Campus tours are an important part of the process of finding colleges to apply to, or of deciding which college is the best fit for you. Mos campus tours will focus on the amenities (modern dorm rooms, number of dining facilities, new library buildings, state-of-the-art gyms), and on prestige factors like the number of Nobel Laureates on the faculty, how old the college is, or the names of famous alumni. But as a parent helping a student with one of their life’s most important choices, here are some questions you should be asking at a campus tour.
Six Questions to Ask on a Campus Tour
1. What Percentage of Students Have Jobs or Go onto Graduate School After They Graduate?
Nationwide, about 53% of college graduates will not find a job that requires a college degree when they graduate. Some, of course, go on to graduate school, and many work other jobs while waiting to find a career. But the number varies widely between schools. Some universities place as many as 80% of their graduates into employment right after school.
Employment and earnings aren’t the only reason to go to college, but they’re a very important reason, so this can be a critical question to ask at a campus tour.
Related tip: The average earnings of graduates varies widely from university to university. The Department of Education’s college scorecard tracks this data, and Georgetown University Center for the Education and the workforce has estimates of extent to which this is due to the education you receive, as opposed to other factors. Sites like LifeLaunchr incorporate these metrics into their college search.
2. What is the Student-Faculty Ratio?
Student-to-faculty ratios at schools are a good measure of how committed the school is to your child’s education. They can vary from as little as 12:1 to as much as 65:1, so consider the data in your decision. And at many schools, even if the student-faculty ratio is low, many undergraduate courses are taught by adjuncts or teaching assistants rather than by professors. Getting a good sense of this could make a big difference in the quality of education you’re getting. Tools like LifeLaunchr’s College Match can help find colleges with good ratios. But this is also a helpful question to ask on a campus tour.
3. What is the Campus Culture?
Some universities have student bodies that come from very close by, and the campus can be a ghost town on weekends. If your child is coming from too far away to go home for weekends, that can make life lonely. At some schools, campus life is dominated by sports, fraternities, sororities, or churches. Which can be great if your child is into those things, but not so great if they aren’t. At some universities, the culture is dominated by tradition. Others are freewheeling and counter-cultural. Most university admissions officials will answer these questions honestly so be sure to ask as you go through the tour. Life on campus is more than just about education.
If possible, arrange for your child to spend a night on campus, staying in a dorm and spending time with other students. They will get a deeper sense of what campus culture is like and be better able to make a decision about attending or applying.
4. What Percentage of Students Graduates in Four Years?
At many universities, it is nearly impossible to graduate in four years since you can’t get the courses you need. Freshmen usually have last priority in choosing courses, so you might find that many required courses are full and you have to wait a semester or two to be able to get in. An extra year means a year of additional tuition, room, and board. And a year of lost earnings. Those aren’t necessarily decisive factors, but you should know.
5. How Diverse are the Cafeteria Menus?
Most universities now offer several cafeterias or eateries, but if your child is a picky eater or has dietary restrictions, finding healthy food to eat on campus can get tricky. Colleges now say that about 30% of students eat some form of a vegetarian diet, and many people follow kosher, are sensitive to gluten, or have food allergies. And more and more students grow up in households where the food ties to specific ethnicities or cultures, so finding food that your teen is used to may not be easy. If your teen is in any of these categories, be sure to ask what options there are. Even better, eat a meal or two on-campus as part of your campus tour or while visiting. See how your child likes it.
6. What Opportunities Exist for Undergraduate Internships and Research?
Doing research as an undergraduate and getting great internships can make a big difference in getting employment afterward. Some universities have partnerships with nearby companies to facilitate internships for students, some offer research opportunities with faculty. Ask about this. It can make college more rewarding intellectually, and eventually help with job prospects as well.
These questions and the answers you receive can be very important in making decisions about which offer of admission to accept and also in deciding where to apply. So ask, take good notes, and be sure to discuss the answers with your child to see how they react.