A school visit is the best way to get acquainted with the atmosphere and culture of a school. Each school is unique – their sense of school spirit, class sizes, advantages, and disadvantages – so touring the school is a great way to find all that out for yourself. It’ll also give you the ability to ask students about their experience and talk to professors to learn about the curriculum and degree plan. Many visits can be expensive or tedious, so don’t worry if you can’t go (there are many resources online). However, for those who can, a visit is an eye-opening glimpse into the life you’ll be living for the next four years, so it is a trip you should prepare for.
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Research the School Before Making Your Visit
A school visit is not the time to learn basic information about the institution – if you wait that long, you’re wasting your own time when you could be learning about the campus or the school’s nuances. Instead, you should do your research regarding the average application profile (recommended test scores, class sizes, rankings, etc.) beforehand and be prepared to ask the college admissions counselors and prospective student tour guide questions pertaining to your application. You should also be ready to speak with the tour guides and make sure to schedule your tour on a suitable date.
What to Ask During Your Visit
What is the average amount of homework?
This question may seem simple, but it’ll give you a great insight into the style of teaching of a school. Specialized schools, like Caltech, will be very work-intensive. Like UT Austin, other schools even have their learning software (UT Quest), which can lend to the experience. Asking about the homework can give you an idea of how your time will be allocated and how you will be asked to absorb information.
What library resources are available?
Most motivated students will spend a considerable amount of time in the library, as it’s often the best place to study or look for school resources. For example, printing, study help, academic resources, and more may be provided through a library. As a student, having access to these resources can make or break your experience, so it’s a great question to ask before deciding to commit to a specific university.
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What is the school’s approach to discipline?
While this is hopefully a question you never need to know the answer to, it gives you a considerable amount of insight into the policies of the school. Having a hierarchical and structured system for dealing with discipline and petitions is a great sign and shows the school cares about its students. This is also a great time to ask any specific questions you may have regarding unique or unusual school policies.
What transportation services are available?
If you go to a school in a densely populated area (New York City, Austin, San Francisco/LA/etc.), you will need to use public transportation. For schools in unsafe areas, there may even be special provisions – for example, USC offers free Uber rides back to campus after a certain time for student safety. Asking about accommodations and the services available will help you decide if you want to bring your car or how you can take advantage of the city’s transportation systems.
Does the school offer physical education?
Even if you don’t consider yourself athletically inclined, this is a great question to ask. Participating in intramural or club sports is open to most students and is a great way to relax in between your school activities. This is also an excellent way to learn about physical education resources like a gym or pool, which are great for maintaining sanity throughout your college life. You can also ask if the specific dorms have their gyms/PE resources, or if you’ll have to use a shared gym/pool/etc.
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What food is offered in the cafeteria?
While this may not seem that important beforehand, trust us – you’ll grow very reliant on the food at your college. As you’ll realize, dining out is very expensive, and you will be going back to your college’s cafeteria for most meals. If there isn’t a good amount of variety and easy access, you may get bored, hungry, and grumpy. This is also a good time to ask which dorm is closest to the cafeteria – this dorm (for colleges that let you pick your dorm) is often the highest demand.
Is there an active PTA?
An active PTA organization within your college is a sign of involvement not only from parents but also from alumni. If alumni are willing to give their time and money to a college, it is a sign that the college treats them well, and they had a positive experience. The alumni network is also essential later on when applying to jobs and internships, so you should be sure to learn about how strong the alumni networks are.
What extracurricular activities are available?
Finally, to fill in the rest of your college life, you will likely participate in various extracurricular activities. This may mean academic clubs, athletics, Greek life, or anything in between. Asking about the opportunities available will help you make sure there’s something out there for you.
What to Look For During Your Visit
How do classrooms appear at first glance?
If you’re on a tour, you’ll likely have a chance to sit in on one or a few lectures. This is a great way to see how the students learn and the teaching style of a professor. While one professor is rarely representative of the entire school, a class will give you some insight into the school’s guidelines and style of education.
Do the teachers appear cheerful and enthusiastic?
Nothing will ruin your motivation to learn faster than a teacher who doesn’t care about what he or she teaches. If you see professors that are entertaining and passionate, that’s a great sign. These professors are the ones that will make a lasting impact on you and are likely also conducting high-impact research or otherwise leaving a mark on the scientific community.
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Do the facilities appear well-maintained and clean?
While this may seem simple or even a given, a school that isn’t well-maintained or cared for may be a sign of overly relaxed regulations or little care about the students and faculty from the administration. A team dedicated to the school and its students and faculty should be reflected throughout the school grounds, making sure the school holds itself up to those standards.
Is the technology up to date?
If you want to go into academia or a cutting-edge technological field (computer science, physics, applied mathematics, etc.), this is an especially important question. Having advanced computational resources and new equipment signifies that the faculty at the school conducts strong research and is a scientific leader.
Your school visits are vital and can be incredibly insightful if you prepare for them. Your preparation doesn’t have to be complicated or tedious. If you develop a list of the things you care about (such as class size, resources, equipment, dorms, etc.) and formulate questions to ask, you’ll have a great idea of what you should go into every college visit. College visits are also meant to be fun – this is your first time seeing the place you may live in for four years. With that in mind, don’t go in with a strict mindset hoping to learn every last detail. Instead, be relaxed and curious and go in open and ready to learn. What you find at any college may surprise you!
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