Dos & Don’ts of Asking Questions During a College Information Session

The college application process can be stressful, but visiting college campuses for informational sessions can actually be pretty fun—plus, it’s super informative! Thanks to an array of awesome online resources for students who are applying to college, you can learn a lot about the schools you’re interested in without even venturing outside. However, college visits offer you the opportunity to assess your fit, get a better feel for the campus environment and culture, and ask questions.

Michelle McAnaney, founder of The College Spy, believes campus visits are an important aspect of the college selection process because they allow students to find out whether they feel comfortable on campus.

“When students visit a best-fit college, they often have a sense of ‘just knowing’ it is the right school. When visiting a college that doesn’t feel quite right, identifying what you like and do not like about the college is also an important part of the college selection process,” McAnaney tells Her Campus. “This information can help you decide which college to visit next.”

Though you might just get a feeling that a school is right or not right for you, it’s also important to ask questions to decide whether or not the college is a fit. You might have a few questions in mind that you’d like to ask, but maybe you’re also worried that you’ll ask something that you shouldn’t. Don’t worry—we’ll help you out by outlining what questions to avoid during your campus visit.

DO prepare in advance

Before visiting a campus, Rachel Blankstein, a co-founder of Spark Admissions, suggests doing as much online research as possible because a lot of the information you’ll need to make your decision about a school is available online.

“What I tend to find is that there are two aspects that are really important with getting to know a school. One is what do they actually offer: what majors do they have? What courses do they have? What clubs do they have? What is the social environment like? A lot of that stuff is factual and you can find out about it on the web,” Blankstein says. “But what I really find from visits is that students just have a gut reaction.”

Looking at the information available online will help you narrow down your lists of schools and decide which ones to visit. It will also help you get a better sense of what questions to ask and what information is already available to you online. You shouldn’t worry about asking a “stupid” question, but preparing in advance will help you feel more confident about what you’re asking.

“[Before a campus visit] students should do as much research as possible on the website. They should look at what they think they might want to major in. They should look at the clubs page that the school has. They should find out if there’s a Greek System and how they feel about that,” Blankstein says. “A lot of people care tremendously about how you get to this school, meaning how far it is away from an airport or a train station or what the town actually looks like, if there are coffee shops you can walk to and things of that nature.”

McAnaney suggests writing questions after gathering information from the school’s website, social media, guidebooks and student reviews.

“Students should prepare their questions in advance and write them down so that they have the greatest chance of being understood,” McAnaney tells HC. “Some admissions counselors and tour guides do not waver far from their prepared script due to time constraints or their presentation style. If a student feels he or she was misunderstood, it is best to ask to meet with an admissions counselor after the tour, send a follow-up email or make a follow-up call."

Related: 6 Sneaky Ways to Find Out What Students At A College Are Really Like

DO relax a little

Worried that the questions you ask during an information session will affect your admissions decision? Don’t be, Blankstein says.

“During an informational session, some students feel like they’re being evaluated but you’re really not being watched or graded at this point,” Blankstein says. “On the other hand, when you do meet with somebody one-on-one, even if it’s informal, it’s still kind of an evaluation.”

Makena Gera, a sophomore at Marist College, believes it’s important to remember that the admissions staff is there to answer your questions.

“No question is a stupid question,” Makena says. “Admissions counselors are there to help you understand everything there is to know about the school, so no question is too small or unimportant.”

That being said, there are still some questions that aren’t ideal questions to ask at a large information session.

DON'T ask about the party scene

Makena advises against asking about campus nightlife during an informational session. It’s not exactly the most appropriate setting, and the person leading the information session likely won’t give you a complete or honest answer anyway. Though this might not be the best time to ask about the party scene, it’s a completely reasonable question to have, whether you’re trying to avoid a school with a wild party environment or if you’re looking for a thriving social scene.

“Most likely, the person running the session won't give you the whole truth about what parties are like on campus,” Makena says. “If you really want to know, the best way to do it is to pull aside a student tour guide/ambassador and ask them privately. They're more likely to tell you the truth.”

To learn more about the school’s nightlife, check out online forums and other online resources.

This same advice can apply to other questions that you might not ask during an informational session, whether it’s because you’re looking for a less scripted answer, or the question is personal and you don’t feel comfortable asking it in front of a large group.

“One of the best ways to determine if the school is a good fit is to talk to students who aren’t giving an official tour,” McAnaney says. “I recommend eating in the dining hall and trying to strike up a conversation.”

Additionally, McAnaney recommends overnight visits for gaining a better understanding of the campus environment.

DON'T get too specific 

Though you might really want to know whether or not there are any seats left in the gender studies course you want to take or how likely it is that you’ll get a job at the campus coffee shop, asking super specific questions that are relevant only to you might be distracting to admissions staff and other people visiting campus. Not only does that take time away from the presentation, but the person you ask likely won’t know the answer to questions like this, Blankstein says.

This doesn’t mean that you should be overly worried about what other people think of the questions you ask—but also remember that a large informational session isn’t your personal session, and there are other opportunities to ask those more specific questions.

Allie Bausinger, a student at Pennsylvania State University, is a tour guide on campus and thinks super personal questions can throw off a tour.

“Something I always hated when people asked was something super personal, like if a mom would stand up and be like, ‘My daughter likes it to be cold all the time. Can we do something about that?’” Allie says. “If they didn’t phrase it specifically, it would be better.”

Blankstein notes that asking specific or personal questions isn’t necessarily a complete no-no, but they’re just not really worth asking in this setting. Remember, some questions are better suited for a one-on-one meeting or an email to the person who oversees what you’re asking about.

DO ask open-ended questions

It’s not that asking vague questions is bad, but you’re less likely to get the information you’re looking for this way.

Audrey Lent, a student at Cal Poly SLO, suggests avoiding asking questions like: “What’s it like at this school?” Instead, she recommends asking: “How would you describe the campus culture?”

Blankstein says students might also want to know how they get their classes. If you’re wondering about this, ask exactly how the course registration process works, rather than asking something like, “Will I be able to take the classes I want?”

“You could say, ‘How does the lottery system work for classes, and how likely is it that you’ll get classes that you want when you’re a freshman or sophomore? Exactly how does that process work?'” Blankstein suggests.

With open-ended questions, you’ll get more detailed information.

DON'T ask about admissions chances 

We know, we know—it’s the one piece of information you feel that you just need to know. But McAnaney warns that college visits are for learning about the college and not your chances of getting accepted.

“Use the time on campus to learn about the college and decide whether you would like to apply there," McAnaney says. "Average test scores and GPAs of accepted students can be found online.”

Geneve Lau, a sophomore at Boston University, points out that an admissions representative isn’t going to be able to tell you your admissions chances anyways. She also advises against asking personal details related to financial aid.

“Definitely don’t ask what a person gets personally for financial aid, or how much financial aid you’re expected to get, because that’s sensitive and private information for the tour guide and student, and also there’s just no way for a person to be able to tell you a straight answer,” Geneve says.

...But DO ask questions

With all this in mind, it doesn’t mean you should be afraid to ask questions. At the end of the day, you should have all the information you need to choose a school that’s right for you—not anyone else. A general rule of thumb is to use college informational sessions to get a better feel for the university, then use other visits and methods of reaching out to get answers to some of your more specific and personal questions. Good luck!