It's that time year again—the arrival of the long-awaited warm spring weather and college acceptance letters. This also marks the beginning of the marathon of college campus visits with mom and dad. With prospective students and their families filling their spring breaks with one or more college visits per day, it can be difficult to keep all of the facts about the different college campuses straight. U.S. News spoke with five college tour guides, from private and public schools in cities and suburbs across the country, to find the important questions you should ask in order to learn the most about each school on your campus tour itinerary.
Common Questions You Should Always Ask
1. Ask what the transition is like from high school to college.
"A lot of people ask about the adjustment from high school to college," says Tava Bingham, a tour guide and senior at the University of Texas—Austin, one of the nation's largest public schools. The visitors ask about making friends and selecting classes, and the tour guides tell them about their personal experiences, she says. Bingham reminds potential students on the tours that there is little to be anxious about because everyone is sharing the same new experience when they come to school as freshmen. "As long as you come with an open mind, it's going to be easy to make friends and get adjusted," she says. As for tips on adjusting to classes, she says it's all about time management. "Students will have to take initiative to make sure that they're staying on top of assignments and on top of their readings," she says.
2. Ask about the food, residence halls, and class sizes.
Sean Crossley, a tour guide and junior at Albright College, a small liberal arts college in Reading, Pa., says he always tells families what his campus life experiences are truly like. "We really aren't censored as tour guides; our job is to give our honest experience at Albright," he says. He claims he gets asked about his views of the food on campus, what it's like staying in a residence hall, and the size of his classes, and he always gives honest answers to the questions.
3. Ask about campus safety.
All of the tour guides recommended that prospective students and parents ask about the school's campus safety policies. "I appreciate it when parents and students ask about campus safety," says Katie Rice, a campus walk guide and senior at Hendrix College, a small liberal arts college in Conway, Ark. "Hendrix is a very safe campus, but it's always nice for me to know that people are thinking about that."
4. Ask whether the campus has wireless Internet access.
This is a typical question that all five tour guides said they get asked on almost every tour. Almost all colleges today have access to high-speed wireless Internet on their campuses.
Questions You Should Ask, but Sometimes Don't
1. Ask about the tour guide's personal experience at the school.
"I wished people asked, 'What have you done in your four years here?' to get that personal touch on the tour," Rice says. When giving a campus tour, she says she focuses on telling the prospective students and families about the college, but would speak more to her own experiences if people asked her.
2. Ask why the tour guide chose the school.
Morgan Williams, a tour guide and senior at Spelman College, a historically black college for women located in Atlanta, says she enjoys sharing why she chose to attend Spelman. "My Spelman experience was very empowering and impactful, and I want to share that with prospective students," she says. "Every year, when I come back to school, I see at least one student on campus who I had on a tour and I know my story was able to inspire them and bring to them to campus."
Whitney Knight, a fellow tour guide and senior at Spelman, says she has a love for Spelman that runs in her family. "I've been the ultimate Spelman advocate since I was a kid because my mom is an alumna," she says. "I love to encourage other women to choose Spelman."
3. Ask the tour guide what they would change about the school.
Crossley encourages prospective students and parents to ask about what the tour guide may want to see altered at the school. "You want to be as honest as possible," he says. "Every school has great things about it, and every school has things could maybe be improved." Christopher Nowak, a tour guide and a senior at the State University of New York—Oswego, recommends that prospective students and parents quiz their tour guide about his or her views of the campus and about the big issues of debate at the school.
4. Ask about the local town and what is it like to live in that specific region of the country.
Most colleges are located near at least a small town if not in close vicinity to a large metropolis, and the tour guides recommend getting off campus to explore what these areas have to offer. Bingham, whose school is located in downtown Austin, says students need to figure out not only if the school is a good fit, but if the city nearby is a good fit as well. Guides also encourage those on tours to keep an open mind when visiting new locations. "Some people who come to a college in Arkansas have an assumption of what Arkansas is like, but don't ask about it," Rice says. "I think people could be honest about that and ask what it is like to live in Arkansas."
5. Ask about the academic and career services available to students.
A lot of people don't ask about the support systems that are offered in the majors the prospective students are interested in, Williams says. "It is important academically and socially to understand the type of mentorship you'll have at Spelman and how the students are encouraged to apply their education in the real world."
Questions You Should Avoid, at Least on Campus Tours
1. Avoid personal finance questions.
"We try to be as honest as possible with any question that's asked," Crossley says. He notes that if tour guides don't know the answer to a question, they may refrain from answering the question and refer the person to an administrator. In terms of personal finance questions, many do not have broad relevance to other people on the walk, Rice says. "If the question is of a personal nature, save it to ask an admissions counselor," she says.
2. Avoid asking very personal questions of the tour guide.
Williams says she sometimes is asked about what her personal GPA was in high school, or what her ACT and SAT scores were. She advises against asking these questions of the tour guide not only as a matter of privacy, but because the ACT and SAT scores that are required for each year's incoming freshman class can change based on the scores of the applicant pool. So, the tour guide's personal test scores likely will not reflect what the incoming class's scores will be.
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