Question asking is perhaps the single most important element of productive college campus visits. It helps visitors push past generic admissions spiels in favor of more relevant info and also requires us to evaluate our expectations of colleges. The questions we ask (and the answers we want) reveal our values, assumptions, misperceptions, and blind spots. They help us see where we are and where we’re trying to go.
A quick Google search will provide a plethora of “questions to ask on a college campus visit” lists. (See some of our favorite campus visit questions.) But even the best or most sincere questions can fall flat if not asked well. Here’s some general advice on how to successfully ask campus visit questions:
Turn negatives into positives.
Most tour guides and admissions officers studiously avoid badmouthing their institutions. A question such as, “What do you hate about this school?” will rarely yield a satisfying answer. Consider instead asking something like, “What areas for growth have been identified by the administration at this campus?” or “If you had $5 million to donate to this school tomorrow, where do you think it would do the most good?”
Keep it personal.
Asking guides and admissions folk to speak about their personal experience with a campus is an effective way to thwart the sales pitch. Instead of asking, “What are weekends like here?” try “What are your or your friends’ plans for this weekend?” Rather than asking about the percentage of transfer students, consider asking a guide about the transfer students they know and why those people left or enrolled. Even though you’ll have to extrapolate, getting personal gives you a real story to compare with the party line. Don’t get too personal, though–respect people’s boundaries!
Ask for examples.
We prefer open-ended questions, but typical campus visit questions often elicit a simple yes or no answer. Don’t stop there; ask guides or admissions reps to give examples in support of their response. If you ask, “Are professors approachable and helpful here?” and the guide says, “Yes,” follow up immediately with, “Great! What are some of the best interactions you’ve had with faculty while a student here?”
Smile and be respectful.
Corny as it may seem, the power of pleasantness can’t be overstated. No one wants to answer your questions if you are rude. Even just a simple smile goes a long way! Paying attention throughout a tour or info session, being respectful of other visitors, and not wasting anyone’s time with questions that could be answered by a web search or viewbook reading are all important behaviors to consider.
Campus visits are dynamic experiences mutually co-created by visitors and hosts. Do your part by asking pertinent, probing questions in order to both gain authentic knowledge about the college and demonstrate to admissions offices who you are and what matters to you. Good question asking will also uncover unique details that can add flavor and distinction to application essays when the time comes.