Information to Seek, Questions to Ask When You Visit a College Campus

The college search process is a daunting one. There’s a thousand page books by big name publishers touting every school on the planet. There’s websites for every school and every program across the nation. You can sign up to receive enough written information to kill a portion of the rain forest. It’s all so much! How are you supposed to chose which school will be your home for the next four years? The best way to make that decision is be arming yourself with the best information you can. And how can you find that? Very simple: on a campus tour.

Start by compiling a list of schools that, on paper, you already love. These schools may have the program you want or be in a city you like. You can find them through Princeton Review or any other college search engine online. They may include your parents’ Alma Mater or you’re neighbor’s favorite university. Another great resource that counselors won’t tell you about it LiveJournal.com. You can search their communities for one tailored to a specific school. You can post and ask current students questions or just peruse their postings and find out what life is really like there. There’s also a community called Campus Reviews, where current and prospective students document their experiences with specific universities. You can visit http://community.livejournal.com/campusreviews/ to read their experiences.

Once you’ve compiled a list of schools you like, it’s time to investigate them more thoroughly than you could by reading someone else’s review. It’s time to write your own. Take a weekend or two and visit the schools on your list. Most high schools will excuse absences related to college visits, so check with your guidance office. They can also hook you up with alumni from your high school that attend any of the universities you’re looking at. Having a connection is a great way to find out the inside information not only on what it’s like to attend school, but what the transition was like for someone with the same background as you.

The best place to find tour information is the campus website. Visit the admissions office homepage (often listed under “prospective students), to find out information. When you’re investigating, don’t just stop at the tour. If you’re interested in a journalism program, find out if you can meet with a professor or adviser or sit in on a class. The school may even hook you up with a student in your specific field of interest who can better answer your questions. Also check the campus events calendar for the day you’ll be in town. Find out if there’s any big cultural activities or other goings on you can attend. The key to the campus visit is not just to take the tour, but to try as to get as close a picture of student life as possible.

But no matter what, take the standard campus tour. Even if it’s your local state school where you’ve been for high school band concerts and football games your entire life, you should still sign up to wander around with a student. There’s something to be learned from taking the campus sponsored tour. You’ll learn to see the school in a new light, as a student, and you’ll be able to tell if you’ll feel comfortable in that role. When you arrive you won’t just be going to sporting events or staying in a dorm overnight. This will become your home, and you need to know if you can handle that.

It may seem obvious, but don’t forget to ask questions while on the tour. The tour guides are often the most enthusiastic students who can’t wait to tell you everything about XXX State University. They’re dying to answer all the questions you’re dying to ask. Feel free to shout out anything that comes to mind. They’ve probably heard it all before. Some good ones to remember are questions about parking and transportation, meal plans, residence life, Greek activities (if you’re interested), athletics. Ask them how registration works and how easy it is to get into the classes you need. Financial aid is also a big consideration, although this question may have to wait until you get in front of one of the admissions directors. There is life outside of class, after all. Don’t forget, though, that these tour guides are students with real experience, not just the spoon-fed admissions office information. Ask them about their favorite class or their favorite professor. Ask them what the best part about move-in was. Ask them why they chose this school over that school, and what other universities they were considering. This is the information that will give you the best picture of what student life is really like.

When you go on the tour, you’ll need to come prepared with a few tools. Pack a small tote bag with a notebook, several pens, and a camera. The notebook and camera are for those out-and-about times. Take pictures of the gorgeous buildings and interesting students. Take a picture of your tour guide so you’ll remember who is who. And TAKE NOTES. They’ll be valuable later as you try to remember which school offered all freshmen parking and which schools didn’t allow freshmen to bring cars. You’ll also need to make sure to leave room in the tote bag for all the stuff you’ll acquire while visiting, and there will be a lot. From written information in the form of view books, pamphlets, and handouts, to university paraphernalia such as lanyards, mugs, cups, folder, and writing utensils. There’s no end to the promotional materials a university can throw at you, and that last thing you want to do is be juggling everything while tromping around on a two mile tour.

When the tour is over, wander around by yourself for a while. Go sit in the library for a minute and observe the students. Wander through an academic building. Try to eat a meal in the cafeteria. Any and all of these activities will give you a feel as to what it would be like to attend as a student, not just stay on the tour path.

When you’ve returned from your campus visits, sit down with your bag of information: notes, pamphlets, view books, handouts, the works. Start sorting through. Pull information out of the pile from schools you didn’t particularly like. Narrow down the field as best as you can. And while they may seem cliche, pro/con lists are great tools. They help you line up the pluses of one school against another so you can more closely quantify which school is right for you. You may still have a tough decision to make, but at least you’ll be armed with the best possible information. In the end, go with your gut. If you visited a big school with an excellent reputation that every one’s dying to attend but just felt more comfortable at the small liberal arts school, pay attention to that feeling. You’ll have four years to regret your college choice should you make it for the wrong reasons. This is your home, and above all else you want to enjoy being there.

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