What That College Tour Guide Really Means
You've spent the past three hours in a hot car with your parents and teen sibling just to arrive at a potential college to be led around by a student who decided pointing at landmarks would be a better job than flipping burgers for food services. To avoid a word-for-word recitation of the school's brochure, take this list of decoded tour guide lingo on your campus visits.
Tour guide says: "We boast over seven cafeterias campuswide. Check out all the really cool fast-food vendors we have in our student union..."
Tour guide decoder: Many schools require freshmen to live on campus. Catch is, they also normally require purchasing a food plan. If that money runs dry after a semester-worth of late-night study binges and coffee breaks, those expensive campus meals three times a day aren't going to look as appealing as they do now.
You should ask: Are there places to eat and grocery stores within walking distance from the campus?
Tour guide says: "There's so much to do on this campus! With over 1,000 student groups for you to join and campus concerts throughout the year, you'll never be bored ..."
Tour guide decoder: To cover up for a lackluster surrounding town, the tour guide may be more likely to highlight how many extracurricular activities the school has to offer. While student groups are a great way to meet people, a month of staying on campus could plague you with cabin fever.
You should ask: Where do students go if they want to take a break from the university? What kinds of off-campus entertainment can students find in the area?
Tour guide says: "We have a keycard security system that is second to none. Everyone must swipe his or her card to get into each floor of the dorms..."
Tour guide decoder: You'll find that type of keycard system at almost every school you visit. The trick is to find out who's watching who gets let in those doors by a person with a "state of the art" keycard.
You should ask: Are there surveillance cameras and fully staffed security desks? How does the university alert its students if there is an emergency on campus? Will I get in trouble if I have a security guard walk me home when I'm too tipsy to stagger home by myself?
Tour guide says: "Our library has 5 million volumes and pamphlets in its collections and the largest number of books about moths in the archives..."
Tour guide decoder: The overwhelming number of books is a stirring statistic that is easy for tour guides to throw at their high school visitors. Most universities participate in an interloan library program, so finding a book you need even if it's not on your campus shouldn't be that hard. And, albeit impressive, how often will you really need to use the school's narrowly defined archives?
You should ask: Does the library offer study group programs and more flexible hours during exam weeks?
Tour guide says: "The classrooms here incorporate up-to-date design and technology to augment the learning process..."
Tour guide decoder: This is a fine example of a selling point that doesn't really tell you anything. PowerPoint presentations and wireless Internet connections can be found at almost every university, and while some students use laptops for class notes, they often don't outnumber those with pen and paper. Consider how technology will extend beyond the classroom.
You should ask: Are professors known to use technology tools such as podcast lectures or online assignment posting boards?
Tour guide says: "Our center provides excellent checkup and pharmacy services..."
Tour guide decoder: While some schools have hospitals located conveniently on campus, others' health centers aren't equipped for a crisis or late-night visit. Don't wait until you can't peel yourself from the bed and trashcan to find out where to go for emergencies.
You should ask: Where is the closest hospital, and does the university offer transportation if I can't drive or don't have a car?
Tour guide says: "The computer labs are open 24 hours a day..."
Tour guide decoder: Tour guides have been preaching this outdated sales pitch for years. Students typically bring their own computers, but hunting for a place to check your E-mail or write a paper is seldom a problem.
You should ask: Does the school provide a computer repair and debugging service? Will the program charge me?
Tour guide says: "Our recreation center is our newest and biggest building on campus. It is home to a multisport gym with five basketball courts, a swimming pool, a sauna, a fitness center, tennis courts, climbing walls, a fitness store, dance studios, a weightlifting room, 25 elliptical machines, two full-size tracks..."
Tour guide decoder: A top of the line university gym is such a huge draw for students that you will find similar centers at most state universities. What can make a rec center stand out is the availability of the gym. A campus insider (i.e. tour guide) will know the times when the gym is the least busy.
You should ask: What hours is the rec center open, and when are the best times to come?