When I went back to grad school, I always noticed the groups of prospective students trekking through campus.
No matter how engaging the tour guide was, the families (and they did bring every member of their immediate and extended families) always looked a little glassed over — stunned by possibility, perhaps. Or the tuition rates.
I wish I’d jumped in and asked a few questions on their behalf:
“Hey tour guide, how are you planning to deal with your crippling, ever-growing pile of debt?”
“Hey tour guide, how many months before graduation are you going to start your job search, out of sheer anxiety?”
OK, maybe I’m not the best spokesperson for any institution of higher education. But I realized, so painfully, that I joined so many of those awkward tours when I visited colleges.
To help make the process a little less painful, I asked four college tour guides what questions they wish prospective students would ask.
After all, if you’re going to spend $10,000 or more for each year of your college education, it’s in your best interest to make sure you invest in an experience you’ll love.
If you’re planning to tour schools in the near future, pay attention.
The Most Important Questions to Ask on a College Tour
The tour guides I spoke with agreed on one thing: The only real mistake you can make on a college tour is NOT asking questions.
“We typically find that parents are asking the majority of the questions while students kind of just observe,” Kasey Braden, an elementary education senior at Florida State University, said. But it’s going to be the student’s four-year experience, not their parent’s.
Nervous about asking questions?
That’s what Braden is there for. She works as a greeter: she doesn’t lead tours, but accompanies them to help answer questions.
“It’s sometimes hard to approach the head tour guide, so we hang out in the back to make sure every family, bold or shy, gets the attention that they need on tour,” she said.
You can also approach the tour guide as the group is breaking up afterward, said Christina Gentil, a 2015 graduate of Rollins College.
“We’re there for [the students],” she said. “They drove or flew to come take this tour, so we want them to take advantage of this resource.”
7 College Tour Questions These Guides Wish They Heard More
Choosing a college isn’t easy, but asking these questions can help you learn more about whether each school is a fit for you.
1. “Why did you choose to attend this university?”
Braden advised asking as many questions as you can about your academic interests.
“Make sure the school you want to go to offers your academic program,” she said. “College is going to be fun regardless of where you go, but some schools offer programs that others do not.”
2. “What are your professors like? Do you feel like they really care about you?”
Leyla Balimtas, a senior communications major, has given tours of the University of Maryland since she was a freshman. She says not enough students ask about academics.
“People get so caught up in the aesthetics of college — the look, how many students there are,” she said. “People don’t ask [about academic life], but I want to bring it up.”
It’s on the prospective student, she says, to look for a personal perspective on student-faculty relationships.
3. “What’s the quickest way to get a job on campus?”
Onyekachi Osuji, a senior communications major at the University of Tampa, said international students have been more likely to ask questions about how to get a job on campus — from which jobs to look for to the easiest way to apply.
“Always ask about finding jobs on and off campus,” she said. “We’re near downtown, so there are more opportunities nearby.”
4. “Are you happy here?”
Balimtas knows no good student tour guide will ever tell you they regret choosing their school. But seek anecdotes from your tour guide to get an idea of what life is really like on campus.
Stories about how your tour guide got acclimated to campus and made friends can indicate how comfortable you might be doing the same.
5. “What’s the food like on campus? What else is near campus?”
Every tour will show you a dining hall, but they might not automatically highlight what other dining options are available off campus.
“A lot of time, you’ll eat on campus, but eventually you’ll get cabin fever,” Gentil said. “Are there Zipcars? Uber? Stores within walking distance?”
If you don’t plan to have a car on campus, you’ll want to know your options.
6. “Is it possible to have a job and be a student?”
“A lot of parents [on tours] sometimes worry about time management with a whole new course load, but also figuring out a way to pay for school,” Braden said. “But I’ve found that having a job forces me to manage my time better, it’s made me more responsible.”
If you’re nervous about studying full time and working, your tour guide can offer reassurance — or a bit of tough love.
“I have had at least one job at a time all throughout college, if not two at a time. It’s worth it to make money and also gain more work experience,” Braden said.
7. “Are there internship connections?”
Gentil advised asking about the career services office or if there’s an alumni program available to help students get internships.
“Think about doing an internship even if it has nothing to do with what you want to do with your life,” she said. Internships can help you build basic connections and office experience, she explained.
Pro tip: If you start thinking about internships during your freshman year, you’ll have an edge as you move toward graduation.
Your Turn: What questions are you itching to ask on college tours? Which ones do you wish you’d asked?
Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at the Penny Hoarder. The only college tour she remembers is the one where her sister’s shoe fell apart halfway across campus.