Tips for get­ting the most out of your col­lege tour

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - COLLEGE BOUND - By Shan­non Reed Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post

Cross­ing the cam­pus at the univer­sity where I teach, I of­ten pass groups of bored—look­ing high school stu­dents tak­ing a tour with their over— in­ter­ested par­ents. My school has out­stand­ing stu­dent tour guides, but I find it un­nerv­ing that many of those vis­it­ing high school se­niors and ju­niors will choose a school based only on a care­fully de­signed tour of the cam­pus’ high points. Fig­ur­ing out if a col­lege is the right choice isn’t easy, so here are some sug­ges­tions for how to dig deeper than the guided tour, and get the most out of a visit.

Visit while classes are in ses­sion. For ma­jor univer­si­ties that of­fer ex­ten­sive sum­mer cour­ses, that’s a lot eas­ier, but you should try to do it even at smaller schools. Cam­puses feel en­tirely dif­fer­ent dur­ing reg­u­lar semesters, and you and your child should get a sense of what it’s like to travel around with hun­dreds of stu­dents hur­ry­ing by.

Make learn­ing about the food sit­u­a­tion on the cam­pus you’re tour­ing a must, es­pe­cially if the fresh­man-to-be fol­lows a re­stricted diet. If you can, ar­range to eat in the school’s main cafe­te­ria, pick up a copy of the menu if they of­fer one and ask the tour guide how the food is. Lack of choices and/ or poor qual­ity of food are the num­ber one com­plaint I’ve heard stu­dents make about their school.

Many tour guides take stu­dents through the cam­pus li­brary’s most pic­turesque ar­eas — all of those tow­er­ing win­dows and leather arm­chairs — but pay at­ten­tion to the rest of the fa­cil­ity. You can al­ways go back af­ter the tour for a more de­tailed view. Many stu­dents spend a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of their col­lege ca­reer in the li­brary, and some will be there ev­ery day. Is it wel­com­ing and func­tional?

Pay at­ten­tion to the fliers and posters posted around cam­pus; they will tell you quite a bit about the stu­dent so­cial life. If all you see are posters for free beer and your stu­dent is a book­worm, the school might not be a good match. Stop in front of the largest bill­board you can find, prob­a­bly at the stu­dent union. Does the mes­sage make your stu­dent—to— be ex­cited or in­tim­i­dated about this school?

Your tour should in­clude a stop at a typ­i­cal fresh­man dorm, but if it doesn’t, please ask for one. And make sure you’re see­ing a place where your child ac­tu­ally could be as­signed to live. Also ask the tour guide to show you a typ­i­cal dorm-room-to­class­room com­mute for a fresh­man. At my cur­rent school, many fresh­men are housed at the top of a gi­ant hill, and it takes them a few weeks to get used to the phys­i­cal ex­er­tion re­quired to get to and from class.

It’s taken me a while to get around to the classes, but that’s de­lib­er­ate. I’ve found that no mat­ter how much stu­dents like their classes, if they don’t like the so­cial life on cam­pus, they won’t be happy. But classes also fac­tor heav­ily into a col­lege choice. Un­for­tu­nately, many Amer­i­can teenagers think classes in col­lege will be just like those in high school, but that’s rarely the case, so ask the ad­mis­sions of­fice if you can sit in on the type of class your child will take as a fresh­man. And if they won’t or can’t sched­ule that for you, pop your head into a class, or stand dis­creetly out­side and lis­ten for a few min­utes. You can’t judge a school based on a sin­gle class meet­ing, but it will get your child think­ing about what’s ahead.

I also rec­om­mend stop­ping peo­ple on cam­pus to ask ques­tions. I’m al­ways happy to an­swer a ques­tion from some­one who iden­ti­fies them­selves as the par­ent of a teenager con­sid­er­ing my school. Just say, “We’re try­ing to get a feel for the cam­pus and fig­ure out if it’s right for my kid. What do you think this school of­fers?” If you have doubts about some­thing you saw on the tour, ask about that: “What’s it like to live in a suite with six other peo­ple?” Gen­er­ally, peo­ple who aren’t late for class will be happy to an­swer your ques­tions … and if they’re not, well, you just learned some­thing about this cam­pus cul­ture.

If all of this seems over­whelm­ing, you’re right: It is. You can’t find out ev­ery­thing about a school on a sin­gle tour, and that’s why it’s great to have web­sites and email ad­dresses to find out more. To make the best of the short time you have on cam­pus, my fi­nal tip is to dis­cuss what you most want to find out about each school with your teenager.

[THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Your tour should in­clude a stop at a typ­i­cal fresh­man dorm, but if it doesn’t, please ask for one.

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