More than likely, you will have a 'tour guide' of some sort who will lead you around to see some of the campus. This person is going to have you look at the more impressive spots, and that's fine. You want to know that they have a decent library, what a science lab looks like, how big a lecture hall is. You may be able to see some dorms. You may gather in an auditorium or in the cafeteria. You may even be given a lunch. Keep in mind that your tour guide's job is to get you to attend his or her college.
There will be a 'stock' monologue the tour guide will recite as you make your way around the campus. But, if you have a chance to ask questions, what are some good ones?
*What is the town like?
-Is it a small town atmosphere or is campus right in the middle of a large city? How do the townspeople treat the college students? This may be much better answered by a student who has no motivation to recruit you, however, it's worth asking.
*As to advising, how many advisors are there per student?
-You're actually asking: Is there one advisor for 5,000 students? If that's the case, you're going to have quite a time getting some help when you need it. Unless, of course, they have TRIO SSS.
*What kind of technology is available on campus?
-Naturally you want the most current tech available, and plenty of it. Most of you will have a laptop, but some colleges 'issue' one so that all students are using the same kind of software. They will then provide tech assistance on campus. Is it easy for all to use? Is tech available campus-wide? How is the Wi-Fi on campus?
*When is the cafeteria open/When is food available?
-If you have studied until midnight, is there anywhere you can go to get food?
*Is there health care available? What does that consist of? Where is it, and when is it open?
-The possibility of your getting sick during a school year is pretty high. Where could you go to get help? What about help with depression?
*How many of the classes are taught online? How many are hybrid (Part online, part in class in person)?
-Ideally this is a minimal number. Classes at a college should take place on campus, in the traditional way. It isn't possible to engage with other students when you are just staring at a computer screen. For the online classes offered, though, make sure they run smoothly. Frustration with online classes is usually pretty high---where do you go to get your situation sorted out?
*How many students graduate in 4 years? And, how many students will graduate at all?
-There are lots of students who don't because of heavy coursework, jobs getting in the way, or other exceptional situations, but most of them should be done in 4 years. The large majority of them should finish their degrees. A lower rate might mean the college is not the best.
*What is the student to faculty ratio?
-That is, how many instructors are there for the students? You'll need to decide what sounds best; you hoping for a maximum of 15 or less students to 1 faculty--and that does not mean class size of 15 students. Here's an explanation http://collegeapps.about.com/od/choosingacollege/ss/Choosing-The-Perfect-College_3.htm
*How many classes are in fact taught by Teaching Assistants? (TAs)
-This is common in large universities. In theory, the TA is under the guidance of the professor whose name is on the course catalog; they are generally seniors or graduate students (those working towards a masters or PhD) who are strong in the course. Some TAs are very good at teaching, some are not. Remember, they have no training in the profession of teaching. That said, some professors are not really that good at teaching, either. It is something to be aware of, however. When the first day of class arrives and you realize you aren't really being taught by a professor, you don't want this to be a surprise.
*What tutoring is available to students, and is it free of charge? Where are the tutors located?
-Tutoring is a valuable tool to use for you to understand your classes; it can make all the difference in your success. If you can use it for free, you'll likely go more often.
*What kind of career guidance does the college provide?
-Does it give you a realistic view of careers you can pursue with the major you are interested in? A degree is valuable, but if it doesn't help you get a job after graduation, is it worth it?
-Does the college promote internships while you are still in school, that will help you be decisive in your major or sorting out a specific career path?
-Does the college partner with local businesses to offer internships and perhaps employment?
*Things to remember:
You are the student, not your parent. You should be the one most engaged in asking questions and listening to the answers. Appreciate that your parents have given you the transportation to campus, and are likely paying for part of your college...be respectful, but remember, you are the one making this commitment.
*Be sure you visit at least two schools and hopefully more. Then you can compare how they felt: Is there one that just felt "right" from the beginning? Chances are this is the one that is your best fit.
How to have a more successful visit:
- Go to campus with a parent, or even alone---but do not go with your boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other, or with a group of 'besties'. This is about you. You don't want to be distracted and miss the whole point of the visit. It's also possible that your friends won't like the campus but you will. You don't want them convincing you not to go somewhere you really want to go. It's likely you're going to different colleges, anyway.
- You can ask about parties and drinking on campus, but you are likely to get a non-committal response that downplays these things. All campuses have parties. All campuses have drinking and using. A tour guide will play it down, while a non-tour guide student might make you think it's one big kegger. It's really up to you how to handle the partying scene. You need to remember why you're there.
- Try approaching a random student and ask him or her a couple of questions. Do this more than once. What was the reaction? Was the person friendly and helpful? This can be a good indicator of the 'mood' of the campus.
- If you are allowed to wander, do so. Go into some buildings. See if you can look at a classroom, a lab, a dorm, the bookstore. What's your impression?
- Be respectful, but be nosy and thorough. Ask questions: take notes if you want to. Record your feelings of the place. If you are visiting several campuses, you may get confused once you're home as to which ones had which qualities.
Enjoy the choosing process: This is where you'll spend the next few years, and it's going to be fantastic!!!