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What are the academic facilities like?
You’re going to spend at least 15 hours a week in classrooms. Is the technology up to date? Are the classrooms comfortable and conducive to learning? While you’re there, go to a class. You’ll see how you fit in academically, which, of course, is the reason you’re going to school.
How active is the school’s career resources center?
Ask about job-placement rates. Is the career center placing kids, and how quickly? Does it have a fully developed program? How hard do they try to get kids in internships? You’re in college for many reasons. One of them is to find the right career for you.
How secure are the living spaces?
When it comes to dorms, students are looking for comfort. What I look for is security. Does the school use student ID cards to enter buildings? Are there students working a front desk? Do dorms open with keys or ID cards?
How’s the student center?
This is something prospective students definitely need to see because that’s normally the hub of a university. It’s where you’ll get a feel for what the other kids are like, what social life is like, and whether the kids are friendly. Communal areas may be a good place to see service projects, club and group meetings, and upcoming events.
What’s in the school newspaper?
Pick up a copy of the paper. What’s happening on campus? The paper can tell you what the students are thinking and talking about, what the important issues are on campus and whether the students can write. Also, make a note about whether the paper is easily available.
What’s the library like?
When we used to go on college tours, the library was the premier site everyone wanted to show you. Now, colleges have gotten to the point where many don’t show the library. So libraries don’t have the draw they used to. Even though we live in a digital age, college libraries are a lot more upscale and nice than they used to be. And more strategically organized. Typically, now, the higher you go up in the library, the quieter the floors are. Some have soundproof rooms or other dedicated study spaces. It’s even fairly typical to find a Starbucks in the library.
What’s the energy like on campus?
Colleges tend to revolve around sports or the arts. When you’re touring a school, you can get a feel of how well the kids know each other. The tour guides are usually popular, outgoing people. If they don’t talk to anybody, then nine times out of 10 you might not have that friendly a campus.
How’s the athletic center?
Even kids who don’t play sports may want a great health and recreation center – and some schools have extraordinary facilities. One university even has a rock wall in its pool. And they have movie nights at the pool. It’s not like the days when we watched TV with aluminum foil on the antennas for better reception. Some questions to keep in mind; is the gym well-attended? Too crowded? Do they offer group fitness classes? Is there a variety of cardio and strength equipment?
How important is Greek life on campus?
Does the social life revolve mainly around Greek life? Does that appeal to you? Or would you prefer a different type of social scene? If possible, spend a night on campus before you decide. You need to know what happens on campus after the lights go down.
How’s the food?
Everyone should eat a meal on campus and note the choices. Do they have allergy and specific diet-friendly options, if that’s important to you? Organic? Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Is there a variety? What’s the meal-plan system? Do you pay a la carte, or pay a flat fee for an unlimited amount? If you think about why college is so expensive, you can almost figure it out between the food, athletic facilities, technology and security.
What did you think of the location?
Some kids like a university that sits right in the middle of a city. For example, the College of Charleston is very intertwined with the city. Then you’ve got kids who like a totally ensconced campus where you have to drive through the gates and then you’re on campus. Check around the school. What’s nearby? Shopping, restaurants, entertainment? Do you need a car to get there? And, can you have a car?
Jamie Dickenson, MBA, CEP
Independent Educational Consultant specializing in college admissions and financial aid, motivational speaker, business coach and owner of Jamie Dickenson, LLC., IEC Advisors, and Yoga Power, LLC.
Jamie Dickenson is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. Hartford Funds has separately contracted with Ms. Dickenson to provide additional insight about college savings issues.