College Tours. Campus Tours. Questions to Ask on a College Visit – and Who to Ask
Visiting your prospective colleges before you make a decision is smart. If you can’t visit one of your top choices, conduct phone interviews with multiple college staff and students. Either way, you have a great opportunity to make a more informed decision if you take the opportunity to learn from the people who study, work, and teach on campus first. By asking the right questions, you can gain a strong sense of a school and its culture, far beyond the facts and figures on its website.
To make the most of your visits, you should prepare thoughtful questions to ask on each college visit. The college tour is just one part of your college visit. Set your goal to meet with more than just the college tour guide and watch the promotional film or PowerPoint slideshow. This guide will provide you with a comprehensive college visit checklist of questions for your tour guide, current students, admissions officers, financial aid officers and professors. Plus, we’ll offer some advice on what not to ask.
Do the Research Before You Arrive on Campus.
You’ll see a few links highlighted throughout the article that refer to different pages on Student Resource Central, an online e-binder of relevant and highly valuable information. Between Student Resource Central and the college’s website, you have 90% of the information needed to make a good college choice. That last 10% will be revealed on campus and is equally critical.
Get over it. You and/or your parents are about to spend a great deal of money (even if you have a full scholarship) for your education. If you were buying a $70,000 car, you’d probably ask a few questions and take it for a test ride before buying it. This is your opportunity to make an informed decision for you. Don’t let the circumstances hold you back from asking the questions you want and need to ask.
If you are considering colleges – then you have earned the right to ask questions – and get answers.
Why Are College Tours Important?
You can check out the school’s facilities, like the library, dorms, dining halls, gym, and science labs, as well as branch out to see its surrounding city/town culture. Gathering your impressions of your college’s campus and beyond will help you gain a much stronger sense of whether or not it’s a place you’d like to live and learn for four years. First impressions usually carry a heavy weight. However, many students who ended up going to their “2nd choice” for reasons out of their control report adapting and loving their “2nd choice”. At the end of the day, loving or hating any given college choice will be in your control.
We recommend having three designations for college choices after you have completed your due diligence. Sort your college choices into A, B and C groups. The A group is for your strongest matches – those that offer exactly the major you are wanting, the college is visited and supported by industry-related companies that employ students in your major and/or for your career interest and have great facilities, culture and top quality academics. Group B is for those colleges that offer something that fits what you want to major in, have reasonably good connections with industry representatives in your field of study and have an acceptable level of facilities and campus life. Group C is for those you have clearly decided to reject for any reason.
Keep in mind, an amazing visit is actually a subjective evaluation using fabricated events. When students have an amazing visit they typically feel much more empowered to put together a stellar application. If you find yourself applying to one of your “B group” choices, be sure to approach the application with the same enthusiasm as if it were your first choice. That B choice may just be the best choice.
Besides sampling the dining food or hanging out on the quad, you can also learn about the student experience from your tour guide who is usually a current student, and other current students that you meet (summer tours present less opportunity to see the campus the way it will be during the busy Fall and Spring semesters).
Even the other student visitors on the tour with you are valuable connections. Ask them why they are considering that college, what major and career direction they are considering. Set up meetings to speak with admissions officers, financial aid officers, and/or professors. Those meetings are not advertised, and the admissions folks may even say they don’t want you meeting with professors. However, most deans and professors enjoy meeting with prospective students. Keep in mind they are needing to market their offerings so it is in their interest to take the time to meet with you.
Current students, tour guides, professors and deans can offer their unique perspectives and experiences, especially if you ask meaningful college visit questions that lead to broader conversations.
Before you hit the road, be sure to do your homework. Student Resource Central: Education Research: Search Colleges and Universities has incredibly rich data on pretty much every college, university and most vocational schools. You’ll want to know about costs, financial aid and perhaps most importantly, graduation and retention rates.
Choose questions based on your specific interests and who you are interviewing. Modify each question as needed. If a question asks about popular classes in general, for instance, you can adapt it to ask specifically about popular classes in, say, the Biology Department.
Questions to Ask Your Tour Guide or Other Current Students
Most college tour guides are big fans of their colleges and are enthusiastic to share why. They tend to know lots of history and fun facts about the school, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect them to rattle off specific data and statistics about graduation rates and financial aid packages (save those kinds of questions for administrative officers) along with the information you collected through the resources mentioned above.
