Exploring a college campus in person can help you determine if the school is the right fit for you. College admissions consultants, high school counselors, undergraduate admissions officers and parents of college-bound students recommend taking a school’s official guided tour to see the institution’s selling points. Once the official presentation is over, it’s important to take a self-guided tour, where you check out places that your guide didn’t show you and encounter people you otherwise would not have met.
Here are 10 places you should explore on your next college campus tour.
1. Facilities associated with your desired major. Martyne Lo Russo, a parent whose son earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management from St. John’s University in New York City, says that when her son was a college applicant, he was looking for a school with a strong sports management program. So, when he toured St. John’s as a prospective student, he visited its sports management department and met with the department dean. Lo Russo advises college hopefuls to visit undergraduate academic departments for the college majors they are interested in. Meaghan Arena, vice president for enrollment management at SUNY—Geneseo, also says it’s critical for college applicants with clear academic interests to explore the building for their intended major. “Having a feel for the place you’ll spend most of your time can help you know if you see yourself there over the next four years,” Arena wrote in an email. “It can also help you to understand the average size of classes in your major and the availability of technology in the classrooms and labs.”
2. Buildings and outdoor spaces where students pursue hobbies. Applicants should visit the places on campus where they would spend the bulk of their leisure time if they were admitted. For instance, someone who is passionate about theater should visit a college’s performing arts facilities. It’s important for college hopefuls to see the places on a college campus where students relax and have fun, including lounge areas, outdoor fountains, campus newsrooms and music practice rooms.
3. A student union or student center. “So much learning happens outside of the walls of the classroom,” Deborah Cohan, an associate professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina—Beaufort, wrote in an email. “The student center might be referred to as the living room of the campus. Once at these centers, students can see the sort of programming that is offered and the sort of public figures invited to campus.”
- A college dining hall where you can taste test the campus food. Michelle Mullooly, director of admissions at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, says college applicants should be sure to eat a meal at a campus dining hall. “College dining halls are where students relax, recharge and socialize,” Mullooly wrote via email.
- Religious and cultural institutions. Jin says college applicants who have a strong religious or ethnic identity can benefit from visiting places on campus that cater to people with that identity. For instance, a college applicant who is an ethnic minority might want to visit a minority student association, and a religiously affiliated college applicant might want to visit a student group that is connected to their faith. Josef Blumenfeld, a Boston-based parent, says that during the college tours he’s taken with his wife and his 17-year-old daughter, they’ve made a point of always stopping at the campus Hillel, so they can inquire about how hospitable a college is for Jewish people like themselves.
- The career center. Joe Orsolini, the president of College Aid Planners, a company that helps families save and pay for college, says that a college tour is not complete without a visit to the college’s career center. “It may not be the ‘sexy’ part of the college tour, but it is important to see what companies are interviewing on campus,” Orsolini wrote in an email. “This will give you an indication of your prospects for who is hiring that school’s graduates.”
- Fraternity and sorority houses. Experts say that if a college has an active Greek scene and an abundance of sororities and fraternities, it would be a mistake to visit such a school without seeing a fraternity or sorority house. “Walk or drive by the frats and sororities to see what they look like. Do a bit of online investigating as well. Stats on the percentage of undergrads who are involved in Greek life should be available. If Greek life dominates the social scene, it could be helpful to ask about alternatives to Greek life social events.”
- The neighborhood, town or city surrounding the college campus. Brooke Fincke, director of college counseling at Chapel Hill—Chauncy Hall, a private school in Massachusetts, says college students generally take occasional trips off campus. A comprehensive college tour should include sightseeing in the communities around campus, she says. Experts on college affordability also say that seeing the community around a college and the prices charged at local restaurants and stores can give college hopefuls a sense of how high living expenses would be at that particular college.
- Bulletin boards scattered throughout the college campus. Fincke advises college applicants to read the bulletin board flyers posted on a college campus, since these flyers will give applicants an indication of how vibrant student life is on a particular college campus. She suggests that college applicants take photos of these bulletin boards so they remember all the activities and clubs that were mentioned there. College hopefuls can benefit from attending college events.
10.Lecture halls and classrooms.
Experts say college applicants should ask to observe an undergraduate course in a subject they are interested in during their college tours. It’s important for college applicants to gauge whether a college’s teaching style matches their learning style.
For students visiting campuses during the academic year, I would strongly encourage them to sit in on a lecture as well as a seminar if possible. Listening in on classroom discussions can illuminate the intellectual vitality of a school and the student body.
Most of this article is a reprint from Megan Trimble, associate editor of social media for the News division at U.S. News & World Report.