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If you’re in your senior or junior year of high school, you know that college is just around the corner. Choosing where to go to school is a huge decision that can have a big impact on your life, both academically and socially.
According to William Houder, associate director of admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, campus tours are an essential component of your college search.
“I recommend that both students and parents should go beyond that basic information session,” he said. “Every campus is beautiful, with many great amenities and resources. I’d recommend focusing on the following: The culture and environment. Learn more about your surroundings, student perspectives, and campus ethos. These are things you won’t be able to get from a website, profile, or stats.”
However, campus tours or overnight visits are only as good as you make them. It’s important that you are ready to jump in and ask questions to get the most value out of the experience. Below are some major factors you should keep in mind when taking a campus tour.
Already chosen a school? Learn about eight different ways to pay for college.
Before You Sign Up For a Campus Visit
Before you even sign up to tour the campus, there is a lot you should know about the school. Look up the college admissions, academic departments, and financial aid websites. Make sure that this school ticks all the boxes you have when looking for the right place for you to pursue your higher education.
If you haven’t already received an acceptance letter from the admissions office you might want to look up who your region’s admissions officer is if you have any questions. This could also show the school that you are very interested, as many schools keep track of who connects with the admissions office.
If you have received an acceptance letter, but aren’t sure how you would cover the cost of this school, contact a financial aid officer before you visit the campus. You don’t want to fall in love with a school that is beyond the budget you set for yourself, and students can always appeal for more financial aid.
With the national student loan debt reaching an all-time high, financial concerns are a common occurrence. Keep in mind there are other costs to consider aside from tuition and room and board that can have an effect on your bottom line:
1. Will you need a car?
While some schools prohibit freshman from having cars on campus, others do not. It’s important to know how easy it is to get around campus and what transportation is available for those who don’t have cars. If a car is necessary, that can be an added unexpected expense.
2. How will you commute home?
If you opt for a college more than a few hours away from home, you’ll have to budget for plane or train tickets for holidays and summer break.
3. Are there on-campus job opportunities?
Many students work during their free time while in school for spending money or to offset their college costs. If this is important to you, make sure to ask about the availability of on-campus jobs.
How the college operates can affect your day-to-day experience. Some questions to keep in mind include:
1. Is Greek life a part of the school experience?
For some, the ability to join a sorority or fraternity is important, but not all schools allow Greek life on-campus.
2. What is campus security like?
Depending on where your school is located, safety can be a serious issue. Ask about how involved campus security is, and if there are perks like security escorts available at night.
3. What are the dorms like?
While you’ll most likely see a dorm, ask current students about the dorm experience. Are hallways or buildings co-ed? Are bathrooms shared? If there are bulletin boards in the dorms also look to see what events or clubs are highlighted.
4. Where do students hang out?
Do you see students meeting up in the dining hall during normal meal times or is it a ghost town because students are eating off-campus. Same with the quad, are current college students utilizing this free space between classes, or does the campus have an alternative indoor option like a student center? Also check social media for popular campus landmarks to check out on your tour.
5. Do most students live on-campus?
A commuter school has a very different atmosphere for student life than one where most students live on campus. If you plan on living in the dorms, make sure you know whether that’s the norm or not.
In addition to the above questions, Houder recommends asking the following questions of both the student tour guide and the admissions representative:
1. What is a typical day like at the school?
This question can give you insight into how your fellow students spend their time between classes and extracurriculars.
2. What have been some of your favorite classes and professors?
By asking about classes and professors, you can get an idea of class size and structure.
3. What has surprised you the most about the school?
This question could reveal details you wouldn’t expect, such as larger-than-normal class sizes or the availability of study abroad opportunities.
4. How do you feel the school has supported you inside and outside the classroom?
By asking this question, you can find out about support resources, such as tutoring or campus counselors.
5. How would you describe the diversity on campus?
Diversity is an important issue on college campuses today, and understanding how diverse and accepting a campus is can affect your college experience. Are students safe to feel like their voices are heard and that they are valued as a person/peer/classmate within the college community?
Be Present During the Tour
When it comes to going on a college tour, Houder encourages both parents and students to be active participants. However, he encourages students to take the lead on the tours, rather than let their parents ask the questions.
“I’d encourage students to engage with the school and tour guide as much as possible,” he advised. “I recognize that this can be challenging, especially with parents present. However, this is your college experience and it is important that you are engaging with schools that you have identified as possibilities for your education. Make the most of your time on campus. It may be the only opportunity you have to see a college campus or community before you need to polish your essays, prepare for interviews, or possibly make your enrollment decision.”
When it comes time to make a decision, it’s important to consider more than just school rank or location.
“Students, do not make a decision on a school-based on one variable,” Houder said. “You should make a decision based on your overall wellness that includes: academic, financial, spiritual, physical, nutritional, and mental wellness.”
If You Can’t Visit Campus Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Prospective students are facing a new hurdle for visiting schools in 2020. Many campus communities are closed and students have been asked to learn remotely in the near-term due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Current high school students should check out each college’s website to see the status of the campus and if they are doing virtual tours at this time. Check out google and social media where the campus is tagged to get a snapshot of what the students are photographing and up to doing a normal year or to see how the campus is currently handling social distancing.
If this is your senior year and you really want to get on campus for a better feel of the school, consider a family road trip during your spring break. You might not be able to take the traditional group tour, ask questions, and see student life, but you can learn a lot from just standing on a school’s campus.