College Tour Red Flags
College campus tours usually feature an upbeat, motivated college students decked out in spirit gear walking backwards on a manicured path through campus teeming with history, highlighting the best amenities the campus has to offer.
It’s what college wants you to see. But it might not be the full picture.
Many high schools students will get a gut feeling about if a campus is a good match, which David Hawkins suggests they pay attention to. Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy with the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said red flags vary from student to student, depending on individual's needs and expectations.
Assuming the student already has done research on aspects of the college including price and majors offered, the main goal of a campus tour is to get a feel if they will belong there.
“While students shouldn’t necessarily give in to a first impression, their gut feelings are often an important signal as to the college’s ‘fit’ for their needs,” Hawkins said. “What a student is responding to in a campus visit is essentially a response to the question, ‘Can I picture myself here for the next four years?’”
If a student has a particular interest — engineering, broadcast reporting, chemistry — a visit to the relevant campus facilities can say a lot about the quality of their programs, Hawkins said.
It’s also important to see the dorms and the cafeterias. Be advised that not all dorms and eating spaces at a school look alike. Some campuses designate “freshman” dorms, or put students with similar majors together. Ask about what dorms you might be placed in and visit those.
Another way to see an unvarnished view of campus is to meet up with a friend or someone from your high school who now attends the college. Their view of campus might offer a more realistic perspective of what a student’s day-to-day is like. They might be more forthcoming about some of the aspects of the campus and college they’re not fond of.
Hawkins also suggests students attend an event while they are on campus — an intramural game if they are interested in sports, or a play if they are interested in acting.
Finally, prospective students should stroll around campus and the surrounding city on their own to see what they discover. Many college students spend just as much time on campus as they do in the surrounding area, so exploring shops, restaurants and other amenities can help high school students get a good feel of the student body through what businesses they keep thriving.