I'll be honest, when I was searching for colleges, I didn't make good use of my college visits. I dragged my parents from Maine to North Carolina in search of the perfect school...we may have visited 50 institutions of higher education. Yet, at most of these schools, I never even got out of the car. I'd make a snap judgment and ask my parents to move on. It's no surprise that two thirds of the colleges I actually applied to were those where I went on a tour and got some additional information. While I loved the choice I made in the end, the fact is that there could have been many other schools that appealed to me if I gave them a chance.
You know that saying, "don't judge a book by its cover?" Well, this applies to colleges too. If you arrive on a campus and aren't immediately impressed because you don't see ivy covered buildings, students gathering on a grassy green overlooking the city, or a monstrous student center - whatever it is that appeals to you - don't necessarily rule that college out.
With the rising cost of a higher education, it is becoming ever more important that you get to the heart of what the school has to offer you. Sometimes lower priced colleges offer fantastic programs that can help you reach your goals for less money. Take Rhode Island College for example. RIC offers a great teaching program but won't cost you an arm and a leg if you live in state. You will be happier to graduate with less debt than your peers when you are pursuing your first job. This can happen if you are open to options that you may not have considered before.
So, when visiting a school, make sure to ask the right questions. Go on a tour. Set up a meeting with a department chair in a subject you are interested in. Talk to athletic coaches or extracurricular program coordinators. Sit in on a financial aid seminar. Stop students and ask them questions and if you can, plan an overnight visit to stay at the colleges that you are most interested in.
We recommend you bring this list of questions on your college visit to help you make the most of it:
- How large are your classes?
- What is the average GPA/SAT score for students?
- Who teaches the courses (graduate assistants or professors)?
- Does this school have a core curriculum? How restrictive is it?
- How adequate is the library? Are you able to get the books you need when you want them?
- When do you have to declare your major? What are the most popular majors?
- Tell me about housing. Are some dorms much better than others? How are rooms chosen (by seniority, etc.)? Do many live off campus? If so, why? Also, do the dorms shut down on holidays and breaks or can long distance students arrange to stay on campus or in their dorms?
- Can you tell me anything firsthand about the (French, English, Chemistry) department?
- What impact do fraternities have here? Athletics?
- What do you like best about your experience here?
What kind of students do you think are happiest here? Which ones are the least happy?
- What do you think are the greatest challenges of this college? What do students complain about?
- What do you like most about the college?
- If you could attend another college now, where would you go? Why? (Ask this of a student or two.)