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TIPS ON WHAT TO ASK DURING A COLLEGE VISIT

Linda Byard

Much time and energy is spent by parents and their high school offspring trying to find an excellent match between college and student. The college visit allows high school students and their parents the opportunity to experience a college up-close, and to meet current students and staff. The time to ask pointed and individual questions is during the visit. General Information on location, size, academics, financial requirements, athletics, activities, and other topics can be found easily in advance in guidebooks, and on the web.

The responses to some of the questions below may be important in making that final and best choice of school. Make your own list, and then add some of these:

ACADEMICS

AP: How does this college use the results of your AP tests?  Will you be granted credit for achieving a certain score? Will you be required to take placement tests anyway?

Course Requirements:

  Ask about graduation requirements.  Are there any required courses that you just really don’t want to take? Do you need to attain a specific level of math or language proficiency?  Is there a senior thesis requirement?   

Foreign study:

Students increasingly find a semester or year of foreign study a valuable part of their college experience.  Does this college have an actual program with personnel in other countries?  Is it easy to transfer credits from study abroad with another institution?  Will a year abroad mesh easily with requirements for completion of particular majors.  Some students especially those who major in a science may be surprised by how difficult it is to satisfy required sequences in course work if they study in another location. 

Honors:

If you are enticed by an “honors” program, ask if the program encompasses first year studies only or if it includes course work during later years. 

Majors:

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the majority of students do not know what they want to major in when they arrive on campus as first year students, and many, many students also change their minds more than once.How easy is it to change your major once you have declared?  Does this college have strength in a number of different areas in case you do want to change? 

Terms:

How is the year divided?  Is there a traditional two semester calendar?  Trimesters?  Quarters?  Does this college have a “winter session?”  Is it mandatory?  Do the course listings sound like fun or are they dreary?  Does it cost extra?   

LIVING CONDITIONS 

Dining:

Food is important.  Who prepares the food?  Has this college contracted with a big profit making corporation?  Are meal plans required?  How much flexibility is there?  Can you get meals late at night?  Is the food tasty and nutritious?  Are there lots of choices?  Does the menu change daily?  Are there fast food franchises or home-style meals?  Can you cook in the dorm?  What kind of atmosphere is in the dining rooms?  Do students go off campus a lot because the food is not very good?  How much extra money will that cost? 

Housing:

Are you required to live in a dormitory all four years?  Are the dorms attractive and comfortable?  What system is used to assign rooms? Do single rooms cost more? Adequate storage?  If your college offers “guaranteed housing” what exactly does that mean?  Are you allowed to have overnight guests in dorms?  Are there rules you find oppressive? What if you and your first year roommate do not get along – at all?  Are you required to leave your dorm during long vacation periods?   

Transportation:

Can you walk to almost everything? What kind of transportation is available to students?  Are there buses?  Is there a shuttle to the airport?  Is there a “car share” program?  Is there a place to keep your bike? 

LIFE BEYOND ACADEMICS 

Social Life:

  Is social life based on belonging to fraternities and sororities?  How do students spend their weekends?  Do they go off-campus for special events or because there is nothing much to do on campus?  How much socializing is alcohol based?  Is there an active drug scene?  What are popular activities?  What kinds of events are staged on campus?  Are prominent scholars invited to visit as well as big name entertainers?  

Activities:

  If you have a passion for a particular activity will you be able to participate?  Is theater reserved for drama majors or orchestra for music majors?  Is it easy to try new activities?  Is there fierce competition for spots on the school newspaper or yearbook?

Weather:

  Does this college have similar weather to your hometown?  If it is substantially hotter or colder or if there a huge difference in precipitation, is that going to bother you?  Will your budget be stressed by needing to buy a new wardrobe to cope with differences?

Athletics:

  How much PE is required?  Do you have choices?  How important are team athletics?  Are there intramurals?  Do students informally play basketball or cricket or Frisbee or other games that you also enjoy? Is there an up-to-date fitness facility?
HEALTH AND SAFETY

Coping with Problems:

If you have a chronic mental or physical health problem, are there facilities and personnel on campus to help you be at your best? Are there academic policies in place to allow for your special needs?  What kind of help is available for unanticipated injuries or illness?  Is counseling included in your fees?  If you need to go off-campus to the dentist or have some physical therapy or fill a prescription, will you find these tasks manageable?  How does your family health insurance policy fit into campus health facilities?  Are you now “out of plan?”  How does this college help students cope with “stress?”

Personal comfort:

Are there a reasonable number of people who share your ethnicity or religion or gender?  Will you feel comfortable being a minority if you have never been one before?  Do students take part in the community surrounding the campus? 

Campus Well Being:

What are the buildings like?  Adequate quiet and noisy spaces?  Are the building and grounds well-maintained?  Attractive landscaping?  Natural beauty?  Well-lit at night?  Blue light system for safety? 

COLLEGE ADMINISTRATION

Technology:

Is the computer technology up-to-date and used by students, professors, and administrators in a wide variety of applications?  Are there web-based courses?  Are computers available for student use throughout campus?  Is there a college wireless network? How about on-campus technical support and repair?  Are student discounts available for purchases of computers and related equipment?

Ecology:

How “green” is the campus?  What is the attitude of the college toward “green?” Are there buildings planned or already constructed with little or no carbon foot print?   Are there alternative technologies in use or planned for heating, cooling.  Are students being encouraged to lower energy consumption in a wide variety of ways?  How much do they recycle?

Finances:

College is expensive.  Will you get a “big bang” for your buck?  What does your student fee cover?  How much more money will be needed as the academic year progresses? Do you have to maintain a certain GPA to keep financial aid the second year?  What kinds of campus jobs are available as part of financial aid? Are similar jobs available for students who do not receive financial aid packages?  How about off-campus jobs?  What kinds of help does the Career Center offer? How does this campus’ endowment compare to similar colleges? How do administrators use the proceeds?

Attitudes:

  When students have issues with regulations or some aspect of campus life, what is the attitude of administrators?  Do they engage students and enable them to make constructive changes on campus, or does the campus sport a more authoritarian way of governance?  Do you function better with more or less structure in your daily life?

Linda Bayard  

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