As spring break approaches, many high school students embark on a pivotal journey: college visits. These visits provide an invaluable opportunity to explore campuses, soak in the atmosphere, and envision a potential academic and social home for the next chapter of their lives. But amidst the whirlwind of tours and information sessions, knowing the right questions to ask can make all the difference in truly understanding if a college is the right fit.
We’ve polled our team of highly experienced college counselors to bring you this list of questions you may want to ask during your campus visit. The questions below are designed to help you go beyond the basics (maximize your time by saving questions about the student body size, graduation rate, and list of majors for your own online research post-visit).
Questions for your Student Tour Guide:
- What other colleges did you apply to and why did you choose this one? This is a great question that serves multiple purposes. First, you can get a sense for what stood out to them and helped seal the deal in their own decision making. You might also get some insight into the values of the student body. Plus, you might have the added bonus of hearing about some other similar colleges that you could also consider.
- How easy is it to change majors or programs if my academic interests change? Some institutions make it simple for a student to change their major – they fill out a form with Academic Advising and that’s it! At other universities, it’s not so simple and can be downright impossible for certain high-demand programs like Computer Science or Business. If you’re not sure what you want to study in college, look for a place where students can explore the curriculum and change their minds with minimal limitations.
- What are weekends like on campus? What do students do socially? Look for a college that mirrors your own needs socially. While your tour guide might not have the same extracurricular interests as you, they can hopefully shed light on what a typical weekend looks like on campus, how big of a “party” school it is, or how involved the average student tends to be. If you’re a social butterfly or someone who enjoys being in leadership roles, seek out a campus community that will offer those opportunities to engage.
- What are some unique school traditions on campus? Every college has them and some are downright silly! But some traditions can illuminate what the institution values or what the student experience might be like. For example, if there’s a tradition of students attending a holiday party each year at the President’s House, or of faculty taking students to lunch each semester, then you can probably bet that there will be strong faculty/student relationships. Even the sillier traditions, like jumping in fountains on graduation day or avoiding walking on the college crest (or else you won’t graduate!) can help you understand a college’s personality.
- What are some areas that the college could improve upon? You may or may not get an honest answer with this one, but it opens the door for your guide to share what some students might consider areas of weakness. Maybe it’s impossible to register for all of the classes you need to graduate, or most students move off campus after freshman year. Or maybe the parking situation is just particularly awful! Every institution will have its faults – it’s up to you to determine if they’re dealbreakers.
Questions for Admissions:
- What stands out the most when you’re reading a student’s application? Colleges all have their own specific and unique priorities when making admissions decisions. Maybe they are looking for students who have a lot of community involvement, or are emphasizing applicants who are undecided in major and want to explore the curriculum. While you should never use this information to portray yourself as something you’re not, it can be helpful to understand what the college’s priorities and values are and how they might align with what you’ve already accomplished – or are hoping to do once on campus.
- What sort of students are most successful here? This question can be helpful in narrowing down your list if you do some self-reflection before or after asking it. How do your own personal values and personality traits align with the successful students at an institution? If a school is full of extraverted, involved leaders, and you’re an introverted student who wants to focus more on the academic experience, that college might not be a good fit for you. Understanding who is and isn’t successful at a school can help you understand how you might feel once on campus and whether the school is a good fit.
- What’s your best advice for someone looking to be admitted to this school? Everyone in this process is going to offer you advice: your parents, your teachers, your friends, and your counselor will all want to help. While this can be well meaning, sometimes the best advice or insight comes straight from the source. Don’t be afraid to ask the admissions representative if they have any advice to offer. You might gain some insight into what they’re looking for from applicants or common pitfalls to avoid.
Other Opportunities to Learn:
- Student Publications: One of my favorite ways to learn more about a campus is to grab a copy of the student newspaper. It’s almost always free and readily available on newsstands in academic buildings. The newspaper is a great glimpse into current events and conversations happening on campus. It can give you great insight into what’s important to students, what people are talking about, and recent happenings in the community.
- Context Clues: Not necessarily a question, but if you’re looking for school spirit, observe whether many students are wearing the school’s sweatshirts, etc. It’s not 100% end-all-be-all, but it’s usually one indication of the pride (or lack thereof) that students feel for their school. Similarly, go to the library and try to observe how many students are working in groups vs studying alone. That can also reveal a clue about school culture. You can also ask your tour guide if what you observed is typical.
- Community Interaction: Before your visit, contact admissions and see if there are opportunities for deeper exploration of the campus community. For example, when I worked in admissions, we would coordinate lunch with a current student if requested. This gave students the opportunity to ask more specific questions, get to know a member of the community, and most importantly – try the food! Sitting in on an academic class, meeting with a faculty member, and more might be available. Don’t be afraid to ask if there are options to enhance your experience.
There may also be homegrown ways to meet community members if the admissions office doesn’t offer anything. Premium Prep has a list of student ambassadors on a variety of college campuses across the country. Our counselors can connect high schoolers with current students at the colleges they’re visiting so that they can ask questions and potentially meet up on campus. Don’t be afraid to reach out to students who graduated from your high school, family friends, or neighbors to see if they might be willing to talk!
College visits are about more than just checking off a list; they’re about discovering a place that feels like home for your academic and personal growth. By asking the right questions and immersing yourself fully, you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision about where you’ll thrive.