Parents and College Admission: Know What to Ask to Make the Most of Your Campus Visit

One of the most important steps in the college admissions process is the campus visit.  Your student should see and get a feeling for a campus before making a final decision about whether a school is right for them.  Although the decision ultimately belongs to your student, as a parent, you also need to feel comfortable about the school.  Asking questions during the admission visit is a great way to gather some of the information that you need to feel comfortable.  However, just as with so many other considerations in the college process, parents walk a find line between being helpful and becoming intrusive.

Remember that the admission process really does belong to your student.  It is important that you be involved, and provide support, but it is crucial that you remind yourself that this is not your process.  While it is important that you go along on a campus visit if possible, your student is the person who will make the final decision.  What seems like the absolutely ideal school or environment to you may just not feel right to your student.  There is a chemistry that happens when a certain campus just plain ”feels right.”

However, even though you may be peripheral to this visit, there are some important ways in which you can be involved.

What should parents keep in mind about the college visit?

  • First of all, do your homework.  Read as much as you can about the school before you make the visit.  This will allow you to put what you hear during your informational sessions and/or tour into perspective.  You won’t waste time asking questions about something that you can research on the website or through other sources.
  • Check the college website for a parent page or link.  How much is there?  This page may give you some insight into how the college views parents.  Is there a dedicated Parent Office?  Do they try to keep you informed?  Are they willing to work with you?  Do they simply want you to donate money to the college?
  • Try to use your questions to get a sense of the life of the campus rather than simply gather statistical information.  You may need to ask some specific questions about the admissions process or financial aid, but then focus on getting a feel for the real life of the school.  This sense of place is one of the primary benefits of the campus visit.
  • Encourage your student to ask as many questions as they can.  College admissions personnel and campus tour guides count on students asking questions about the things that are important to them.  Try to help your student be involved by anticipating some things they can ask about.  Having a few questions ready beforehand may help them to speak up.
  • Remember that there are two different types of questions that you might ask.  Some questions may be questions that you wish your student would ask, but that they don’t.  Some students are nervous about the admissions process and simply won’t ask questions.  So you may need to ask a question; and your student may appreciate that you do ask.  The other type of question you may ask is for specific information that you, as a parent, need.
  • Ask different questions of different people.  Some questions should be asked of campus tour guides, who are usually students, and some questions may need to be addressed to college staff members or admissions personnel.  Don’t hesitate to ask for some time with a staff member if you have questions that should be addressed by someone other than a student tour guide.
  • There is no such thing as a stupid question.  If you need information about some aspect of the college, ask the question.  Some questions have been asked hundreds of times.  But admissions personnel recognize that, although they have heard the question before, this is a new process for you.  Gather as much information as you and your student need.
  • There is no such thing as a bad answer to a question.  Each answer that you get is simply one more piece of information.  You and your student will need to put all of the pieces together to get a complete picture of the college.
  • Remember that college personnel will work very hard to give an answer that puts the college in a positive light.  It may be important that you think carefully about how you word a question, and then that you read carefully between the lines of the answer that you get.
  • Try to frame your questions about what the college does rather than what they have.  It may be less important that you know how many books the library has, and more important that you know how many students work on major research projects.  You may not need to know how many PhDs the college has, but you may want to know how many students have opportunities to work together with faculty members on projects or how many sections of classes are taught by graduate students.

Some possible questions regarding student concerns: 

Here are some suggestions of questions your student might want to ask — or you might want to ask if your student won’t. (Remember, there are no right or wrong answers — just information to be gathered.)