Tour guides are usually current students, so they can also speak to their personal experience. Remember, they were in your shoes just a few years before!
The following questions are divided by academics, support resources, internships, study abroad programs, extracurricular activities, residential life, and general culture. Finally, we’ll suggest some personal questions for your tour guide. As you read, consider which questions you’d like answered, and how you might customize them to meet your specific interests and needs!
Questions about Academics
- What majors are considered this universities signature programs (which colleges are ranked higher compared to similar colleges/universities)?
- Which majors/programs are recognized by employers based on number of internships and offers upon graduation?
- How large are the required classes? [These will be larger. Some universities will have as many as 75 – 150 in their larger classes. The more common core the subject, the more likely it will be large.]
- What courses are you aware of that offer especially innovative or creative learning experiences? Which classes have been most interesting to you so far? [The student may not be in the major you are considering. This question is more for gaining insight into the types of class delivery that is at the college/university that you may not have experienced in high school.]
- Are the professors accessible outside of class? What has been your strategy for accessing the professors. Do the professors hold office hours? How often can students interact with professors outside of class?
- What kind of classes have smaller section meetings? What are they like?
- Are there any especially popular classes or must-have professors? [either for core required classes or if the student you are talking to is in the major you are considering]
- When did you choose your major?
- How much freedom do freshmen have in choosing courses?
- Are students usually able to take their first choice courses?
- How’s the Wi-Fi? How’s the cell phone coverage? Which providers provide the most comprehensive coverage? [some college campuses don’t have the cell phone coverage you’d think they would have]
- How are freshman advisors assigned?
- How would you describe the freshman experience, in terms of advising or any classes that everyone has to take?
- Can undergraduates work with professors on research?
- Are there honors programs? If so, what are they like?
- Is it easy to change your major? Can I enter as a freshman with a double major?
- How many hours of class do students typically have each week? How many hours of homework outside of class per day/week?
- Are finals more exam-based or project / essay-based?
- Where are your favorite best places to study on campus?
- What are the hours for the library? Do these change during reading periods or exam weeks?
- Are there any research methods or online tools I should learn about for my classes?
• Do any majors require seniors to write a thesis or complete a senior project?
Academic and Social-Emotional Support
- Can you get help from professors outside of the classroom?
- What free academic support or tutoring is available?
- What kind of resources are there for international student support and orientation?
- What kind of learning disability resources does the school offer?
- Is there a writing center to help with essays and research papers?
- Are academic advisers accessible and effective?
- Do the librarians help with research?
- Do students organize study groups or online discussion forums?
- Are there computer labs available with the required software?
- How accessible and helpful is health services?
- Are there opportunities to participate in organized conversations about issues and events with administrators, deans, professors and other students?
- Describe the social orientation programs for freshmen? Are they required/recommended/optional? What was the most valuable thing students talk about after attending an orientation program?
- Is there career counseling available? Have you received career counseling? Was it helpful?
Research, Internship, and Study Abroad Opportunities
- What kind of opportunities exist for undergraduates to work on research or academic projects with professors?
- What kind of internships are available? Do a lot of students get internships? What is the typical strategy for getting an internship?
- Are any departments known for obtaining internships for most or all of their students?
- Do any majors prepare students to continue as researchers in a Master’s or doctoral program?
- Are study abroad programs popular? Any ones in particular?
- Do most students study abroad on a program through the school or an external program?
- Do students of certain majors, like engineers, find it difficult to study abroad?
- Are there internship opportunities abroad?
- Are there opportunities through the school for summer internships or research?
- What are some of the most popular extracurriculars and why?
- What are some of the larger campus-wide community service events?
- What intramural sports or exercise classes are available?
- Can you talk about the ____ club? (Examples might include the student newspaper, student magazine, international relations clubs, art groups, science clubs, musical performances, plays, bands, ensembles…whatever you’re interested in!)
- In what ways do students connect with and volunteer in the surrounding community?
- How many students do they really squeeze into those dorm rooms?
- What are the dorms like? Are there lounges, laundry, and kitchens? Shared or private restrooms?
- Do certain dorms have a focus or appeal to students with different interests, like a “healthy living” dorm or a dorm for pre-med and science majors?
