What to do Call ahead: Tours usually are available year-round and don't always need reservations, but it's best to call ahead, especially if you seek interviews. Try to arrange an...
A limited budget may make it difficult to visit schools. But experts say taking a campus tour may save you money in the long run.
As Doug Scrima, director of admissions at The Evergreen State College, puts it, especially in the case of going to a school outside the state, “I can’t say enough how much they should visit, because if they go and don’t like it, then it is going to be a far more expensive investment.
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“It’s a lot like buying a car you have to test-drive it.”
Here are experts’ suggestions on how to make the most out of your campus tours:
What to do
Call ahead: Tours usually are available year-round and don’t always need reservations, but it’s best to call ahead, especially if you seek interviews. Try to arrange an overnight stay in a dorm, and sit in on a class or two.
When to come: October is ideal; classes are in full swing and college students most likely are not yet worried about exams, so they have more time to talk with prospective students. Avoid mid- to late August, when admissions officers are busy with freshman orientations.
Seek out students: Ask what they like most and least about the school, what they’d change, what campus is like on weekends, which professors are best. Good spots to chat: the student center, dining halls, athletic fields, dormitory lobbies.
Seek out staff: In addition to talking to people in the admissions department about campus life, try to speak with a department head or faculty member if you have a particular interest in a subject, or with a particular coach if you are interested in that sport.
Check bulletin boards. “If the bulletin boards are empty, that’s an indication that things are dead [on campus],” says Michael McKeon, Seattle University’s dean of admissions. “[Postings] may give you a sense of the diversity of the institution, of the political opinions, of the different groups.”
Pick up a copy of the campus newspaper for much the same reason.
Hang out: Eat in the cafeteria, buy a cup of coffee on campus and see how students interact. Watch how students use the library.
Visit the financial-aid office: Parents may wish to do this while students are on tours or at interviews.
Get off campus: After all, you’re not going to spend all your time on campus.
Send a thank-you note to all you met: It’s courteous and will leave a good impression.
What to ask
Aside from asking the most common questions class size, whether classes are mostly taught by professors or teaching assistants, and the most popular majors students might ask tour guides, admissions officers and others about:
The interaction between students and faculty, and opportunities for remedial help, such as study sessions;
Retention rate. Do students not return because they’re bored or because they can’t keep up with their schoolwork?
Dorm life. Are there party dorms, international dorms, quiet dorms? Do many students live off campus? If so, why?
Do students work primarily for grades? What are their attitudes toward learning?
What are college’s shortcomings? What do students complain about most?
What’s the biggest issue in local campus politics?
Sources: University Preparatory Academy; wiredscholar.com; Washington State University; Bishop Blanchet High School; University of Washington, The Evergreen State College; Seattle University