  • Who teaches most freshman classes?  Full professors? Adjuncts?  Teaching assistants? If there are many teaching assistants, how are they trained?
  • What are the most popular majors or programs that you offer?
  • How many students enter this school undecided about major?  What do you do to help students explore possible majors?
  • If I qualify for Federal Work Study, how many jobs are available on campus?  How competitive is it to get a job?  What types of jobs are there?  How/when do you apply?
  • Tell me about the different types of living arrangements on campus.  Do first year students live in separate housing?
  • Are freshmen allowed to have cars?  What percent of students have cars?
  • How do students get off campus?  Is there a shuttle?  Where does it go?  When does it run?  Are there public transportation options?
  • What are town/college relations like?  Are there joint activities that are attended by townspeople and college students?  Does the college get involved in community events?  Are there community service or internship opportunities available in the surrounding areas?
  • Is there a public safety pick up service available late at night?  What if I’m alone and I need to get to the other side of campus?  Can I call someone?
  • How is advising done?  Will I have an academic advisor?  How are advisors assigned? Will I have an advisor in my major?  What if I am undecided about a major?
  • How diverse is the campus?  Where are most of the students from?
  • What opportunities are there on campus for first year students?  How many first year students work on the newspaper, TV station, theater shows, music groups, student government, sports teams?
  • What are the biggest campus traditions?
  • There’s somewhere I’d like to see that wasn’t included on the tour, can someone take me there?
  • How large is the major I’m considering?  How many faculty members?  How many students?
  • I’d like to talk to a student or faculty member in the major that I’m considering, can someone arrange a meeting for me? (Note: if you want to speak to someone specific, it is best to make arrangements for this prior to your campus visit to be sure that someone will be available.)
  • Can arrangements be made for me to sit in on a class or stay overnight on campus?

Some possible questions of concern to parents:

There are some questions that will not interest your student, but may be important to you.  Don’t hesitate to ask some of these.  You may need to be sure to address these questions to college personnel rather than students.

  • What is the college retention rate?  What percentage of students graduate in four years?  In five years?  If the rate is not very favorable, do you have a sense of why so many students fail to graduate from this college?
  • What is your parental notification policy?  What will I know if my student is caught drinking or is in trouble of some kind?
  • What are your policies regarding FERPA?  How do you handle FERPA issues?
  • What are the campus safety protocols in case of emergency?  How is information communicated to students?  To families?
  • Did your school participate in the NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) studies?  If so, are the results available?
  • Do you have a Parent Association?  If so, what does the group do?  Are they active on campus or do they just raise money?  How many parents participate?
  • Who is the point of contact for parents?  If I have questions or concerns, who do I call?
  • Does the college communicate regularly with parents?  If so, how?
  • Residence Assistants work very closely with students in the residence halls.  What types of training do these students receive?  How are these students selected?  Are they all upperclassmen?

Asking the right questions on a campus visit will help you gather important information as you and your student discuss your student’s decision about college.  Your student will need to put all of the pieces of information together until they add up to the right fit.

Being prepared, and giving some thought to what information is important to you and your student, will help you both make the most of a college visit.  Talking about the process with your student ahead of the visit will not only help you both to be prepared, but will help you understand your student a bit more and help you both benefit from the campus visit.

Related Articles:

Has Your Student Found the College with the Best Fit?

Should Being Undecided About a Major Matter When Choosing a College?

Five Conversations You and Your Student Should Have as You Begin the College Admission Process

Getting to Know You: 15 Ways to Learn About a College

If your student is in high school, check out our e- 60 Practical Tips for Using the High School Years to Prepare for College Success. This guide is not about getting in to college. It is about how to work now to help your student succeed once they get to college. Open the door and get the conversations started!

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2 thoughts on “Parents and College Admission: Know What to Ask to Make the Most of Your Campus Visit”

  1. I love this article!
    I am a parent of a current student and I advise you to ask the following question,”Who teaches most freshman classes? Full professors? Adjuncts? Teaching assistants? If there are many teaching assistants, how are they trained?”. My son had a really bad experience with one of his lab instructors and we are in the planning to transfer to another university. It’s painful because we spent so much money for the first year and this semester. His professors are well prepared and nice!.
    Please ask many questions before making your decision.

    • Thanks for your comment, Maria. Yes, asking lots of questions will help students (and parents) with decisions. The problem with the system as it is (and I don’t think there is a fix) is that students and parents may not know what they need to know until they experience college. When we’re in the admission process we may not know what is going to be important. This may be one of the reasons so many students transfer.


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