If you have been looking up information about college visits, you’ve probably heard the advice to allow for plenty of time for each visit. There is a portion of your visit that will be scheduled. You’ll talk to admissions people and tour the campus. You’ll speak with student ambassadors for the school, who might lead your tours. Sometimes you’ll have a meal in the cafeteria and sit in on a class. All of these activities provide you with some really good information. One thing to consider about all this information is that the goal of a college tour is to attract new students. In other words, you are going to receive the official presentation that the school has prepared for you. While all of that information can be useful, it can leave you lacking a clear idea of what it is really like to live on campus and study at the school.

The best way to find out what the college is really like is to wander around the campus and talk to a variety of students, if you can. The more students you talk to, the clearer your perspective on the school will be. Walk the campus. If you haven’t yet, eat a meal in the cafeteria. Most colleges have some sort of commons area where students can gather, perhaps grab a snack and a cup of coffee. This is a great place to get some coffee and strike up a conversation with some students. Remember, by this time you’ve heard a lot about the academics and general information about the school itself. Here are some ideas of questions to ask:

What is your favorite thing about this school? Your least favorite?

This question can help you understand the culture of the school and the campus. It can also help you discover annoying or inconvenient things about campus life at the school before you start there.

What clubs or student organizations do you belong to?

This question has a dual purpose. First, you can determine which student organizations and clubs are popular. Second you can gauge how involved students are with their school. If you ask this question to several students and most say “I don’t belong to any clubs or student organizations,” or, on the other hand, if you discover that most of the students you talk to participate in some sort of extra-curricular activity, then you know a little more about the culture of the school and the involvement of the students.

What is around off-campus for students to do? Where do you go for fun?

Let’s face it. College is not just about learning. There is a huge social aspect that is also important. It’s good to know what students say about nearby restaurants, clubs, and other places to go socialize.

Asking questions such as these can give you some insight into the college that you are simply not going to gain from an official tour, which can include safety and health. After you’ve talked to several students, the next thing you should do is take a look around the area in which the campus sits. You’ll get an idea of what kinds of places (restaurants, grocery stores, clubs, other shopping) that exist around the area. Remember, you’ll be living here for four years. It’s great to know the lay of the land.

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