College Visits: Tips

College Search Article

Tips for Campus Visits

By: George D. Kuh*
Indiana University Chancellor’s Professor and Director
of the National Survey of Student Engagement

Getting the Most Mileage Out of the College Campus Tour

George KuhHigh school students and their families have begun the spring / summer college tour circuit, checking out the places they’re considering. Where to go to college is a big decision, one of the most important a young person makes. And with close to a million students starting college every fall, the campus visit is serious business for both prospective students and institutions.

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The best campus visits are those where both the student and the college get a sense of whether the match is worth pursuing. Although both parties are well intentioned, most visits fall far short of their potential. This is because prospective students and parents don’t ask the right questions and end up settling for the information that institutions routinely provide. Does it really matter how many books are in the library (after all, how many can any one student read?)? Or how many faculty members have Ph.D.s (which says nothing about their ability to teach)? Or how many stair-step machines are in the recreation center (forsaking cars and elevators would have the same effect)? Students can be surrounded by impressive resources, but not use them, or rarely encounter classes or other activities that truly lead to the skills and competencies they need to survive and thrive after college.

Many research studies show that what matters most to a high quality undergraduate experience is whether students engage in a variety of educationally sound activities, inside and outside the classroom. The engagement premise is simple, even self-evident: The more students study a subject, the more they learn about it. Likewise, the more students practice and get feedback on their writing, analyzing, or problem solving, the more adept they become. And the more experience they have with people from different backgrounds, the more sensitive, comfortable and effective they will be when working with such people. Simply put, the more engaging the college, the more students learn.

Surprisingly, students hear almost nothing about learning or levels of
engagement when they visit campuses. But they can find out by asking certain questions of tour guides, admissions staff, faculty members, and currently enrolled students. Answers to the following questions will reveal things about a college that they won’t probably discover otherwise.

How much reading and writing is assigned in the first year? What are the assignments like more challenging than boring? How often do students make presentations in class, or meet with faculty members outside of class? Are students encouraged to work together to solve problems or work on projects? In what ways is information technology used in the classroom? How does the college help students learn about different cultures and perspectives? Who do students talk with about career plans? How many students apply what they are learning in class to real-life settings through internships and community service? How many students participate in honors courses, learning communities, and work with a faculty member on a research project? And does the college require some sort of senior capstone experience a chance to pull together and make meaning of what one has learned during college?

These are the kinds of questions that can reveal matters of educational substance and style that reflect the educational quality of a college. The answers will give students a more realistic basis on which to compare institutions. Equally important, the more often students engage in the activities the questions point to, the more they will learn. And finding that out before deciding where to go to college is well worth the effort.

*George D. Kuh
Chancellor’s Professor and Director
National Survey of Student Engagement
Indiana University Bloomington<!–
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