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What to Ask at Your Next College Visit

When the time comes to tour colleges and universities, you’ll likely find yourself following a campus ambassador as they walk backwards all over campus. These students are masters of sharing successful alumnus stories, historical perspectives on certain buildings, and of course the virtues of the dining center, workout facilities, and residence halls.

While taking all of this in, keep in mind that the purpose of the college visit is:

  1. To try to see yourself going to school there
  2. To get noticed by the staff that make decisions about admissions and financial aid

The college visit and guided tour are long-standing traditions on college campuses. However, what drives the decision to go to a school has changed substantially over time. “The right fit” was the primary motivator for many students over the years - finding a school that had the right courses, the right majors, and the right experiences.

The Value of Higher Education

Today, the factor of “value” plays a larger role. Measuring value is not only about paying an appropriate price for the education, but also the services you’ll receive in return. To that aim, while taking in all the ways the campus feels right to you, consider asking the following four questions of your ambassador, Admissions Officer, or even the Dean of your college to determine whether the school you’re considering offers value:

  1. What are the completion rates for the major I’m considering? This question is meant to determine how many of the students that begin in this major actually finish in this major. If the completion rate seems low, ask why that may be and what services are offered to help students identify a suitable major for their skills and interests.
  2. What are the placement rates for graduates? Any college or university worth the tuition will aid in the process of helping you find a job after graduation. Dig into the answer a bit and ask if it’s a high placement rate. Another valuable question might be how many companies recruit from this campus, noting that there may be companies who find the graduates here to be especially great hires.
  3. How involved is the Career Center and Alumni Office? Some schools have a very robust Career Center that does mock interviewing, resume reviewing, and helps to place students in internships. The strong Alumni Offices will hold events that feature alumni of the institution desiring to give back to the current population. Ask specifically how many hiring fairs happen on campus and the success of students at those events.
  4. What (and where) are the scholarship and grant opportunities on campus? Most schools have a variety of scholarships offered through the various colleges (e.g., College of Humanities, College of Business). If your ambassador doesn’t know much about the scholarships, ask in the Dean’s office to see a listing of awards available.

Other Next Steps

For those of you interested in making the best impression with decision makers, we suggest that two to four weeks before your college visit, you make appointments with three departments:

  1. Financial aid office
  2. Admissions office
  3. A professor from the department in which you'd like to study

From this list of questions, choose three for each department and write them in a notebook under the name of the person you are meeting.

This shows interest and organization on your part; two things you want to demonstrate during your visit. Not many students will take the time to write questions in advance -- this will help make you memorable. It will also help you compare colleges after all your visits are complete.

Another tool for comparing colleges is a pro/con list you should complete immediately after visiting each campus. While it’s fresh in your mind, write down the things you liked and didn’t like about the school.

Check out this list of questions as thought starters to ask those you meet with on campus. Asking probing questions will help you choose a college that will ultimately provide a high Return on Investment (or ROI). Choosing a college should be about more than picking one that “just feels right.” The price, opportunities, and ROI should also “feel right” to you and your family.