The spring semester is a popular time to visit colleges, especially as juniors start to narrow down their college lists, and seniors squeeze in some last-minute visits before admission decisions are announced at the end of March. The college visit is an important opportunity to not only get a live look at colleges, but also get some insider information that you might not otherwise find in your traditional research.
At IvyWise, we advise families to visit the colleges students are interested in applying to whenever possible. College visits allow students to get to know an institution and its campus, and can serve as a “gut-check” as to whether or not students can picture themselves attending that particular college. It’s important for parents and students to plan ahead and do their research before visiting a college, but there are some questions that students should plan to ask while on tour.
Here are six questions that students should ask while visiting colleges this spring.
Where do students live?
Most campus tours will include a visit to a freshman dorm in order to give prospective students an idea of where they will be living if they choose to attend. While it’s important to get a tour of a representative freshman dorm, students should also ask questions about housing after freshman year. Do upperclassmen live on campus, too? Or do many move to off campus houses or apartments after freshman year?
This information is important, as it allows families to plan for the future. If housing for upperclassmen is not available on campus, families will need to plan for off-campus living expenses, which can include not only rent but also utilities, cable, internet, parking, and more. Find out everything you can about freshmen housing, but also make sure you have a clear picture of what to expect past freshman year in regards to living arrangements.
What is there to do off campus?
It’s important to get a sense of the local community, as you won’t spend all your time on campus. You’ll be spending the next four years there, so find out what activities, events, sights, and more are available off campus. What are some great local restaurants? Are there museums and art galleries that are easy to visit? Local sports teams? Movie theaters? Find out what students enjoy doing off campus, and see if you can visit those places after your college tour. College visits can really give you a sense of what it will be like to live there, and that should include the local community, too.
How is the on-campus food?
This question is often overlooked, as students tend to be so concerned with other campus amenities they forget to ask about the basics. Are meal plans mandatory? Are meal plans accepted everywhere on campus? Can you get food on campus without a meal plan? Where’s the best place to eat on campus? The answers to these questions can help paint a better picture of expenses to anticipate and what your daily routine on campus will looks like. Many colleges that require freshmen to live on campus sometimes also require students purchase meal plans. Meal plans can be costly, so make sure you know what those meal plans cover, and if you’re satisfied with the food options. This is especially important for students with dietary restrictions or food allergies.
Is Greek life a large part of the social life on campus?
It’s a question many college freshmen ask themselves: To go Greek or not? For many, participating in Greek life is not a priority, while for others it’s a very important activity. The prevalence of Greek life on a campus can have a big impact on students’ experience, and it’s important to know whether or not a large (or small) Greek life presence will negatively or positively influence your college choice. Ask what percent of students are involved with Greek life. Is it a large share of the student population, or only a fraction? Are there historically black, service, or academic fraternities and sororities on campus? If I don’t join a Greek organization will my social opportunities on campus be limited? Or conversely, if I do join a Greek organization will it isolate me from other campus activities? What is rush process like? How much does it usually cost to join a fraternity or sorority? These are important questions to ask if the social dynamics of campus life are a priority in your college search.
What study abroad opportunities are available to students?
Studying abroad can be an enriching experience for students, and many choose to study for a summer term, a semester, or even a year in a foreign country. Many universities, like Wake Forest University and Butler University are known for their unique study abroad programs, while smaller colleges might not have as many opportunities. Ask about specific programs and what percentage of students typically study abroad. Where do they go? What do they study? Will you miss out on a lot if you leave for a semester? If studying abroad is something you’d like to do in college, make sure you get a sense of what programs are offered and how it affects students’ experience once they return.
What support does the school have for first-year students?
The transition into college life can be difficult for some students. For many it’s their first time away from home and they’re having to balance school, activities, and basic necessities like food, laundry, and more on their own. Many colleges offer support to first-year students through classes, like some of the courses offered through Boston College’s First Year Experience program, orientation weekends, or programs offered through student engagement or mental health services departments on campus. While on campus, inquire about the different support services offered to first-year students and how students can take advantage of them. How accessible are these programs? Do students find them helpful?
College visits are an important part of the college search process, and families should plan to visit most, if not all, of the schools on a student’s balanced college list. At IvyWise, we offer college visit planning services to help families make the most of their trips and time on campus. For more information on our college visit planning services, contact us today.