Making the most of a campus tour

Spring Break is coming soon, and it's a popular time for high school students to go on college campus visits. There's already tons and tons of advice out there for college visits, and I don't need to reinvent the wheel nor belabor the point. 

Here is the College Board's guide to campus visits; here are 10 tips from U.S. News; here's what the Princeton Review says about visits.

However, I do have a few more suggestions I want to add.

My main piece of advice for college campus visits, whether it's a multi-day event or a one-hour walkthrough, is to remember to be an active investigator while you're there. Unless it's just an early practice tour, you're not there to just be led around. Ok, you're literally there to be led around, but not in the big picture. You should go to a campus tour with your mission statement, and you should be doing your best to see how the details of the school match your mission. Be an active listener, an active visitor.

If being in a friendly atmosphere is important to you, then be on the look-out for friendliness. Of course your tour guide is going to be friendly; that's their job. But watch the interactions between people on campus that aren't part of the tour. It's not really possible to know who on campus is a professor, who is an administrator, who is a visitor. But when you see people who look like they're employees of the school and people who appear to be students, pay attention to how often they acknowledge each other, how often they smile or greet each other, how often you hear someone call someone else by name. You may or may not sit in on a class, but you can still see what student-faculty interactions are like if you're looking for it.

You should ask questions on your visit. You should ask questions that specifically relate to your mission statement, and other more general questions to help you get a feel for the school. The New York Times has this list of 10 questions to ask (or not ask). U.S. News provides 36 questions to consider asking. If you like over-doing it, The Princeton Review has 60 questions. These are all good, but if you're concerned that you're just getting pre-written, practiced answers drafted by the marketing department, then you need to ask an unexpected and open-ended question. You're not trying to quiz the tour guide on some minor detail, you're trying to get a good sense of an unfamiliar place in a hurry. My mother is a journalist, and I learned a great trick from her. Once she was interviewing the school superintendent in her home office, and I heard bits of pieces. After things seemed to be wrapping up, she asked "so what is it you want to tell me that you're probably not supposed to tell me?" Then they talked another half hour! You're probably not going to get much from your guide by asking "what are you not supposed to tell me?" but there are other ways to put it. "When you talk to friends back home about school, how do you describe it differently than what you say for a tour?" "Which parts of your school's reputation do you think are the least accurate?" "What's the largest building on campus that isn't part of the tour?" Give your guide an open-ended chance to say things they haven't said a hundred times, and it may be useful.

Or at least it may be interesting. 

Thank you for reading! Please share this post with people you know. If you questions, suggestions, or comments, I'd love to hear them. It's easy to follow Apply with Sanity on Facebook and Twitter. I'm taking next week off for Spring Break, but regular posts will return on March 19th, when I'll add another entry into the Glossary.