Taking college tours is one of the best ways to learn about a perspective college. Most tour guides are unpaid (or paid minimum wage) and are therefore going to be very enamored with their respective universities. Despite their somewhat obvious biases to their respective colleges, students are still the best treasure trove of information about a college.
Tours pass through colleges every week and almost every day of the week. Often there are “open houses” that people can attend and their will be a planned activity, tons of tours and a lot of students for you to ask questions of. Try and think of anything that you could want to know about.
Some of the typical questions that people tend to ask that might be worth asking are grouped in to typical categories. Remember that the tour guides aren’t qualified to answer the intricacies so if there is a group session with an admissions officer that would be beneficial. However, typical tour questions may include any of the following:
Financial Information. Does the school offer merit aid? What kinds of grades are needed? How much is the tuition, room and board? What kind of financial aid does the school offer for need aid? Does most of it come in loans or grants?
Living. How much does laundry cost? How do you pay it? How is the food? How are the dorms? How does housing work, is it based on some credit/year-at-college basis or a typical housing lottery? Is housing guaranteed all 4 years? Do most people move off or stay on campus? How many students are there? Who runs safety on campus/what is there to protect me? Can I get anywhere interesting by public transportation? How many kids are there on campus? Is the room you are showing me on the tour really a typical room or are they usually smaller?
Academics. What is the CLEP/AP/IB/pre-college acceptance policy? Does your school offer my major? How are the classes? If the school is not a wholly liberal arts school, is it easy to switch schools? Prospective students on tours should also ask about admissions statistics, don’t accept we look at everything, ask about SATs and GPA averages and cut offs.
Most parents will ask stupid questions while on the college tour that will embarrass their kids. As a college student, I must admit, it was OK, my tour guide didn’t make fun of me later and I got an important question answered. It’s a good idea to make a list of questions before you go to the school and if you think of anything to ask, write it down. Sometimes there are bloggers (or students) that you can send questions to by e-mail or Instant Messenger, take advantage of them, they’re also there to help you make your college decision and won’t necessarily force their own college down your throat.
When deciding on your final school, use your tour knowledge and what you know about the school to make the best decision for yourself about college. Getting a college degree is the most important part, so if you want a large school then go for it. Going to an Ivy or another school may not be the best choice for you, so really consider what matters to you the most. Did the tour make you feel like you would fit in there? Or did the tour make you realize it was an institution full of not personal contact and red tape? Does that matter to you in your college choice? Think about it long and hard. College is a long four years of your life and its important to make the right choice.