The college admission process is long and it is often complex. An important part of that process is visiting the colleges on your student’s list. But college visits are about so much more than just showing up.
A good college visit involves doing your homework before you go, listening between the lines to the admission presentation, and knowing what questions to ask to gather just the information you need. As intimidating as this may sound at first, college visits can be one of the fun aspects of this intense process.
The questions you ask (or even better, your student asks) are often fairly standard. How large are classes? Can students have a car? What are the popular majors? What is the graduation rate? These are important pieces of information, and you should ask all of the questions that are on your mind. But standard questions usually yield standard answers, not necessarily the information that will help your student judge whether this is the place they want to spend the next four years.
To get started, be sure to read our article on preparing for and making the most of an admission visit.
Student to student
As most students try to evaluate the colleges on their list, what they really want to know is whether this school is the place that they will feel comfortable and at home. Will it provide the experiences that they need to reach their goals? Will they find their people and be able to experience the life they want to live? This may be harder to determine with standard answers.
College admission personnel can help with this, but students will find out more by talking to other students. An admission tour guide (usually a student) is a start, but students should understand that tour guides (who work for the admission office) may also have scripted answers to many questions. Getting “off the beaten path” and talking to other students is an ideal way to find more of the information your student may need.
One way to do this is to include a “non-tour college tour” and spend some time wandering around campus after the official tour and talking to students. Another great opportunity to ask questions is an overnight visit to a campus. Ask if one can be arranged. This will provide time to have informal – and revealing – conversations with other students.
Here are a few things to think about – and share with your student – if they are interested in finding more information.
- It’s important to ask different questions of different people. Admission personnel have many answers – especially about official stats and policies. This information matters. But students have answers about student life. Talk to students.
- There is no such thing as a stupid question. If you need this information, you need to ask the question. Most students are happy to share their experiences.
- Ask students questions about their personal experiences. Students you encounter may or may not have the official information about the college, but they have lived and learned and played on campus. Ask them what that was like.
- Remember that personal experiences may vary from student to student. Although you want to know what they have experienced, you may also want to ask more than one student the same question to compare experiences.
What to ask
OK, you’re convinced that your student needs to ask other students about their experiences in order to gather information. And you understand that standard questions may not yield the most useful information. What to ask?
What your student asks will depend, of course, on what they need to know – what is important to them. Sometimes it’s not the direct answer to the question that matters, but it opens the door to a conversation.
Here are a few questions to get conversations started:
- What’s the best food that you’ve had in dining services? Worst?
- Do you tend to eat the same thing all the time or are there interesting options?
- What are your favorite college traditions?
- Tell me about the best professor you’ve had. What made them great? Do you think they’re an exception?
- Tell me about the worst professor you’ve had. Why? How did you get through their class?
- Tell me about your roommate. Do you get along? Is there anyone who will help if you’re having problems?
- Who is the weirdest professor? The funniest? The coolest?
- What’s your favorite place on campus? Why? How much time do you spend there?
- What are you most looking forward to this week?
- Have you discovered any interesting places off campus?
- If you could change one thing about this school, what would it be?
- How do you spend your time when you’re not in class?
- Where do you do your studying?
- What is tech support like on campus? Can you get help if you have issues?
- How easy is it to get answers to questions? Can you reach out to the registrar, financial services, dean’s office, faculty?
- How hard or easy is it to get the classes that you want to take? What is registration like?
- What do you do on weekends?
- How easy or hard is it to get a tutor if you need help? Do many people use tutoring?
- What kinds of jobs are available on campus? Are they hard to get?
- Do many activities on campus cost money? Are there fees for anything you hadn’t expected?
- What are the hot-button issues on campus right now? What do people talk about and/or care about?
- Do you feel safe walking around campus at night? Are there many people out and around at night?
- What are the big annual events on campus? Do people go to them?
- What is your favorite thing about this school?
- What is the worst thing about this school?
- What made you pick this school? If you had it to do over again would you make the same choice?
Putting the pieces together
Obviously, your student won’t ask all of these questions But the more information they can gather, the better they will be able to make an informed choice about the school. Their job will be to try to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together to get a more complete picture of life at this college. Ultimately, they need to ask, “Is this a place that I can see myself feeling at home?”
Your job, harder than anything else, is to stand back and let them decide.