Going on a college campus visit can be a great time, but let’s be honest — it can also be a little stressful. Sure, it’s an opportunity for you to see if a school is a good fit for you as you narrow down your college search, but there’s also a whole lot to keep in mind when trying to figure out just what it is you’re looking for from a university. Do you want to live on campus or off campus? What kinds of electives does the school offer? What are extracurriculars like? Can you keep a car with you on campus? Does the food suck? A college visit is one of the great adventures of your young adult life, but it’s also slightly intimidating.
You’re ultimately deciding where to live for the next four years and who to trust with your education. So save your time and money on applications by doing your research now. The best way to get a feel for a campus is to visit it. And the best way to know if it’s the right one for you is to ask the right questions when you're there. Take it from a post-grad student — there are certain things you’re going to want to look out for during your college tour besides what kind of food you’ll find in the student union cafeteria (although don't get me wrong, that's a pretty important factor, too).
So what is going to make or break your college experience? That varies by person, but I’ve come up with a handy checklist to help keep your visit focused. The best way to get a true feel for a school is to visit when class is still in session, so plan your visit now before students go home for the holidays. You’ll be happy you did. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself during your trip:
1. What Are The Dorms Like?
Some colleges require freshmen to live on campus, so if you must pay for room and board, find out what the living accommodations are like. Most universities offer some type of overnight program for prospective students. The best way to get a feel for the dorms is to spend the night in one. Ask students what they like and dislike about living on campus. How appealing are the residence facilities? Are there a variety of residential choices? At the end of the day, you want to enjoy what you're coming "home" to.
2. What Is The Food Like?
OK, so it may seem trivial in the grand scheme of your education, but there is nothing worse than being a starving college student and not liking the dining options your school has to offer. Find out what eating choices you have on campus and their hours of operation (this is especially important for athletes and late risers). Also scope out your off-campus options. You're going to want to know where to go for your early morning coffee, your midnight snack, and that 2 a.m. taco run. When in doubt, ask other students what they think about the food. You'll get a general consensus pretty fast.
3. What Is The Average Class Size?
You're ultimately attending college to further your education, so find out what the learning environment is like. Don't wait until the first day of school to suddenly realize class is not what you expected. Some students learn better in a small setting with an emphasis on discussion. Others prefer large classes with a lecturing professor. Whatever your style is, find out what the average class size is, and sit in on a class. It's also a good idea to find out how hard it is to get into the classes you want — you don't want to spend the semester with a schedule full of second-pick electives.
4. What Is There To Do On Campus?
You're going to spend most of your time on campus, so find out what there is to do. Contrary to what modern movies depict, not everyone hangs out outside studying on a picnic blanket. Ask what students do when they aren't in class. What kinds of student activities does the university have to offer, both academically and recreationally? Are there clubs that match your interests? Places where you feel comfortable studying? Fun places to just kick back and relax?
5. What's the Surrounding City Life Like?
Observe the neighborhood surrounding the school. Chances are this is where you'll live in the coming years. How safe is the area? What is there to do? And is it walking distance from campus? If students are going home every weekend, it's most likely because there's not much to do in the surrounding city. Ask around about the best places to experience college nightlife.
6. What Majors Are Available?
What are the school's strongest and most popular majors? This may seem like an obvious question, but it's also important. You don't have to know what you want to do for the rest of your life by the time you graduate high school, but you should at least know what your preferences are. If you're someone who enjoys writing and watching movies, then find out if the college offers screenwriting courses. Research what the most popular majors are, and then ask yourself if those are classes you would enjoy taking.
7. Does the School Have Strong Athletic Programs?
You don't have to be a college athlete to participate in athletic programs. If you're someone who is active and enjoys being part of a team, find out what intramural sports are offered on campus. If you like to dance, find out what classes are offered at the school gym. And if you're feeling really adventurous, you might want to check out the excursions offered by the recreational center. These are all great ways to get involved, meet people, and de-stress.
8. What's the Library Like? Are There Other Study Spots?
You might not want to think about it now, but let's face it, there will come a time when you have to study. And unfortunately, it's more often than you'd like. So it's crucial that you find a few good study spots on or near campus. While studying in your dorm or apartment might seem ideal, they're also great for getting sidetracked while binge-watching The Blacklist. Whether you prefer a quiet room in the library or a small coffee shop, it's important to find somewhere you can focus.
9. Are There Good Transportation Options?
Unfortunately, not every campus will have everything within arm's reach, so find out if the school offers free shuttle buses or trollies for students. And if being close to home is a factor for deciding which college to attend, then it's a good idea to find out if freshmen are allowed to have cars on campus. This could make all the difference. Ask how far the train station is from the campus, and if students have access to services like Zipcars.
Finally, we must address the elephant in the room. College is expensive (period). So if you care about college costs (and, really, who doesn’t?), make sure you’re accurately comparing financial aid packages at your top choices. Understand what is free money (scholarships and grants), and what you’ll have to pay back (loans). Even when you're done being a student, your student debt will still follow you. The fewer loans you have, the better you'll feel when you get your degree.
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