Five Great Questions to Ask on a College Tour

Your College Tour Guide Is Usually a Student with First-Hand Insights

When you visit a college, be sure to ask the right questions when you take a campus tour.

When I was a prospective student, college tours were a blur of exhilaration mixed with the mortification that came from having the world’s most eager parents (mine) right up front asking questions. They’d walk at the head of the column with the tour guide, picking that poor student’s brain vigorously, and I would hang in the middle of the pack, quietly looking at my feet.

Then I went to college and became a tour guide myself, and now I’m here to tell you: there is nothing more wonderful for a tour guide to have on tour than a curious person, especially a curious student. It’s flattering to have someone who’s engaged in the information and asking thoughtful questions, and it’s even better if they’re a prospective student--that is, one of the people the tour guide is desperately trying to reach.

So next time, venture a question so that your parents won’t. Cat got your tongue? Here are ten questions that can generate some great conversation on tour. Go forth and ask your tour guides!

01
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Ask them why they chose their school.

college campus tour
Mark Daffey/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Campus tour guides didn’t get their positions by feeling lukewarm about their college experience, so now’s your chance to find out why they were and still are excited about the school. Why did they decide to enroll in the first place? Would they change that answer now that they’ve got the insider’s perspective?

Especially as you get closer to having to make a college decision yourself, it’s really helpful to hear about different motivating factors other people had in making their college choices; finding out if they would change their answer now, as a current student, can also be a really useful window onto the school’s culture. Did your tour guide come for the film program and stay for the college community? Were they excited by the academic atmosphere and now realize that the location is also a huge plus? How do your priorities in college choices compare with those of your tour guide?
02
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Ask them about their college community.

You can probably guess something about what the general college community is like from the population of the school, the size of the campus, the location, and the personal interactions you observe while walking around (larger populations, larger campuses, and more urban populations on the whole tend to breed less personal campus communities). Your tour is your chance to confirm or refute your generalizations, and to think about what kind of community you’re looking for in a college. Small and close-knit? Bigger, with the constant possibility of meeting new people?

When you ask your tour guide what the college community is like, keep in mind that the answer that he or she gives will be based on the experience of his or her college community. Campuses usually have many different avenues for building friendship groups--clubs, academic majors, residence halls, work-study jobs, for example--and more than likely, your tour guide will have used a few of those avenues to develop his or her social circle and will speak happily about them. But don’t take that personal answer as the single way to have a happy out-of-class life at the campus you’re visiting.
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Ask them what they do for fun.

Usually tour guides will try to present you with a wide variety of leisure-time activities available on campus when you ask this question, so it’s a good way to scope out the possibilities. Be careful, though: the tour guide’s answer will be dependent on their own knowledge of campus and most likely will be tailored to the fact that the tour includes parents. It’s a good idea to supplement whatever answer you get from your tour guide about the social scene by reading public bulletin boards around campus and talking to other students while you’re still on campus. You can also look on the college’s website for links to student organization websites, college social media accounts, and student blogs (many admissions offices ask students to blog for them) to get a broader sense of what students do to relax. If you’re still not satisfied, doing an overnight visit with a current student is the perfect window onto campus culture. Here's what to expect if you stay overnight.

Note: if you do want to ask your tour guide what they know about a specific group or team on campus that you’re interested in, do it--but not in the context of the tour, especially if it’s a big one. Guides are under pressure to give a good deal of information in a strict (usually one hour) time-frame and to include everyone on the tour while doing it. Wait for a lull in the tour or until after it’s over to ask all those you-specific questions.

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Ask them what living on campus is like for a freshman.

Most campus tours include a visit to a dorm room, which is a great time to ask questions about the ins and outs of the college’s housing system. Where you live and with whom you live can be extraordinarily influential in your initial adjustment to college life. It matters if freshman students have separate dorms or if they live down the hall from upperclassmen, so especially if you’re an admitted student looking to make a decision about the next four years of your life, the housing situation can be an important factor to consider. You’ll want to know if you’ll have a roommate and how you’ll be matched; you’ll want to know where the freshman housing is on campus, if the college has freshman housing; and you’ll want to know what the leadership and support structures are of the residential halls. 

If you’re strongly considering the college or are an admitted student, it can be very helpful to ask your tour guide about the nuts and bolts of moving in for the first time. What was orientation like for him or her? Did it actually orient new students successfully? What did he or she forget to bring that turned out to be important?
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Ask them about their relationships towards professors and classmates.

Academic culture will be a major factor in your college experience; it encompasses what kinds of connections you’ll make with professors and what sorts of interactions you’ll have with your fellow students in the classroom, as well as what expectations the college has of you as a student (some schools have serious academic honor codes to demonstrate the college’s emphasis on academic honesty--and in return will allow you to take un-proctored exams or bring home assignments to be completed in good faith).

You’ll want to find out, for example, if professors tend to make themselves available for undergraduate students with concerns about their class or an interest beyond the lecture material, or if you’ll be taking your questions to teaching assistants. It’s also useful to know how students regard each other in class. Are they more competitive or more collaborative with each other? Do students engage well in class discussions and group projects, or is independent learning more frequent? The answers to these questions often change from department to department and from student to student, so you may want some additional information about the atmosphere in your field(s) of interest. Your tour guide can provide you with a general overview of the academic culture of the school; to find out more specifics, it’s best to talk with professors and visit a class.

More Guidance on Choosing a College: