Taking your high school student on a college tour is a rite of passage for both the student and the parent. But, too often it doesn’t deliver maximum impact on the family’s college experience because many parents aren’t asking the right questions.
Why not? Several factors affect the gathering of information during the campus tour. Sometimes, tour guides – who are almost always students – don’t possess comprehensive knowledge on important issues like financial aid or the intricacies of the college’s admissions policy.
Or even more often, parents and students are told they’re free to ask any questions they want, from a broad selection of college officials, but neglect to do so. The parents may feel like they don’t have the time to break off for an individual question and answer session. Sometimes, the parents assume they’ll get the information in the tour package or later over the phone with a college advisor.
Additionally, sometimes parents don’t ask the right questions because they don’t know the right questions to ask.
Parents also feel they can get their questions answered, either by word of mouth from other parents whose own children have attended the college or via the college’s web site or social media presence.
Those are decent sources of information, as is a call to the college for a question on tuition, campus life or admissions. But not asking the right questions of the right college administrator while on a campus tour seems like an unforced error for parents and students.
Here’s a fix for that.
Seven Admissions Questions to Ask When You’re on a Campus Visit
Don’t let good information gathering opportunities slip through your fingers, especially on all-important college admissions queries. Be sure to ask these admissions questions during your next college visit, and pave the way for a smooth transition from high school life to college life for your son or daughter.
Can I get a hold of a college admissions officer today while I’m on campus?
Right out of the gate, this should be your first question on a college tour – ask it right away as you and your student arrive for the visit.
Most colleges will make administrators available to some extent during a campus visit, but since college tours are scheduled so frequently over the summer months, there are no guarantees.
Also, as so many college admissions staff may be away on vacation or already booked during the summer months, reality dictates that you ask upfront who’s available from college admissions when you arrive for a college tour – and how, where and when you can find that administrator.
What qualities do you look for in new students?
On this query, a campus tour guide may give you a boilerplate answer straight from the training seminar he or she took to become a tour guide. So unfortunately, it’s a question you might have to ask several times of different people to get a straight answer.
Yet it’s worth the effort.
Stop by the student life and/or college admissions office and ask the question – you’ll want to know what makes students at a given school unique and attractive as admissions candidates.
It might save you from sending your daughter or son to the wrong college and help you steer your child to the right college.
How many new students wind up transferring to another college by their sophomore year?
Ask the college admissions office how many freshman students don’t return for their second semester of their freshman year or for their sophomore year. Also, ask a junior or senior student what kept them coming back to campus during their later college years.
Students leave a college for plenty of reasons. They can’t afford it, they don’t believe college is right for them, or their college is failing them in key areas like academic support. A robust retention rate is a sign that the college knows what’s it’s doing and will keep your son or daughter engaged for four years.
That’s not always easy. According to U.S. News & World Report, one-third of freshman students don’t return to the same college the next academic year.
You’ll want to know your college’s freshman “leave” rate and an admission’s staffer should have one for you while you’re on campus.
The college might report their retention rate, which is the percentage of first-time, full-time freshmen who return for their sophomore year. Subtract the retention rate from 100% to determine what percentage of freshmen leave by the sophomore year. The top 100 national universities have a retention rate of 89% or more and the top 100 liberal arts colleges have a retention rate of 84% or more.
Are there good work-study opportunities on campus?
Any incoming college student will appreciate a few extra bucks every week and a part-time work-study job can fit the bill.
Consequently, asking early about work-study job opportunities can put you at the front of the line for quality part-time work at a decent per-hour salary (at least for an 18-year old college student). A tour guide or student employment office staffer should point you in the right direction.
Make sure you’ve filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) first and ask if the college can place your student in a work-study job in his or her field of study.
Are there ongoing career consulting opportunities on campus?
Yes, graduation is more than four years away (more if your child moves on to graduate school) but it’s never too early to find out the quality of a given college’s career services program.
Parents and students who want that information should focus on several metrics of the college’s job placement performance:
- The track record of a school’s professional job placement office
- The track record of the college’s job placement efforts in the student’s major/vocation
- The availability of career fairs on campus
Also consider the ability to connect with alumni through local and regional professional organizations, which can lead directly to good job opportunities for graduates.
Since the ultimate goal of any campus visit is to choose a college that will train your child for a professional career with a good job right out of school, all of the above should be on your list of career questions on campus tour day.
Does the college have a favorable bias toward early admissions candidates?
Most colleges and universities offer at least two forms of admissions acceptance: early admissions and regular admissions.
Each has its advantages and disadvantages and parents who understand how a particular college prefers to accept students for admissions has some leverage other parents don’t.
For instance, if the word from an admissions college administrator, or even from “in the know” current students, says that their college likes to lock in early admissions candidates and is less enamored of regular admissions candidates, applying early might improve the raw odds of being accepted.
But, be sure you understand the difference between early decision and early action applications. With an early decision application, the student commits to enroll if admitted early. An early decision application is binding, while an early action application is not.
Consequently, asking about the percentage of incoming freshman who were accepted as early admission or regular admission candidates can tilt the admissions odds in your favor.
That alone makes it a question worth asking.
What level of student support should we expect on campus?
Different colleges have different levels of support for students, and you’ll want to know where your son or daughter stand if they need support on a wide range of student academic and life issues.
How will my child work with an academic advisor? Who can steer my student into a good “study abroad” program?” What is my child gets sick or suffers from a stress or anxiety issue at your college? Who can we turn to and what services do you offer students for general academic and life issues at your college or university?
Those questions and more deserve an answer if you’re going to spend potentially tens of thousands of dollars annually to place your child at a specific college.
A candid discussion with an admissions representative can get you the information on student services that you need.
A final bit of advice for anxious parents of college-bound students:
Don’t ask all the questions.
Give your student the space they need to ask questions of importance to them. At the end of the campus tour, get lost, so your child can ask a few questions without you breathing over their shoulder.