Going to college is a big decision. And actually choosing one is too. Guided tours are a great way to experience a college first-hand. On tour, you’ll be able to get answers to your questions. But what questions will give you the most insight?
Part of knowing what questions to ask is knowing what questions to avoid. This means doing your research ahead of time, as you can usually find statistics about a college on their website. Instead, you want to ask open-ended questions that you can’t find the answer to online. These kinds of questions will help you envision what life might be like at that college. With this framework in mind, here are seven questions you should ask on every college visit.
1 What kind of student thrives best here?
Different colleges attend to some students’ needs and desire better than others. For example, some schools are more focused on sports, academics, or trades. Some have vibrant social scenes, while others might have unique extra-curricular opportunities like metalworking or slam poetry.
Ask this question on your next college tour to gauge whether you identify with that kind of student. Whether you identify depends on what you want to get out of your college experience. Perhaps you want to become an entrepreneur, so attending dynamic social gatherings would help you build up your confidence and network. On the other hand, maybe you prioritize academics because you’re interested in conducting serious research. Be honest with yourself.
2 What’s something about this college that you didn’t expect?
This question naturally provides an answer that you’ll never find on a website. Maybe there’s an aspect of the school that didn’t live up to the way it was advertised. Maybe there’s a great community volunteering scene in town. Or perhaps it rains far more than average.
There’s really no way of telling what kind of answer you’ll get with this question. But expectations are always different from reality. So it will help paint a better picture of what life is really like at this potential future college. This question could also provide answers about the surrounding community. Remember, you’re not just choosing a college; you’re likely choosing where you’ll be living for the next few years.
3 If you could change one thing about your college, what would it be?
Many tour guides generally have an affinity for their school. They like it enough, at least, that they want to represent it. But nowhere is perfect, and it can be tricky to find out what’s not so great until you’re there. This question is light — you’re not explicitly asking what’s bad about the college. You’re asking what could be better.
It also does double duty by providing some insight into how much agency students have on campus. Perhaps your tour guide mentions that the dorm quality could be better. But then they add that the student council is working with the college treasurer to reallocate funds for renovations. That’s a pretty great sign that a university cares about its students. Pay close attention to their answer; it can give lots of insight.
4 What’s one piece of advice you’d give to incoming freshmen?
This question encourages your tour guide to reveal obstacles you may encounter by going to this school. Every college will have its share of challenges. Likewise, every student will encounter difficulties and successes when moving away from home and starting a whole new life. It’s nice to learn about how other students have combatted any issues they’ve faced.
Your tour guide may give you information about a particular professor who teaches a ridiculously difficult class. They might give you resources for buying textbooks at a more affordable price. They might even give details about certain student organizations to join or avoid. This is a very revealing question that can arm you with tools and information to start your college journey on the right foot.
5 What are some of the annual events at this college?
While you may be able to find some information about this online, you also might not. College campuses are ever-evolving places. So, in addition to the published traditions you might find online, there may also be new traditions under the radar. This question helps you get a better sense of what the culture is like on campus.
Are there prestigious guest speakers that give a lecture every winter? Perhaps students learn traditional swing dance and have a big event in the spring. Depending on what answer your guide gives, do you think you would enjoy those kinds of events? And if your guide can’t conjure an answer for this question, well, that’s an answer in itself.
6 How accessible are the staff and faculty?
This question echoes the double-duty potential of question three. It gives insight into what kind of academic or professional relationships you might develop here. At some colleges, students are able to develop great working relationships and mentorships with professors. At others, professors may be too busy to even answer questions via email.
You’ll have to decide what type of professional relationships you want to develop at college. If you really want to expand your network, you should also ask about alumni involvement. If graduates stay involved after their time at the university, it can be a good sign that they had great experiences. It can also hint at alumni donations. An active alumni network that contributes to foundations usually means a university is better funded and can offer more unique scholarships.
7 How’s the food?
While this one may seem a little tongue-in-cheek, it’s actually very informative. The answer can change your life more than you might expect. If the food is good, you might buy a meal plan and spend more time socializing in the dining hall. If it’s bad, you may opt to do more cooking on your own or eat out instead.
There are other questions like this that are a bit more surface-level, and that’s okay. If it’s a big campus — how long will it take to actually walk to and from class? How deeply are frats and sororities (Greek life) intertwined with campus culture? Do the laundry machines work, or do you need to find one in town? Get the information you need.
Fulfill Your Curiosity
Remember that college tours are for you: the prospective student. Understand what kind of experiences you want to have, and discern which school aligns most with your values. The questions listed here will help you dig a bit deeper into a school’s reality. You want to paint the most vivid picture you can imagine of student life. Once you’ve gathered enough information, go ahead and apply.