Maximizing the College Tour
By Cliff & Sami Kramon
Independent College Advisors
High school guidance counselors are forever urging their students to go out and
visit prospective colleges. Viewbooks, course catalogs, and guide books are all
helpful, but actually walking the campus, listening to students, and checking
out the surrounding neighborhood is the best way to develop a feel for each
Timing of your college visit
Although summer might be the most convenient time to make such excursions, it
is the worst time to experience a college; most smaller schools are not in
session, so students and classes are absent. Dorm rooms are empty and devoid of
all personal touches, making it difficult to envision oneself there. Bulletin
boards, usually so revealing of the cultural and social opportunities of the
college, are bare. The campus grounds, on the other hand, look neater and
cleaner than they will look again the entire year.
Try and visit a campus while school is in full swing to get an accurate picture
of everyday college life.
What you should try to get out of the tour
A college tour gives you a chance to see what is on the campus, what condition
it is in, and what is missing. Is there a student center? Are there enough
computer terminals scattered around campus? How are the dorms kept up? Is the
library adequate? Check out the physical education facilities. Are the playing
fields a part of the campus or a distance away? Where are the dorms in relation
to the main academic buildings?
The tour is also the best time to ask questions of someone who is both
knowledgeable and candid. Guides will entreat families to do so, as they do not
enjoy providing a one hour monologue. They are obviously pleased with the
school (or they would not be giving the tour), but they are invariably honest
about the drawbacks along with the positives.
Don't ask about the student-faculty ratio. Instead, ask about the typical class
size for freshmen and then for upperclassmen. If the school makes use of
graduate students as teaching assistants, find out in what capacity and how
often they serve. All schools say their professors are accessible to the
students. See if this means just scheduled office hours or home phone numbers
and coffee get-togethers.
Inquire about the academic support facilities, such as a writing center where a
student can have a paper looked over before it is submitted. Does the school
provide tutors? Is there a fee for such additional help?
Ask if housing is guaranteed all four years. At large state universities be sure
to inquire about early deadlines to secure freshman housing. If the dorms are
co-ed, is it by wing, floor, or every other room? If the floor is co-ed, what
about the bathrooms? Yes, some small schools allow the students in a dorm to
vote for co-ed bathrooms.
Learn if there is a system of fraternities and sororities. What percentage of
the student body gets involved? Do the Greeks have their own houses? When is
rush? It can be as late as sophomore year or as early as a week before freshman
classes begin. Are parties open or closed to the rest of the student body? Does
the administration plan any major changes in the system in the near future?
Move beyond the facts
Besides specific, factual information, seek out your student guide's personal
opinions. How does he/she feel walking around the campus at night? How about
the surrounding neighborhood in all four directions? What is the quality of
faculty advising? Can an independent feel comfortable on a campus with a
significant percentage of students in fraternities and sororities? How is the
student turnout and spirit at sporting events? Is the student body diverse or
does one type dominate? What happens on the campus on the weekends? Does it
empty out or is there plenty to do? Can freshmen have cars and are cars really
necessary? What outstanding professors or courses might the tour guide
recommend regardless of a student's major?
Some Final Thoughts
If you are beginning your search, try to visit a large state university, a smaller
university, and some liberal arts colleges with 1,000 to 3,000 students. Applicants
frequently alter their preferences after visiting a range of sizes.
If the family finances allow it, don't let distance from home inhibit your choices.
The United States has an extraordinary diversity of schools, and the college experience
can be the best four years of your life. After you have made new friends, you will be
amazed how the desire to come home diminishes. Additionally, please realize the colleges
are seeking geographic diversity, and the more distant you are from the school, the
more that demographic can work in your favor in the admissions process.
Best of luck in receiving nothing but acceptance letters.
About the Author
Cliff and Sami Kramon founded Collegiate Choice Walking Tours Videos (www.collegiatechoice.com
They have videotaped the student-guided campus tour at over 350 colleges, but
they are the first to admit nothing beats visiting a college in person.