- Do most students live in the dorms? What about after sophomore or junior year? When do most students move off campus? How much cheaper is it to live off campus?
- Are any students placed in dorm triples?
- How are the resident counselors? What social events are planned for freshmen to get to know one another?
- Do most students get along with their randomly assigned roommates? [Roommate assessment and guide]
- What would I do in case of a conflict or need for a room switch? Is that possible?
- What kind of food does the dining hall serve? Are there different options? How is it, really?
- Does the dining hall accommodate special dietary restrictions?
Campus Culture and Surrounding Area
- Where do students tend to hang out on and off campus? Friday/Saturday nights?
- Are there movie theaters and concert venues? What about good cafes for getting work done or finding the perfect pumpkin spice latte?
- Do a lot of students belong to fraternities or sororities?
- How ethnically diverse is the campus?
- What percent of international students are there? What countries do they come from? [this will likely be answered in the formal presentation]
- Do students stick around or go home on weekends?
- What’s the party scene like? (This might be a question to ask current students away from the group tour.)
- Have there been any recent student protests? What were they protesting, and how did staff and faculty respond?
- What are some big campus events, like homecoming or alumni weekend?
- Is it easy to get around campus or get off campus without a car?
- What transportation options are there around campus?
- Is it a safe area to walk around at night? What kind of safety measures are in place?
- Do many students work on or off campus? How easy is it to find a part-time job?
You don’t want to put your tour guide too much on the spot, but you should feel free to ask about her experience at college!
Personal Questions for Current Students
- What’s your favorite class and why?
- What’s it like to study in your major?
- How helpful did you find your freshman year advisor?
- What do you wish you had known going into freshman year?
- What do you wish you had asked on a campus tour when you were in my place?
- What’s a typical weekday like for you?
- What surprised you about campus life here?
- Is there anything you wish you had done differently to improve your experience here?
- Are there any things you’d like to change about the school?
- What would be your most important advice for freshman?
- What’s your favorite spot you’ve discovered on campus since arriving?
For more technical information on admissions policies and financial aid offers, you might set up meetings with the relevant offices. Read on for questions to ask the administrative staff.
Questions to Ask an Admissions Officer
Making contact with the admissions office can not only get your questions answered, it can also get your “demonstrated interest” on file, which may help when it comes time to reviewing your application. Rather than appearing as an anonymous applicant, admissions officers may recognize you from a meeting, email, or other records of contact. Not all schools keep track of this, but for many, your visits are noted in a file and demonstrating interest by the number of visits may help show your enthusiasm for the school and thereby give you a an edge over applications that don’t show any visits.
If you want to meet with an admissions officer, make sure to set up a meeting via email or calling beforehand. If it’s application season, usually March and April, try to schedule this a few weeks early to make sure they’re not too busy to meet with prospective students. Then have your list of questions ready to show that you prepared and are ready to make the most of your conversation.
NOTE: Students who have investigated career directions, have a good plan and have decided what major or double major they want to pursue in support of that career choice are very attractive to most universities. Share your career interest and choice of major with your admissions office. If you haven’t done the career exploration work just yet and are undecided about a major, we suggest engaging a professional career coach. In a couple of weeks you can have clarity about your direction, a plan and feel confident about pursuing your interests.
- What qualities and experiences are you looking for in applicants?
- What do I need to know about the application evaluation process?
- My SAT/ACT scores are ___. How large of a role will that play in the admissions evaluation?
- I imagine you review hundreds of applications. What best advice or pet peeves do you have?
- Is there any difference for early versus regular decision applications? Is early decision more advantageous.
- What percentage of students graduate in four years? [see if this aligns with the information from the website resource listed above]
- What sort of student attributes are most likely to lead to success here?
- What sort of student might not be happy here?
- Can you tell me about career placements?
- Do graduating undergrads typically get accepted to the grad school?
- What services are available to help students prepare for post-grad employment?
- Who can I talk to that would have the most insight into employment options and support for the major/career I’m interested in.
- Do you have an active alumni network?
Questions to Ask a Financial Aid Officer
Just as the admissions office will have lots of facts and advice about the admissions process, the financial aid office can walk you through your financial application. The next section covers questions you might have for them.
