At Strategies For College, we believe that one of the key ways to assess a school’s potential fit for a student is by visiting the campus. This allows your student to envision themselves in that specific school environment; it can also provide eye-opening insights into the campus atmosphere that couldn’t otherwise be determined from online research. In order to make the most of these visits, here are some important pointers for students and parents.

Sign up for a tour.

We always recommend visiting while classes are in session. Summer visits will show the physical environment, but the atmosphere is different without the majority of students on campus. With Covid protocols easing, most colleges provide prospective students and their families with the opportunity to attend an official campus tour. These usually involve a brief informational session with an admissions officer and then a walking tour of the campus’ main sites, including classrooms, libraries, gyms, dining halls, and the main quad. While on the tour, be sure to make note of things that do and don’t appeal to you and your student; feel free to take pictures for later reference.

Often a student representative will lead these tours and be available to answer questions along the way. Tours are ultimately designed to function as promotional material for each college, so keep in mind that everything highlighted on the tour will likely be the best version of what the school has to offer. Asking specific questions that matter to you can help to cut through the rose-tinted promotional aspect to get real information about current students’ experiences.

General questions to ask:

  • What kind of student thrives at this school?
  • What is one piece of advice you would give to incoming students?
  • Did anything surprise you about the school once you were attending?
  • What are some things you would change about the school?

And some more specific inquiries:

  • Is it difficult to get into the classes you want or need to take?
  • Do professors teach first-year classes or do TAs?
  • What resources and support systems are in place—both emotional and academic—and are they easy to access?

If your student is planning on living on campus, make sure that the tour includes a visit to one of the dorms. Again, remember that there is often a variation in the dorms available to first-year students and that tours will make sure to promote their highest-quality facilities. Ask your tour guide where they lived their first year on campus and the pros and cons of that location, as well as the process for selecting residence halls and roommates. Some schools operate on a lottery system that prioritizes students further into their college careers, so first-year students may not get first pick when it comes to dorms.

Attend a class.

Some colleges allow prospective students to attend an actual class to get a sense of the learning environment. If your student is comfortable with reaching out directly to a professor, we encourage them to do so themselves rather than having their parents communicate on their behalf. Otherwise, plan ahead by asking admissions to help arrange a classroom visit. Ideally the class would pertain to your student’s potential degree program, but a general education course would also provide a good look at the atmosphere in the average classroom.

Meet with a current student, professor, and/or counselor.

Some schools have programs in which prospective students can meet with a current student to discuss their experiences and ask questions about the school. They may also offer the opportunity to chat with a professor or admissions officer, though a current student would likely have the most insight into campus culture. Help your student come up with a list of questions beforehand so that they get the most out of this conversation.

Explore on your own.

Though the tours will likely feature the most important parts of campus life, it’s never a bad idea to take the time to explore the campus on your own. Stroll the campus, try the food in a dining hall, and even use the restrooms available. Take note of things like cleanliness, parking availability, the general surroundings just outside campus, and any other environmental factors that are personally important to you and your student. Does it seem like there are a lot of community events or examples of school pride and traditions? Do the students on campus look content, or do they seem stressed out? Does the area feel safe and easy to navigate? These are all things to consider as you spend time on campus. Again, take notes and pictures so you can remember specific details later on.

We understand that in-person visits are not always an option. Virtual campus tours are now widely available, and informational sessions and interviews with current students can easily be held over Zoom. In these cases, the aforementioned questions are particularly important to gain insight about campus life. However, it’s important to also keep in mind that their answers will only represent a single person’s experience.

Whether you and your student manage to tour every campus on your list or you employ a mix of in-person visits and virtual info sessions, it’s always a good idea to connect with representatives from each school. Engaging directly with current students will provide you with a wealth of information about the colleges, particularly their on-campus atmospheres, that you might otherwise not be able to access.

If at all possible, a second campus visit in senior year as an accepted student will help solidify your student’s final decision.