I kid you not. Somewhere along the road, I blinked, and my oldest son became a high school junior. I blinked again and we are now touring colleges. How in the world did we get here?!
A Cold Morning
The breeze was not our friend as we left on Monday morning, but after a hot breakfast sandwich and an apple juice, we were ready. We arrived on campus, contacted out tour guide via her cell to confirm the meeting location, and stepped into tour mode.
Approximately 90 minutes later, we were back at our car and I was listening to my son as he discussed the pros and cons of this school. As we did so, I realized that we are definitely getting closer to the high school finish line. I also realized this would not be our last tour and decided to capture some thoughts that made this tour a success, and some thoughts that can make the next one better.
Research is Key
I suppose one of the biggest takeaways is researching prospective schools to determine if they are schools you want to include in a visit. Imagine knowing that you want to major in education (as an example) and visiting a school only to discover they don’t have a education program, or worse—they have a program but are no longer accredited. Ask yourself how large a campus you want. How far away from home? In state or out-of-state? What are the graduation rates of the school? Where are the career placements of the school?
I loved the tour guide that we had. She was knowledgeable and friendly. We toured a rival HBCU (Historically Black College/University) from my alma mater, and she fell into the friendly banter that we have one with another. My son asked her a number of questions about the school, campus life, what food plan she had, her major, and her pros and cons of the school. She answered all with candor. However, one of the cons my son had was we were not able to visit a specific amenity of the program in which he hopes to apply. There was also no one available that could open the amenity so he could see it. That was a key on his list. (As a helpful FYI, HBCUs are not restricted to black students. ALL are welcome!)
I recommend seeing if the department itself has special tour or interest days, or if you can request in tour request accommodations someone knowledgeable about your particular program. While we had a lot of questions answered, some (understandably) were not.
Like it or not, we live in a post-pandemic world where rules have changed in terms of access. Some of my son’s peers have toured universities where they were granted access to the cafeteria and other facilities. This school, due to remaining COVID-19 protocols, did not allow guests to dine in the cafeteria. I could understand that. Still, it would have been nice to experience that portion of the tour as food has always been a high ranking of college students.
I recommend confirming access to high-desired locations before you go. If you won’t be able to see a cafeteria or a dorm, ask your tour guide or a random student their thoughts on those items. It helps to have insight on such things.
Check the Vibe
One of the things I loved about this school was the friendliness of everyone we met. 90-95% of the people we passed walking greeted us warmly. Others simply smiled. One person randomly walked up, saw we were on a tour, and told us we were definitely making a right decision (though we haven’t actually chosen or nor yet). That made us feel comfortable and at ease.
I recommend checking the vibe of the campus. How are the students? Friendly? At ease? Tense? Do you feel okay walking the yard? Which brings me to safety…
If the worse should happen…
I’m no helicopter mom, but I recognize this world is something. Mass shootings on college campuses are becoming scarily regular. I wanted to make sure there was access to medical facilities, campus police, and safety features.
I asked those questions. Knowing that police could respond to the emergency box locations within seconds was a boon. The location of the university police station was a pro. The fact that access to the campus was attainable only through a manned security gate was also a pro. There are some campuses that are quite literally embedded in the community. While that can be a great thing, it can also be a difficult things in terms of monitoring comings and goings and restricting those with ill intentions from your site. Make sure your prospective school has plans for such situations and communication options so you know if something is going on that requires you to shelter in place.
Can You See Yourself Doing Well There
I asked my son if he could see himself succeeding at that university. Not just academically, but personally. Could he see himself walking from the distance of the dorms to the various class buildings? Could he see using the transportation options? Was he okay with freshman restrictions of no vehicle? Did he think he would be able to excel there? I recommend asking the same questions. It may help you make a decision that will ensure your college destination.