We’ve talked before about the importance of college fit, and we’ve recommended speaking with current students to get a better sense of life on campus. One of the great things about live college tours (whether virtual or in-person) is that your tour guide will likely be a student who is excited to answer your questions. Make sure you make the most of that opportunity by thinking about what you want to know. You’ll have your own list of ideal qualities and real deal breakers, but here are some important questions you may not have thought to ask:
How would you describe a typical student at this school?
This question can tell you a lot about the overall vibe of a school and whether you’ll thrive among your peers. You could find out it’s a party school, or that the student body is extremely competitive, politically active, outdoorsy, or artistically creative. Of course, a campus community is made up of unique individuals with a wide variety of interests, but if there’s a predominant trend, it’s important to know if you’ll love it or hate it.
What was your first week on campus like?
The first week on campus can be daunting. From Move-In Day to orientation to suddenly sharing a room with a stranger, there’s a lot to navigate. Find out from someone who’s been through it what got them most excited and what they wish they’d done differently. Ask about the orientation events that should not be missed and how the upperclassmen treat the first-year students. You might even learn about some fun traditions (like learning the alma mater) or get a heads up about practical jokes to expect in those first few weeks (like teaching the first-year students fake campus slang).
Were you able to take most of your first-choice classes?
Registering for college classes can be frustrating. While some schools will automatically enroll you in required courses (if, for instance, they have a core curriculum), others leave it more or less up to you to make sure you’re fulfilling your requirements. How quickly the popular courses fill up will depend on how many students are interested and how often the courses are offered. Ideally, you should know before your first round of registration what the process is going to be. Can you slowly peruse the catalog and sign up at any time over a week? Or should you plan your first- and second-choice courses in advance and set an alarm for 4:45am because the registration portal opens at 5?
What are the best study spaces and what are their hours?
Why is this a crucial question? After all, we’re talking about institutions of higher learning; there’s got to be a place to study! In the worst-case scenario, you’ll just study in your dorm, right? Dorm life is unpredictable, and you can’t guarantee that the room down the hall won’t be throwing a football watch party while you’re cramming for midterms. So, think about the conditions under which you study best (total quiet, a little white noise, a bustling café). Find out what the on-campus options are and their hours and accessibility! The library might be open 24 hours, or you might find out that the only study space open after 10pm is an obscure map room that looks like The Hunger Games arena during finals season. While the school website might show off all the beautiful study spaces, it’s important to learn from current students whether those spaces adequately meet their needs.
What’s your favorite place to spend time off campus?
Sometimes it’s nice to get away from your dorm and the buildings that remind you of that paper you’re (supposed to be) working on. So, it’s important to get a sense of the city or neighborhood that surrounds a school. Find out if it’s a safe neighborhood with great local hangouts for the students or whether students spend most of their time on campus. It’s also important to know how close by the options are and whether there’s good public transportation or students typically need cars.
What do you do on the weekends?
This is another question that can tell you a lot about the vibe of the student body. Whether the answer is frat parties, skiing, studying, or playing instruments around a bonfire, you will have learned a lot about the lifestyle and priorities of some of your classmates. Ask yourself if this is how you want to spend your weekend.
What are the quintessential experiences every student should have at your school?
Learn about the activities that students think are unique and essential to being a part of their community. This is a great way to find out what students like to do for fun and to discover the college traditions that get passed down through the years.
What’s one thing you’d change about your school?
While it’s great to hear about all the exciting and wonderful things a school has to offer, it’s just as important to know what could use improvement. Answers could range in severity. Maybe Taco Tuesdays are a shocking disappointment. Or maybe the professors aren’t accessible outside of class time or there’s a lack of diversity. Again, it’s essential to know what your deal breakers are so you can judge for yourself whether the negatives outweigh the positives.
While all of these questions will give you greater insight into the life of a college student, remember that your tour guide is just one person. Their views won’t represent the whole student body. If possible, reach out to a few different students and compare their answers. Reading the student-run newspaper is also a great way to find out what’s really happening on campus beyond what the college website wants to advertise. A lot of colleges look similar on paper, but by asking questions that are a bit off the beaten path, you’ll find the real differences that matter most to you.
Tailored advice on your college search and applications is available through our services at Expert Admissions.