Most schools offer a good deal of information about the cost of tuition, room and board, books, and other fees through online resources (see above resource), as well as the steps to take to apply for financial aid. If financial aid’s an important factor for you, it could be helpful to meet with an officer and make sure you’re doing everything you can to get your financial needs met. Also see Student Resource Central Financial Aid and Scholarships resources for valuable information and free e-book, The College Financial Aid Game: How to Get Your Fair Share.
Research available online resources first, so you’re not asking about info that’s readily available online. Then you can use that base knowledge as a stepping off point for other queries, like the ones below:
- What kind of need-based financial aid do you offer?
- Do you meet 100% of demonstrated financial need?
- What information do you require besides the FAFSA?
- How many students receive merit-based scholarships? How much is offered?
- Are there other scholarships that students can apply for at the time of application?
- How much loan debt does the average student owe after graduating?
- Can I renegotiate my financial aid offer if it’s lower than I need?
- What are some opportunities for work-study?
Questions to Ask a Professor or Dean
Finally, meeting with a professor could be a great way to make contact and learn about a department and class, especially if you have a strong sense of what you want to study. You can learn about their teaching style, the department’s approach, and any opportunities for independent projects or research. Contact the office of the Dean and ask the staff member how to arrange a prospective student meeting with the Dean or Professors. Also ask if there are any special days that the college will be holding special events that will be of value.
- What are the general expectations for students in your class?
- What is your advice for students to succeed in your class? What separates a grade of A vs a B from your perspective?
- What are typical requirements, like exams, papers, or presentations in a semester?
- What is the most important personal soft skills that you see in highly successful students?
- What knowledge would you consider to be prerequisites?
- Do you offer opportunities for undergraduate students to do research?
- What other opportunities are you involved in or sponsor that are outside of the classroom to reinforce my learning, like cultural clubs or festivals?
- Do you meet with or mentor students outside of class?
- What are the signature strengths of your program? Department?
- What’s your vision for the community of students who major in this program? Do they serve as peer mentors, collaborate on projects, form study groups, have a high rate of getting summer internships, etc.?
- [If interested in grad school] What could I do to prepare for further research at the graduate level? Would I be required or able to write a senior thesis or do an honors program?
- How much flexibility would I have in shaping my major or taking an interdisciplinary approach? If I want to double major, when can I declare and do I have the flexibility my freshman year to schedule courses to support my double major?
Questions to Avoid on College Visits
You may want to avoid asking questions that are overly personal and not helpful to others in the group when you’re on your tours. While it’s fine to ask about certain departments, DO NOT share your life story and DO NOT ask any one to speculate about your admissions chances.
A final good rule of thumb to follow is to avoid asking basic questions that can be easily answered via Student Resource Central or a quick search of the school’s website. Be prepared. For instance, questions like the following fall into that category:
- Do you have a psychology major?
- When was the school founded?
- How many students are in the freshman class?
- What was last year’s rate of acceptance?
If you ask questions that are readily answered online, you are losing impression points. All of the official representatives you meet are very aware of what information is available to you. Think about it from the admissions perspective. Do they want students who are self-directed, self-starters and inquisitive or do they want students who depend on everyone else as if they are royalty?
How to Prepare for Your College Tours
Your first step is scheduling and signing up online for your college tours, as well as any other meetings or overnight stays. The best time to tour is when classes are in session so you can get the truest sense of the college in action.
Since you should prepare questions and take notes on the answers, I recommend writing them down and bringing a notebook (paper or electronic) to take notes. You’ll be getting a lot of information, along with walking around and seeing everything, so it will be useful to have a record to which you can refer at the end of the day.
You certainly don’t need to go overboard with the college tour questions. I would suggest preparing five to ten of your most important questions for each person (student, admissions officer, professor, etc). You may find you should choose about three during your tour, while you may be able to ask a lot more during a one on one conversation or meeting. Better to over-prepare than under-prepare, and you could list your highest priority questions at the top to make sure you get to them first.
In addition to asking questions and jotting down notes on the responses, you should take the time to observe everything going on around you. Beyond viewing the facilities, try to notice how the staff responds to you or how students interact with one another. Perhaps most importantly, is it a place where you’d feel comfortable?
Finally, spend some time writing, discussing with parents and/or reflecting after your visit. Does the school seem like a good fit with your personality, interests, and goals? Do you feel excited about the prospect of attending? At the end of the day, you must save the final questions for yourself.