What are the students telling you about their college experience? If you go on a Friday or over a weekend, observe the social scene. Are classes even held on Friday? What is the culture of the school, as described by the students you meet? For me, the guided college tour offers a bland but generally necessary overview.
Often more useful and informative are the casual discussions that your son or daughter may strike up with normal students, students outside of the official admissions office greeting cadre. At a recent college night in an affluent northern New Jersey community, a student stood up and asked rhetorically, “Isn’t it better to visit the schools without your parents?”
To the student’s surprise, the speaker, an admissions officer from Cornell, answered “no” and went on to explain that this applied unless the student was going to pay for school alone. Elaborating, the admissions officer added that parents can and should be on hand if possible to serve as critical eyes and ears willing to pose questions the student may not have thought of or been concerned with. Eliciting the right information during a campus visit can be vital to the decision-making process.
The U.S. News and World Report annual college issue from 2000 contains a series of useful questions categorized as “questions to ask of students” and “questions to ask of administrators.” In addition to the usual ones, such as, “Where do students study?” and essential ones on campus safety, my personal favorites to be directed at administrators are, “What was your average cost increase in tuition over the past five years?” and “What are the incidental costs on campus?”