What to Look for on Campus Tours

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Don't get sucked into campus tours that show off glitz and glam; they're likely spending your tuition dollars irresponsibly. Ask these questions instead.The cost of education isn’t going anywhere but up, up, up.  Yet, when you’re a high school senior, the idea of touring expensive-to-maintain campuses that may put you in debt for the rest of your life is romanticized.  Nothing’s wrong with the campus being nice and up-to-date, but it’s important to know which areas to fall in love with to ensure you, personally, are getting the most bang for your buck over the  next four years.

Here are the top three things to look for as you’re visiting different colleges for campus tours:

  1. The Financial Aid Office.  I don’t care how pretty it is or how storied the history of the building is.  I care about how the people working behind those desks are treating me.  Do they seem ready to help me or ready to get me out of their hair?  Can they provide me with a list of scholarships–both internal and external without simply referring me to FastWeb?  Are they willing to understand my specific situation, or do they just cut me off and fill in my blank incorrectly without listening?  These people are going to be the ones affecting your finances for the rest of your life, so make sure they are good at their job.  Go visit them outside of a guided tour when smiles might be feigned.  Going without your parents is also a good way to see how they work in a candid situation.
  2. Facilities for Your Major.  If your philosophy class is in a shack, it probably won’t matter unless you’re a philosophy major who doesn’t like drafts.  If you’re majoring in electric engineering and the university has you studying everything out of a textbook, you may have a problem.  Certain majors lend themselves to being studied hands on, and that requires facilities. Assuming you researched the program before you decided to tour the campus, the facilities are probably right in line with what you were expecting.  The important thing to keep in perspective here is that these facilities are going to be a lot more important than a sweet dorm room.
  3. The Cafeteria.  The cafeteria in and of itself isn’t a deal breaker for a school (or at least shouldn’t be.)  What should be considered is the cost of the school’s meal plan and if you’ll actually like and use it.  Meal plans can save money, but not if you’re going out spending your money on other food because your fare isn’t edible or desirable.  So while you’re touring campus, ask to see the cafeteria, ask what the different meal plans offer, and sit down to actually try the food before purchasing a plan for the entire school year.

It’s easy to get distracted by mega stadiums (which may be important to you if you’re a student athlete, but otherwise shouldn’t effect your educational decisions.)  It’s easy to get distracted by gorgeous dorms.  It’s easy to get distracted by a place’s history and “feel” or vibe.

Try to remember that the vibe is very expensive, the mega stadiums won’t guarantee you a job after graduation, and a bed is just a place to sleep.  Instead, focus your touring efforts on the places that are likely to save you unnecessary spending or give you a good return on your financial investment in your education.

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12 thoughts on “What to Look for on Campus Tours

    1. femmefrugality

      Agreed. Sometimes there are some bells and whistles that can distract us from what really matters when touring a campus, though. What makes the best college? Academics and smart financial options.

  1. Mitchell Pauly

    Touring a campus is, as you point out, a great way to determine how a school spends the tuition money students pay. Lavish cafes, stadiums, housing and other non-value added spending is not where you want your tuition going, while at the same time you don’t want the school to be so low rent you resent having to attend. Find the happy medium, knock off about 20% and you probably have a financially responsible school.

  2. Budget and the Beach

    Great points you made! Where I went to college it wasn’t the prettiest or coolest or had the deep historical roots that MSU or UofM had, but they had the best and most hands on television program. Those other places were so big they tended to just teach theory. So I totally agree! Of course if you’re going to an Ivy League school you kind of get the best of both worlds if you’re smart and rich enough. 🙂

    1. femmefrugality

      LOVE your experience! What program did you attend? I hear that Ivy League schools have pretty amazing scholarship programs for people that aren’t super rich, but you do have to be ridiculously smart for sure.

    1. femmefrugality

      Exactly! That’s why it’s so important to go independent of a tour, without your parents if possible. (A lot of times they sell the parent and they thing, “Okay, this is who I’ve gotta sell the school to.”)

  3. Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor

    I agree that those are important factors to consider. Things like landscaping and new buildings may add something to your experience, but can also come at a cost. And most of the school year is during the cold, snowy, leaf-less winter months in our area, so I think people focus too much on these things. It’s more of a means for colleges to compete with each other for students, than what actually improves the students’ education.

  4. Esther

    The Financial Aid office is an important area to be on the watch out for. From experience I can tell you they do make a big difference when your finances are tight. Whilst in uni they helped source a schoarship no one ever knew existed.


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