The college application process can be tedious, overwhelming and even confusing. In an ideal situation, like those in the movies, you’d have a dream college that you had your heart set on since before you could remember. Of course, opening your acceptance letter would be a dramatic scene and you’d thrive in the environment you always hoped to live in. Unfortunately, the real life version of this isn’t so simple and definitely isn’t as glamorous. Even so, it doesn’t have to be scary. If you take the time to organize and prepare, the right school might just jump out at you.
Try to have an idea of what you want to see during your tour and what questions you want to ask. More often than not, student tour guides or ambassadors are giving the walking tour and are more than happy to take you to see a building or class that’s specifically relevant to you. Without questions, your tour will be extremely generic as your guide can’t read your mind and know what kinds of things you’re interested in. There are even some questions you won’t know you have until your first day of enrollment.
What are your dining options on campus?
This may sound simple and obvious, but there are a ton of sub-topic questions you wouldn’t think to ask if you don’t have an older sibling in college. Dining options vary when it comes to school size, location and demographics. You should definitely tour the dining hall (there may be more than one) but it’s also important to get an idea of any quick snack options for class days. Can you grab a coffee on the run? Are there food options scattered around campus? What kind of food is offered? How crowded do these spots get?
You’re also going to want to ask about meal plan options and swipes vs. points. All schools have their own unique meal plan set up, but they’re important to understand. It can be confusing if you’ve never been exposed to it, but can be an important pro or con.
What are the best on-campus resources the school has to offer?
So many students forget to take advantage of the full scope of their tuition cost. Colleges and universities are designed to be a society of growing young adults all looking to grow and eventually start a career.
Ask what your college can offer you aside from an education. Is there free tutoring? Can you have a counselor edit your resume and cover letter by appointment? Does the school have connections with surrounding companies for internships and jobs? Can you get free software for being a student? Does is cost anything to print in the library? All of this will matter even if you don’t know it yet.
Does the school have partners?
This doesn’t mean you should ask who sponsors the sports teams (although that is a valid question if you want to gear up at the bookstore), but instead, what companies have close ties with the institution for internship and job placement.
For example, if you’re interested in engineering, you’re going to want to know which companies recruiting engineers attend the schools career fair. Business schools often have good relationships with large corporations where they help bridge the gap between graduating student and entry-level associate. Ask what this dynamic looks like!
Where can I stay fit?
Ever heard of the freshman-15? Well, it’s a real thing. Whether it’s due to stress, access to an abundance of food, or acclimating to a new lifestyle, freshman are doomed when it comes to the extra pounds. Many schools are putting extra resources into making sure students have options when it comes to keeping healthy.
This could relate back to questions about the dining services: do you have health-conscious options? Or it could relate to on-campus resources: can you see a school nutritionist?
However, a really fun part of the tour is seeing the schools fitness center. Some institutions even offer monetary or academic perks for visiting the fitness center regularly. Ask about hours of operation, running paths around campus and their safety, club sports, and other activities that might interest you.
What does the social scene look like?
Let’s not pretend you’re not wondering what college students do in the rare hours they’re not working or studying. It’s not a question to be ashamed of, in fact, it could shape your entire experience. Every school is different so you might want to ask some of the following: is it a commuter or residential school? Is Greek life extremely prevalent? Do students attend a lot of sports games? Is there a downtown nearby? What do people do for fun?
Your tour could be going awesome until you realize it’s an hour away from a major city and you love the concrete jungle life. Or maybe you don’t like the idea of being in a sorority or fraternity and it turns out 95% of the student population belongs to one.
All schools sound great on paper (chalk it up to excellent marketing departments), but not all schools are great for you. Find out what you need, what you like, what environment you can excel in, and ask those questions.
Try closing your eyes and putting yourself in a dorm room on your first night at school. What do you need? What do you want to do? What are you excited for? What do you wish you had? Dig deep and take some of the keep these suggested questions in mind as well.
Anne Baron is highly experienced educator, writer and copywriter specializing in academic research. She has a Ph.D. in Educational Administration with almost 25 years of experience in teaching and academic writing. She spent a dozen years managing a large college peer-tutoring program and another dozen years in the classroom teaching college students. She has since retired from teaching and devotes her time and efforts to freelance writing for institutions, businesses and colleges like Patrick Henry College.