This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow.
Now that my daughter is in college, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about what families should look for while on a college tour.
Check Out the Dorms
Make sure you look carefully at the furniture, the bathrooms and the lighting in the dorms. See if there is air conditioning. We didn’t get to visit the dorms because of Covid, so it was quite a surprise to see the condition of the dorms on move-in day.
There was dim lighting because one of the two bulbs was out, and there were multiple layers of dirt and dust on everything in the room. Broken furniture just added to our disappointment. The more you know before you arrive, the better prepared you will be to deal with things.
Sample the Food
Make sure to try the cafeteria food on a tour – and not just the Starbucks and other well-known restaurants, but the food your student will eat every day. Pay attention to the hours of operation. Are the good places open on the weekends? My daughter’s weren’t, so there were limited options on weekends. My daughter often had to go off campus on weekends in search of better choices.
If you’re visiting a campus over winter break, ask what, if any, food options are available for students during breaks. No one mentioned that the school cafeteria closed for three weeks during winter break, even though winter sports athletes are required to be on campus. For more than three weeks, my daughter (a school athlete) ate bagged breakfasts and frozen pizza or tacos, which isn’t the best meal regimen for athletes.
Also, ask how hours of operation coincide with practices and games. If the program isn’t feeding you, will there be any options that are open late?
Get to Know the Area
It’s important to know who to call (and who should be making the call) with an issue. We emailed the Dean of Students twice about the lack of heat in my daughter’s dorm. She made it clear she wanted to hear from our child, not us. Since we’re paying the bill, the school heard from us.
It’s also vital to look around at the surrounding community, because your child will want to go off campus and explore it. Some things to look for/do:
- Check crime maps. Follow the local police department and news stations for up-to-date information.
- Search Yelp or Google for your child’s favorite stores and restaurants.
- Find the nearest grocery or drug store. No matter how much you leave them with, your child will eventually need to visit these stores for snacks, laundry detergent, and medicine.
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