and Questions to Ask on a College Visit

clock tower against blue sky on college campusSo, you’ve accepted that as unbelievable as it seems, it is time for your high schooler to begin visiting some colleges.  You’ve navigated the college websites and gotten a couple of visits scheduled.  But what do you do while you’re there? And you’ve got lots of questions  – how do you know what kind of questions to ask on a college visit?

Part of what you ask and what you do is determined by what kind of visit you are doing.  If these are very early visits, just designed to help your student decide what kind of location they prefer, and what size of school feels “right” to them, you may not have many questions at all yet.  But, it’s possible that when you’re on one of these early visits that your student might really like what they’re seeing and hearing, and one of these schools could become a contender for their college list.

Before the Visit

Do some research!  Don’t go into the visit knowing very little about the school.  During the visit, your goal is to avoid asking questions that are answered on the college website.  You can’t do that if you haven’t at least done some light googling about the college beforehand.  That means avoiding questions like, “How many students are on campus?” and “What majors do you offer?”

Also, check to see whether the school offers interviews to students.  Remember, if the interview says “optional”, they should still do it!  If your student is at least a junior by the time of your visit, then have them set up an interview in conjunction with your tour.  It’s usually very easy to do.

I always suggest that families set aside most of a day for a visit.  Especially when visiting from out of the area, you will want to take some time to explore the area surrounding the college to be able to get a feel for it.  If all goes well, you may want to spend some time checking out the bookstore after your tour.  Plan to eat at least one meal somewhere.

And finally, be prepared for the tour.  Wear comfortable shoes.  Assume you will be walking quite a bit.  If it’s summer and it’s hot, dress accordingly and bring a water bottle.  I’ve found that not all schools will offer them before a tour.  And obviously, if it’s winter and you’re up north, bundle up!  Tour guides will do their best to keep you out of extreme elements, but there is only so much they can do.

If your child has any type of disability or chronic illness, I recommend checking out Disabilities and the College Search for further considerations prior to visiting.

During the Visit

Normally, you will have been given directions to an Admissions office where the tour and information session will be held.  So that’s where you will check in and they will give you further instructions, if needed.  At some point, you will be assigned a student tour guide.  These guides are a wealth of information, but do remember, they are students, not much older than your own child.  They should be able to give you insight into the student experience.  However, it is also important to keep in mind that what they are telling you is coming from their own perspective, which may differ from other students.

Since you will likely be in a group with other students and parents, remind your student not to monopolize the tour guide.  When asking questions, try to ask those that might be of interest to the whole group, like “How easy is it to meet with professors outside of class?’  rather than, “Would I be able to double major in Arabic and German?”  Guides, as well as admissions officers, will generally make themselves available after the tour to answer your individual questions.  I do recommend directing many of your questions to the tour guides, because often, you will get the most honest answers from them, rather than the professional answer.

As you’re touring, please remember to be polite. And often, if you’re attentive, the guides may answer a number of your questions even before you have asked.

Questions to Ask

(the answers you want to hear may vary!)

Campus Culture

  • Why did YOU choose this college?
  • Describe freshman orientation.  Did you find it helpful, fun, etc?
  • How does the college match roommates?
  • What percentage of students live on campus after freshman year?
  • How accessible are Health services?  Are they helpful?
  • How’s the food?  Are the dining hall hours convenient?
  • Are relations good between the college and surrounding town?  Are there opportunities to interact?
  • How do most students get around campus and town?
  • What kinds of things do students do on the weekends?

Academic

  • How big are introductory/freshman classes?  Are they taught by professors or graduate students?
  • How much freedom is there in selecting coursework?
  • Are undergraduates able to participate in research with professors?
  • Is there enough academic support and tutoring availability?
  • Is the career counseling center helpful?
  • Is there good support for your study abroad program? Can students in all majors study abroad?
  • Does the college assist students in connecting with internships?
  • Do you have an assigned advisor?  Do you meet regularly?  Are they helpful?
  • What’s your best piece of advice for incoming freshman?

And then there is the MOST important question to ask:  What is the best pizza place nearby?

After the Visit

Yes, toward the end of every visit, we ask the tour guide or another student “the pizza question.”  And then, that’s where we go for lunch or dinner or just a snack at some point after our tour – because our family happens to be obsessed with pizza.  Your family may be into sushi, or ice cream or Chinese.  Wherever it is, the students on campus will likely know the best place to get it!

Before leaving campus though, I recommend hanging around a little.  Go check out the student union building (usually this is the area with various eateries, a bookstore, a coffee shop, etc).  You will kind of get a feel for what the campus vibe is like and see what students do between classes.  Are they sitting with groups chatting?  Sitting with groups and studying together?  Are they sitting alone and reading?  A mix of all of that?  There is no right or wrong because it will all just depend on how your student feels about what they’re seeing.

As you’re wandering a little, there might be an opportunity to approach a student with a couple of questions.  The nice thing is that a random student is even more likely to give you honest answers.  Of course, your own child may be mortified, so this may or may not be a good tactic for you!  Even then, you may be able to ask a quick question of the cashier at the bookstore.  Yes, I do recommend checking out the bookstore.  And I always know my kids consider a college to be a good prospect when they want a t-shirt after our tour!

After we leave campus, explore the area around it to get an idea of what’s nearby for students.  And as I said above, we typically get pizza at some point.  While eating, it’s a good time to talk about your child’s impressions and thoughts from a day around campus.  I always encourage them to write a few notes in their phone to help them remember their impressions when it’s time to complete the application.

When you get back home, remind your student to write a thank you note or email to the interviewer if they have done an interview.  It’s also always a great idea to encourage your child to contact the admissions officer via phone or email if they have any questions that didn’t get answered when they visited.  That will help to show the school that your student is genuinely interested in the college, which can be important at application time.

Need help getting started on your college search?  Contact me!