Taking a campus tour is kind of like taking a fancy dress or suit into a dressing room. You want to make sure it fits before you take it home (and especially before you throw down the dough for it).
We’ve got some tips for prospective students looking at colleges, what kind of notes they should write down in their handy-dandy notebook while they’re traipsing around campus and trying on the role of college coed.
1. Ask a random person (other than your tour guide) what he or she thinks of campus and write down the response. You may even want to talk to a few different people and write down what they have to say. Because campus tours are designed to entice students to go to the school, sometimes you won’t always get the “real” tour. So venture off the beaten path and talk to students at random. You’ll get honest, off-the-cuff answers. Think of yourself as a reporter, getting the scoop on whether this school is right for you or not.
2. Write down your impression of the food at the school. Gone are the days when mom and dad will whip up dinner for you. When you’re in college, you have to rely on the cafeteria fare. So become a food critic with each school you visit. Write down things you noticed about the dining halls, foods you like, and foods you don’t like. Then, with each school you visit, cross compare the dining hall entries, especially if you’re trying to narrow it down between two school selections that are neck and neck in your personal college rankings.
3. Put down the notebook for a second and take some photos with your cell phone. Spotted a particularly good study tree? Take a pic of it. Find a jar of urine in one of the party dorms? Snap a pic of that, too. If you can, also take videos. You want to make the most of your campus visit, and if you’re torn between a few schools across the country, you won’t necessarily be able to revisit them before making the big college decision. Photos and videos are a good way to virtually revisit them.
4. Grab some fliers around campus. Is there an ultimate Frisbee club you’d love to join? Grab a flier for it. You want to get a feel for each college you visit, so by grabbing the souvenirs of “likes,” you’re building an impression of the school.
5. If you can, write down how long it takes you to walk from certain buildings around campus. This information is especially helpful if you are always perpetually late for things—you’re going to want to go to a school where the buildings aren’t very far from each other! On the other hand, if you’re looking for a campus where you’ll never have to worry about the Freshman 15, walking a lot will be a perk.
6. Sitting in on a class? Become a “student.” Getting to sit in on a class is a really cool perk to a campus visit because it allows you to act the part of a college student. You get to be a fly on the wall. It’s also a good opportunity to take notice of what you like about the academic environment. Write down qualities about the professor, engagement of the students, and how big the class is. It’s especially helpful if you are in a class in your probable field of study. After class, ask the prof if he or she has any extra syllabi, too—this will give you an idea of what to expect in a standard class.
If you’re struggling to make up your mind when it comes to choosing between different schools, sometimes it’s good to take a few days and reflect on your campus visits. Having notes written down is a good way to look back on your time there and to figure out what you did and didn’t like.