Your campus visits aren’t just about academics and social offerings. A campus tour and visit can also be your chance to see what "home" could be like at your potential school. For many of us, home means security, safety, familiarity, and belonging. Your new digs should offer some of the same amenities, since they could be home base for the next four years.
Familiarity and a sense of belonging come with time, but you should be able to tell by looking around during a college visit if the campus seems safe and secure. What do you see during your campus visit? Are the buildings and grounds well maintained, or is there paint peeling and trash cans overflowing? If the campus seems well-organized and well-maintained, it's probably treated with care and respect, just as you will be if you're a student there. A neglected and run-down campus...well, you can take it from there.
Use your campus visit to check out security
Dorms are often a big focus for safety and security programs on campus. Exterior doors and internal access to rooms and hallways should have some form of security, including doors that lock at night—or all the time. During a campus tour, ask your guide about safety precautions in the dorms. It's not unusual for dorms to provide security whistles or for campus organizations to provide escorts for students returning to their dorms after dark. Make note of where the dorms are in relation to other campus buildings, and ask about the lighting at night. Find out what keys are issued and who has access to the dorms. These are important concerns. There are lots of people going in and out of dorms and the last thing you want is an uninvited visitor in your room!
While on the subject of dormitory safety, also ask about overall campus safety. Your tour guide probably won't be disclosing all the crime statistics from the past year, but that's OK. You can find that information in past issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education, which issues a yearly report on campus crime. But you can use your campus tour to find out if the college has its own security or police force and if so, what sorts of measures they take to help keep students safe from harm. Hopefully, your guide can give you the answers you need. If not, you can always contact the campus police yourself and ask them a few questions. Either way, you might consider asking about the following:
- Do campus shuttle buses run at frequent intervals all night?
- Are "blue-light" telephones liberally placed throughout the campus for you to use to call for help?
- Do the campus police patrol campus regularly?
Your college visit should also include the health center
On a campus tour, the student health center is often just a brief stop. That is unfortunate because some campuses have great facilities with active programming to promote student health and safety. If you don't get to see the inside of the building, find out all you can from your tour guide. When you head off to college, you'll be in charge of managing your own health, so knowing what sort of options are available is important. (There won't be any of mom's homemade chicken soup in the dorm cafeteria!) You never know when you might be in dire straits and badly in need of a doctor. So use your campus visits to inquire about the following:
- How far is the health center from the dorms?
- Is a doctor always on call?
- Will the campus transport you when you're sick, or will you have to walk?
- What are the operating hours of the health center?
- Will the health center refer you to a nearby hospital?
You should also find out about costs and whether or not you need to have health insurance coverage to use the campus health facilities. (Some colleges offer insurance for full-time students.) If your campus tour guide can't answer your questions, visit or call the health center later to find out what you need to know.