10 Questions to Ask on Your College Tour

by Megan Dorsey on June 26, 2014

Megan Dorsey at Duke (2010) Megan Dorsey at Duke (2010)

Most college students indicate that campus visits were crucial to their college decision process. Prospective students should be looking for academic, social, and financial fit; a campus visit is the best way to evaluate if a school is right for you.

Typical college visits include an information session in the admissions office and a student-led campus tour.  The tour provides an ideal opportunity to ask current students key questions.

Here are 10 questions to ask when you go on a campus tour.

1. What type of student does well at this college?

The information session presented by the admissions office will give you good ideas, but getting candid answers from student tour guides can help you determine if you would be a good fit for that school.  Tour guides are likely to give answers that include factors such as personality and interests, rather than GPA and SAT scores.

2. Is the dorm on the tour typical of where freshman will live?

Tours are an opportunity to show off the best a college has to offer.  Unfortunately, many freshmen have arrived on campus in the fall only to learn that the attractive dorm they saw on their campus tour is reserved for juniors and seniors, while the freshman dorm is older and lacking in amenities. If the tour does not include a typical freshman dorm, ask what to expect and if you can see freshman housing for yourself.

3. What aren’t we seeing on the tour?

Most tours show highlights in the interest of time; some universities are so large that it may be hard to walk the campus from end to end. Ask your guide what the tour leaves out.  Is it more of the same?  Are there specific buildings or parts of campus you might want to see on your own?  Does the tour leave out less-desirable areas of campus or skip construction zones?

4. What do students do on the weekends?

Official presentations from the admissions office may answer this question differently than the students who lead most campus tours.  Take the opportunity to ask current students about the social atmosphere and discover what activities are typical on- and off-campus.

This can be a good time to ask about the role of alcohol and drugs on campus.  Every college campus had them—even religious schools.  Campus tour guides may give you a “semi-official” response; they still represent the admissions office, but they are more likely to give you a first hand perspective on how much partying is part of campus life.

5. What has been your largest/smallest class?

Colleges often publish student-to-faculty or student-to-staff ratios, but prospective students should ask what the current classroom reality is.  If too many faculty are doing full-time research or only teaching graduate-level classes, the published ratios may be misleading. Families are visiting colleges to shop for higher education; you should learn as much as possible about the actual product, not just the packaging.

6. Are professors teaching your classes, and are they any good?

At most liberal arts colleges, all classes are taught by professors. At larger universities, though, it is common to have teaching assistants teach introductory courses. In addition, some professors are highly committed to undergraduate learning, while others may be better researchers than they are teachers. Ask your tour guide about his or her classes.

7. What would you change about the school?

Every school has flaws. You should know in advance the weaknesses of the colleges on your list. If a campus tour guide won’t give a serious answer and says everything is perfect except the food, ask again.  Visitors should also pick up a copy of the campus newspaper to see what issues cause students to complain.

8. How much studying do you do in a typical week, and is that typical?

This question is all about fit.  Some colleges are more academically rigorous than others, and some majors demand more study time.  You should be seeking a college that is a good fit for you, so it helps to be realistic about the amount of work each school requires.

9. Are there any places around town that are less safe?

Is this a picturesque college located in a bad neighborhood? The campus tour may only show the good side, not the run-down abandoned buildings across from one side of campus or the gang-filled neighborhood three blocks away. Ask about safety issues, and tour the area surrounding campus after you leave the campus.

10. How many people have you known who have left the college?

Colleges publish retention rates (the percentage of students who return after freshman year) and six-year graduation rates, but you can learn more about the stability of the student body by asking current students a few essential questions.  Are students leaving because they are unhappy?  Partying too much and failing classes?  Unable to afford tuition? Transferring to major universities?

Colleges are eager to present their strengths and encourage potential students to apply.   Sometimes college tours feature only the best elements:  new buildings, food courts, and upper-class dorms.  By asking key questions, you can find out more about the real student experience, problems and all.

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