Juniors: Don't forget to find out what goes on in the classrooms on a college visit

One of the mistakes we see students make in the college admission process is failing to find out enough about the academic life of a school -- what actually goes on in the classrooms.  In a Chronicle of Higher Education piece, What We Don't Talk About on the Admissions Tour, James M. Lang, associate professor of English, director of the college honors program at Assumption College and parent to a member of the class of 2017, states the case for finding out as much about the teaching and learning as the food service on a college campus.

 

Like any parent of a prospective student at a residential college, we are preparing for our child to live on her own for the first time. What shape will that new life take? I want to be able to envision my daughter in her new room, and gain a sense of what her peers will be like, and know that she will have access to food and facilities that will allow her to lead a healthy lifestyle.

But I also know that students spend many hours each week sitting in classrooms like my own, or doing work that arises from those classrooms, and that most of us see the primary function of colleges and universities as offering the best possible educational experience. Shouldn't we give prospective students a clear picture of that feature of their future lives, and see if we can use that picture to entice them to join us because they are as excited about their learning as they are about their dorm rooms?

 

You can read Lang's entire piece here.

 

Colleges are first and foremost learning communities. As you research colleges and make campus visits, take notice of the classrooms on campus -- the place where you will spend so much time. Best advice? Ask the admission office if you can sit in on a class in a subject area that interests you.

Meanwhile, in considering the classroom, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

Am I happiest when (a) significantly challenged and must be ever energetic in my efforts to keep up; (b) growing along with the rest of my classmates; or (c) learning while comfortably at the top of my class?

What is the most intellectually engaging class you have taken in high school? Why? How did it influence you?

What has been the best learning environment for you— a large lecture class or a small discussion group?

Is it important to you to have close relationships with your teachers?

What balance of study, activities, and social life are you looking for?

And here are some questions you should ask while visiting campuses:

How big are classes? Do students participate a lot in the classroom?

What’s the teacher- student ratio? Are faculty members interested in students outside of class?

How do students spend time with faculty outside the classroom?

Are introductory classes taught by faculty or grad students?

How hard is it to get the classes students need?

 

For further lists of questions to ask as you research and visit colleges, check out Chapter 8, "Creating an Initial List of Colleges," and Chapter 9, "College Visits," in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

 

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