If you’re a junior or senior 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 basics,” 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 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.
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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 part-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 for more about the dorm experience. Are hallways or buildings co-ed? Are bathrooms shared?
4. Do most students live on-campus? A commuter school has a very different atmosphere 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.”
This article was written by Kat Tretina, a freelance writer based in Orlando. Focused on personal finance issues, she’s dedicated to helping people pay down debt and boost their income.