5 main factors to record on a campus visit

By Adela Penagos, PhD, Presidenta

I have spent the past month visiting various college campuses across the nation.  It has been a great experience because, as someone who has been educated in the liberal arts tradition, I love learning for the sake of learning.  My campus tours have provided me with the opportunity to learn about the students who might be a good fit for a certain college or university, the academics, the campus community (or lack thereof), the kind of students they have, and the faculty.   

There are many factors that are important in the college selection process.  Throughout the year, I will be focusing on many of them on my blogs.  However, today, I am choosing to concentrate on those items that can make or break whether your new environment becomes your home away from home.

Remember that you are about to embark on a journey that ideally will be transformational in many ways.  You want to become more articulate, a critical thinker, and take advantage of all the opportunities available.  Hence, it is important that you can see yourself studying, sleeping, working out, and engaging in the campus you are considering.  To accomplish this goal pay attention to the following:

1.    The dorms:

Make sure that you tour them.  Take a look at the rooms as they come in different sizes, with various floor plans, and different furniture.  Closet space will tell you how much clothing you will be able to bring.  If the closet is not big, don’t fret--you can always get additional storage units at stores close by or online, but you must first determine if that will fit in the room.  In this regard, finding out if you can loft your bed is key, as that will provide you with more room.  Please note that being able to raise your bed and being able to loft your bed are two different things.  Lofting your bed allows you to put your desk and a chair or even a couch underneath –many colleges with modular furniture allow this to occur without a glitch and even have ladders for you to get in and out of bed.  Raising your bed simply allows you to use the space underneath for storage and you might need to become creative about how to get on and off your bed safely.

Other factors to consider:  Is housing themed based?  Are there single-sex dorms or all of them are coed?  If they are coed, is it by floor, wing, or room?  Are freshman and upperclassmen together or separate?  Will you have a Resident Assistant (RA), Community Advisor (CA), a Proctor, or a Undergraduate Assistants (UGA) and what do those roles entail?  Do you have to swipe your ID to get into the building?  What about your room? 

2.    The dining hall:

Eat one of the meals during your tour in the cafeteria and pay attention to the dining services hours.  Most places tend to say their food is “good for college food” and it is hard to figure out what that means unless you have a meal there.

3.    The gym:

If you are a student-athlete, Division I schools will probably have a separate athletic facilities for you.  If you are touring Division II and III schools you will probably have to share the facilities with everyone else.  Thus, it is important for you to think of how the quality of the equipment and the hours of operation will impact your training.

If you are someone who is concerned about a healthy life style, then working out is probably part of your routine.  Thus, do not forget to tour the gym.  Different facilities provide different quality and variety of equipment, group classes, training sessions, etc.  Visiting the gym will allow you to determine if you will be able to keep your life-style.

4.    The student center:

Spend at least an hour in the student center.  I was visiting a campus last week and met one of the current students I advised last year in the college process at the student center.  While waiting for him, I was able to listen to the conversations other students were having, saw the way they interacted with each other, and witnessed the diversity of thought, religion, and nationality on that particular campus.  Hence, I got a good sense of what life will be like there.

5.    Meet current students:

The student ambassador or tour guide, while trained, is a great example of the kind of student at the campus you are visiting.  Listen to the way he/she answers your questions, his/her ability to express him/herself, and his/her interactions with other students walking by while on tour. 

Additionally, walk around campus and talk to at least one student selected by you at random, one who has not been coached on his/her answers.  You will be amazed how much you will learn.  During one of my job interviews, I had been talking to several groups of students who seemed to be completely in love with the college I was interviewing at.  While they were very kind and engaging, many of their answers to my questions appeared rehearsed.  Thus, during one of my only breaks, I left the building I had my sessions in and stopped a student walking by the main part of campus.  I asked her how she liked the college.  She candidly shared with me how she never felt welcomed at the institution and went in depth on her perspective.  When making my final decision on that particular job, it was very valuable for me to weight in the opinion of that student because I felt that her points of view were some of the most genuine I got during my visit.

 Visiting college campus is a great way of getting a better sense of whether or not a certain college or university is the right fit for you.  It is one of the aspects of my position I love the most because I get to learn what every place has to offer and experience a day in the life of the students.