As a tour guide myself, I know that a campus tour can be the pre-college equivalent of an appearance on a stressful game show: you’re trying to listen to your host, take everything in, pray your parents don’t embarrass you, look cool, sound smart, and ultimately make a very important decision…all in an hour or so. There are (at least) three thousand questions running through your mind, half of which you’ll inevitably forget during the first thirty seconds of the information session, and you only have a small window of opportunity to pick the most important ones to ask the peppy tour guide. So here’s your cheat sheet—the best (and worst) questions to ask on your next college visit.
SKIP THEM—The worst questions to ask:
- When was the university founded? (And anything else you can easily Google or find in the college brochure.)
Your tour guide is many things—a cute older guy, a well-dressed art history major, the student body president, a stressed-out pre-med student on the verge of a nervous breakdown—but an encyclopedia is not one of them. Don’t ask basic questions about the school, like the size of the campus in square miles, that aren’t particularly relevant and take a two-minute Google search to answer. Chances are also good that your burning question about the number of students who live on campus or the middle 50% ACT range will be answered in the information session either directly before or after the campus tour. So not only will you bore your fellow prospective students by asking the name of the fifth University President, but you’ll also waste your big moment asking about a fact or figure you could have looked up on your own or waited 30 minutes to have answered by an admissions counselor.
- What were your SAT scores and high school GPA?
As tempting as it is to get the dirt on the student showing you around campus, asking personal information about his or her own college application is inappropriate, not to mention usually prohibited by the school (as in, tour guides are not allowed to answer these questions). Even assuming the person remembers how they did on critical reading (which, to be honest, is unlikely), measuring yourself against other people is dangerous. Because an application is about more than just scores and stats, two people with the same profile on paper might get different sized envelopes come acceptance day. Same goes for questions about financial aid: it’s done on a case-by-case basis and no one wants to divulge their annual family income. Save your tour guide the awkwardness (and yourself the false hope or unwarranted stress) and leave the SATs where they belong: in a classroom on a Saturday morning, and then in the distant past for the rest of your life.
- Does your school have a javelin club? (And other super-specific, unnecessary questions.)
Okay, so if you’re an Olympic javelin thrower you MIGHT care if there’s a club for other like-minded stick hurlers, but be wary of asking ultra-specific, relatively unimportant questions about clubs, activities, and campus facilities. Does it really matter exactly how many a cappella groups the school boasts? Will the hours of the gym really make or break your college decision? Super-specific questions only waste time—if the tour guide even knows the answer—and distract you from the more important general impression of the school. If you’re really dying to know what’s on the dining hall’s gluten-free menu (or another equally specific random tidbit), check the school’s website or call the appropriate department.
- How would you describe the typical student here?
This is a common question with good intentions, but one that is essentially impossible to answer. College campuses house thousands of students with millions of different interests, goals, and personalities. The tour guide is sure to answer with something generic and impressive-sounding like, “I’d say the average student is ambitious and intellectually curious” or “socially conscious and politically aware.” Instead of asking the question, look around, try to talk to current students, and get a sense of the student body in a way that’s more authentic than the inevitably minimalist (or plain BS) sound-bite on the tour.
The questions to skip are the ones that are either too general or too specific. You don’t get a sense of a school if you’re thinking too broadly or too narrowly—who cares if the average student is “curious” or if there are four different all-female karate clubs.