College tours are excellent things. Your perky tour guide will show you all the campus landmarks, spout the important stats and answer any questions. So don't waste time asking frequently asked questions - FAQs are on the university's website. Instead, ask questions that speak to your child's particular interests and concerns, the ones about real student experiences. It's best if your child, rather than you, puts together a list of questions that are important to him and does the asking, but if every teen on the tour is afflicted with a shyness attack, go ahead and get the ball rolling.
Here are a few questions to get you started, whether you're on campus for a regular tour or Admit Day.
- Don't ask about average class size - it's a slippery statistic that averages gargantuan lectures with tiny senior seminars. Ask your tour guide about the size of his freshman year classes.
- Is this a commuter college or do students hang around on the weekend? What did your tour guide do last weekend? And the weekend before that? How often do he and his friends go home?
- What's the best class or most inspiring professor your tour guide ever had? Why? How well does he know his professors, and how did that happen?
- What's the most impossible class to get into on campus? Why? Is it because the class and the professor are so darn wonderful, or because it's difficult to get the classes your child will need? Does that vary by major?
- Who helps your child choose classes? Does he have the same faculty adviser for all four years? Or does a peer adviser - a sophomore or junior, for example - help him register the first time and then he's on his own?
- What are the general education requirements - the GEs required for graduation? For some reason, tour guides think GEs are the same on every campus. They are most emphatically not. Some schools require five humanities, five lab science, and three math classes, beginning with calculus. Others require one of each, plus a world religions class. The differences can be a deal breaker for your child.
- Why did your tour guide pick this school? What other schools did he consider? What does he wish he'd known then that he knows now?
- What are the biggest campus traditions? Does everyone go to the football or basketball games?
- What percentage of students go Greek? Are the fraternities and sororities residential or social only? When is rush and what’s it like?
- How difficult is it to find housing? On some campuses, frats and sororities are a big deal because it's so difficult to get into the dorms. Did your tour guide live in a dorm freshman year? Which one? Which one does he like best?
- What was the most difficult thing to get used to here? (A University of Puget Sound guide admitted it was the grey, drizzly weather, then rallied valiantly to say, “But it makes the sunny days seem all the sunnier!” Weather is a huge issue for many students.)
- Where does your tour guide study - in his room, the library, another favorite spot? How many hours a day does he study?
- What's the favored campus hangout? How about off-campus (best pizza, coffee house, etc.)?
- If your child has health issues, you'll want to ask questions about those concerns, of course. But everyone needs to ask what happens if a student has appendicitis or another health emergency - is there a hospital on campus or does campus security take you to a nearby hospital?
- Ask about academic support. Every campus has facilities to help students with learning disabilities, but most have tutoring help for anyone who needs it. What form does that take? Peer tutors or faculty support? Math and writing learning centers staffed 24/7? No matter how brilliant your child was in high school, he may be unhappily surprised by the higher expectations of college professors.
- Ask about the college career center and internship opportunities – and don’t be fooled by “the college encourages…” answers. Internships are an essential, often overlooked way to test drive career paths and start building a resume long before graduation. Some schools have extensive internship opportunities. Some even require a certain number of internship hours. Others post opportunities in their career center but don't particularly solicit them.
- Ask about study abroad opportunities too. Nearly every college has some sort of international study program, but some majors are not conducive to study abroad - not if you want your child to graduate in four years, anyway. Some schools run their own satellite campus in a foreign country, so your child would be studying with University of Redlands faculty, for example, in Salzburg. Others tap into foreign university programs. (Do not be impressed by promises that a year abroad will cost no more than a regular year at your expensive private school or that the college will apply your scholarship to those months. All private colleges say that. State schools simply charge you whatever the international program charges. Hint: it's not $45,000.)