Touring a college campus can be a valuable experience. A formal campus tour will give prospective students and their families an idea of what the college experience will be like. In a previous post I had some fun with the campus tour pointing out areas that you probably won’t see but should. Whereas there is some truth to that (who doesn’t want to see where the best pizza is?), it was largely written with a tongue in cheek approach. There is a serious side to the campus tour, however, and parents need to prepare accordingly. Sending a family member to college is a big investment, and like any other big purchase, important facts need to be presented and questions need to be asked before the purchase is made.
The tour usually begins with an orientation given in a small to medium sized auditorium, depending on the size of the group. Here, an admissions office representative will greet the students, present the campus strengths and review the admissions requirements. This can last anywhere from a half an hour to an hour depending on the amount of information the college chooses to present. Afterwards, a current student will take smaller groups on a tour of the campus. Common sites include viewing a sample dorm room, the student dining center(s), a classroom building, the main library, the recreation and fitness center, as well as any other important areas the college wants you to see.
Tour guides will stop throughout the tour and discuss important subjects such as campus clubs and organizations, the athletic events offered, and the various facts about student technology needs (Wi-Fi and printing services, for example). Whereas this is a valuable information, most colleges will only showcase the areas they want you to see. They will present the topics they want you to know. The college, after all, is trying to sell itself. They are putting their best foot forward.
If you are a parent about to send your son or daughter away to college, there are things you should also know. They might not be as sexy as the new recreation center but they are critical to your son or daughter’s success nonetheless. A campus tour guide may or may not point them out. You need to ask. More important, your tour guide or admissions representative should know the answers.
Here are five important questions:
- What systems are in place for advising first-year students?
The first year of college is the most critical for your son or daughter. If students aren’t happy or don’t feel comfortable, they are more prone to leave than students who are content. Colleges don’t want to lose these students. They want them there. Almost every college has systems in place to keep the freshmen students engaged and happy. Nowhere is this more important than through a robust freshman advising system. Students should receive regular advising from a full-time faculty member as well as other campus support staff. If this information is not shared with you during the tour, ask about it. A smart move would be to ask the student tour guide about the advising he or she received during their freshman year. You will most likely receive an honest, candid reply.
- What are the on-campus tutoring options? How is the tutoring center staffed and how many students utilize it?
Just about every college offers some type of on campus, complimentary tutoring for students. You may get to see the outside of this academic support building somewhere during the tour. This office can be an integral part of your son or daughter’s academic support as many students need some help with academics at some point. Many students who need academic support avoid getting help from the on-campus facility. There are many reasons for this, the most notable being ego. Students feel too proud to be seen struggling in something. Try and get a peek at the inside of this building. Is it busy? Ask questions about the tutoring services students can receive. Meet some of the staff if you can. It is important that anyone needing academic help not only receives the support, but feels comfortable doing so.
- What are the drug and alcohol policies on campus, particularly in the dormitories?
I have yet to hear this subject come up during a campus tour. Each campus’s policy will vary so it is good to know what the policies are for each campus you visit. Some schools have strict policies while others are laxer. Will your son or daughter get in trouble if drugs and or alcohol are found in his or her dorm room? If it is a strict campus, he or she might be innocent but guilty by association. It is good to know this in advance.
- What happens if your son or daughter gets sick and needs to see a doctor?
Some tour guides are happy to point out the campus infirmary and the great services it provides. That’s generally all they know unless they have had a personal experience with it. For services that require care beyond the campus infirmary, details are sketchy. They shouldn’t be. This is important. Don’t let your tour guide gloss over this. Sadly, students do get sick and need care beyond what the campus infirmary provides. Parents should ask how this is handled. What are the related costs of receiving extra medical attention? Also, if a sickness forces a student to miss many classes, how does it get handled? Don’t wait until it is too late to find out.
- What does the college have in place to respond to the mental health needs of the students?
The subject of mental health, whereby extremely critical, never comes up. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are all too common in college and need to be properly diagnosed and treated. This should best be discussed privately with an admissions representative after the tour. How common are these issues and how do colleges respond? Students and parents need to know.