The college visit is your student’s chance to try the college on for size and see how well it fits. But knowing what to ask when you’re there on site and thinking of things you should have asked later, when you’re back at home, are two different things.
Use these 10 questions as starting places for a great conversation about what the university is like and how much your student will feel at home there.
1. What kinds of students are happiest and most successful at your college?
This is the main question, isn’t it? You’re trying to learn about the college culture.
Anyone giving you a tour should be able to answer this question. If you get to speak to professors, they should be able to describe students in their classes who succeed. If you speak to alums, they should be able to tell you about their experiences. Finally, current students should be able to identify traits that have helped them do well.
Do the current students sound like people you want to befriend? If so, it is a good sign that you are on the right track.
2. What percentage of students study abroad?
Are there any majors that aren’t able to study abroad? Are there majors for which study abroad is expected?
Find out what types of study abroad programs the college currently has and when students usually participate.
Far more than a resume-builder, study abroad is a valuable opportunity to experience other places, people, languages, and cultures–for college credit. Seek this out!
3. What percentage of students go on to graduate or professional schools?
This matters not just for majors in which additional degrees are expected; it speaks to the overall success of graduates of the university.
You wouldn’t want your student to join a pre-med program whose graduates don’t mostly become doctors.
4. How easy is it to get into courses that you need or want?
The official answer to this one is “Very easy.” But that’s not always the case.
Some very small schools only offer required courses once every two or even four years, which might mean your sophomore will have to be enrolled in a senior-level course.
Some very large schools give enrollment preference to those with more hours, which means that transfers or freshmen with dual credit will take spots that your freshman might need.
Sit down with an admissions counselor and ask what course options exist for the first couple of semesters–you’ll see quickly whether course enrollment is easy or requires juggling.
5. What percentage of first-year courses are taught by a professor vs. a teaching assistant?
Not that a teaching assistant couldn’t do a great job, and not that you’ll never be in a class not taught by a Ph.D., but whether they cap courses at 50 or 500 students says a lot about the classes at the university.
Typically, the more classes that are taught by professors, the more rigorous coursework you can expect. You especially want first-year courses in your major to be taught by a professor, if possible.
6. What extracurricular activities are expected for your intended major?
If everybody joins a particular club, ask to sit in on a meeting. Conversely, if there isn’t a French club and you’re a modern languages major, that tells you something important, too.
Find out about ways to get involved in your major that aren’t advertised in the admissions materials. (Best case scenario, talk to a senior in your major about what opportunities there are.)
7. What kind of housing is available, and when do I apply for it?
Learn whether on-campus housing is required, whether all freshmen live in the same few dorms, and whether meal plans come with the package or not (and where the cafeterias are).
Your student might want to be in the middle of things–or not. Many families think housing comes later in the process than it actually does.
8. How do most students get around the campus or town?
Ask about available transportation options and restrictions.
Is the campus is so huge that a bus system is a necessity, but your music student really doesn’t want to lug the oboe across campus twenty times a week?
Or, is the campus is so tiny that everyone walks?
Will you be able to get permission to have a car on campus?
9. What decision plans are available?
And what are the acceptance rates for each one? This is a good question to ask if you want to apply Early Action or Early Decision.
10. What are the available scholarships and typical financial aid packages?
And finally, if the financial aid office doesn’t have ready information about how to obtain scholarships and financial aid, you’ve learned something important about the university.
There’s no such thing as the wrong question.
Asking lots of questions on a campus visit is expected and encouraged. You are looking for answers that will help you and your student understand whether this university should be home for the next four years.