A recent discussion in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Community focused on what parents noticed on college tours that influenced their student’s college selection.
Their honest input inspired us to create this list of things to watch for while traversing a campus. Share it with your student so the information is top of mind for each tour. Traveling with family? Discuss the main points with everyone ahead of time–the more eyes the better!
1. The Housing Situation
Is there enough space for your incoming freshman student? After touring, not all parents were convinced that the schools could accommodate everyone.
Debbie H. said her biggest college tour turnoff was seeing a shuttle bus with the name of the school outside their hotel in the morning. Why? It turns out that it was used to transport new students to campus because there wasn’t sufficient dorm space for them. “It was not that close to the school or much of anything. We asked the tour guide whether or not freshmen were staying at that hotel. Apparently, they had a housing issue this past year, and about 100 freshmen were stuck at this hotel.”
When touring schools, Julie T. started to see a pattern: finding housing for all four years could be difficult. She had this to say about one school in particular: “I realized that only freshmen had housing nearby, Sophomores were about one mile off campus, and Juniors and Seniors were pretty much on their own to find rental apartments or houses.”
2. The Maintenance of the Campus
College tours are known for sharing the best parts of the campus with parents, with the goal of impressing them. Even so, many parents in the group shared experiences of lackluster facilities.
“We recently visited a state school in New York that had a few majors my daughter was interested in,” said Wendy M. “The campus was run down and lacked a central hub. The landscaping was terrible, and our tour guide ran us through the tour. The surrounding town also seemed to be a depressed area. She took it off her list.”
Jenny S. shared her own story. “A college looked great online, but as soon as we drove up, it was a ‘nope.’ It was rundown, with weeds everywhere. I wanted to pull out my weed whacker.”
It’s also wise to consider how beautiful campuses may not be what they seem, as Sherry S. explained: “Too much green space. She got eaten up by mosquitoes on the tour. It was a gorgeous quad, though.”
3. Things to Do in the Nearby Community
One common concern of parents is that their students can create routine within the community – even off campus. Checking out the surrounding businesses, social spots, and culture can help determine a good fit for the day-to-day activities students enjoy when not in class..
Anne H. said, “It felt like the school had been dropped in a suburban neighborhood. It was very residential. There were no businesses besides a very limited Starbucks and a sports bar that closed the week after we left. There were things to do nearby, but you had to drive to get to them, and it was clear that’s what everyone did.”
4. If Students and Employees Seem Happy
While college tours don’t always give you the full picture of whether students are thriving, some parents have used the experience to gain insight into how well students and staff are doing.
“Kids looked stressed and lonely, not walking with each other around campus,” said Stephanie M.
“People were not friendly,” said Jenny S. “We drove hours there, and the employees showed up late for the tour.”
Cindy S. said, “We have only visited a couple, but one moved way down on the list because it was too lacking in diversity.”
5. Whether the College Takes Your Visit Seriously
While the best way to get an intimate view of a college is with a private tour (not one shared with 100 other parents), sometimes, a tour team’s seeming lack of interest and thoughtfulness has been a turnoff for parents.
“The fact that the tour guides couldn’t answer certain questions and couldn’t even tell my daughter where to go to get answers made her feel like a number and that she would have zero help and support if she needed it,” said Jenny O.
Jenny S. described a time “when someone would ask a question and the guide couldn’t answer it. Then, I would answer it because I researched the school.”
“The campus tour guide chose a walking route that was inaccessible to a disabled parent,” said Deborah L.
Suzanne H. said, “Our tour guide at a dream Bay Area school walked us around in the direct sun for 1.5 hours in 102-degree heat and would not allow us access to water or bathrooms.”
6. The Quality and Convenience of Dining Options
Accepted Student Day events may not show you the “real” cafeteria experience and may even bring in catered food to wow families. By showing up on a regular school day, you can get a better idea of how the meals stack up to student expectations. Consider variety, nutrition, availability, and location on campus.
“Food choices and availability seem to be the biggest deal breaker at this point. We toured a campus that had many good food options, but all were in the student union. Nowhere else on campus had food,” said Julie T.
Spot the Good Signs!
While many of the comments shared were about using the tours to spot warning signs, others focused on how they were able to confirm a great fit.
Maya E. explained, “We’ve visited a number of schools that each had different amenities that we liked and made the school more attractive.”
Perks that students (and parents) loved included apartment-style dorms, cat and dog therapy, a Starbucks every few hundred yards, a pharmacy, and state-of-the-art wellness facilities. Sometimes, it takes seeing a school in person to learn what there is to love about a campus.
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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