The campus tour does not give you the campus visit from the perspective of a current student. You'll see landmarks, the most modern building, a residence hall and the gym. But you're routed away from crowded places and you rarely take a tour while class periods are changing.
But at some colleges crowds are a fact of life.
Whether you are trying to get a cup of coffee at a "grab and go," juggle that coffee and your computer on a campus bus, or find your way to your favorite seat at the big lecture class, students at big schools face big crowds.
And you should see this on your campus visit.
After your campus tour ask your student guide about the route he takes from the time he wakes up on his busiest day of classes to the time he goes to dinner. Get a sense of whether going to class, getting a meal, studying in the library or walking into the surrounding neighborhood is an easy walk, a "fight" through the afternoon crowds, or a ride on a bus. If you hope to bring a car to campus, will it sit parked in a lot far away from your room most of the time or will you be able to use it to get around? Where are you most likely to wait in line? College students may accept some waits, such as the line at the dining hall or the financial aid office as a fact of life. Many, may deal with or even welcome crowds at the big football or basketball games. But if you don't like crowds, you'll come to hate life at a big school. A smaller school with a feeling of open space, might be more to your liking.
Try to take as much of the typical student route on your own during a campus visit. Walk between the student center or a freshman residence hall and the classroom buildings, if you can. Do the same from the academic center of campus into the surrounding neighborhood. Ride the bus if that's the route, and you have the time. Try to feel how a student might feel. And take a look at the faces of the students around you. Do they appear in a hurry or hassled? Those looks will tell you a lot. Do they have to look hard to find a seat to eat a quick bite in the student center, or find an open chair at the library?
Also, give the campus the "broken leg test." Ask yourself if you would be able to go everywhere you had to go if you broke your leg. Would you have an easy trip or a difficult one? Do you feel that people would step aside and make way? Will they hold doors open? Would there be a place to leave the crutches when you sat down?
It can be fun for a college-bound student to imagine being part of a campus community during a campus visit. But every campus community is different. Some settings are fast-paced, others more peaceful. The crowds are a major part of the setting.
*With thanks to Stuart Nachbar for permission to post his special feature article, giving a unique perspective on big schools with big crowds!
Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admission. Elizabeth helps students identify majors and career paths, and develops best match college lists; she offers personalized essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth guides students from all backgrounds to maximize scholarship opportunities and financial aid awards. For more information visit Elizabeth