By Laura Zemp on April 25, 2016

As we come to the end of the school year and I see my oldest daughter preparing to graduate, my excitement is bittersweet. Her high school graduation and launch off to college is what we’ve prepared for since she was a little girl, but a place in my mom heart cracks a little as the day actually approaches.

In many ways, what gives me peace about it is that we have prepared for it for so long. One way we’ve prepared is by visiting colleges she was interested in so she could get a feel of the campus. Having spent my career in education – both with high school students and then with college students – I know how important it is that students have the opportunity to walk around and feel out the college where they may spend four years of their lives. I still remember driving around the corner in Sardine Canyon and seeing Cache Valley; it felt like home, and I was lucky enough to be an Aggie there for part of my undergraduate work.

Knowing the importance, I figured it would be a pretty easy task; however, it was actually more difficult than I had anticipated.

Here are some of the things I learned:LauraCaroline

  • Official campus tours only happen Monday-Friday. This is the best kind of tour to have because you get to talk to advisors, see housing, and meet with people in admissions. The down side is you have to plan for that by taking time off and scheduling it.
  • Even stopping by and wandering the campus when you’re on vacation can be helpful. On our way to Phoenix for Christmas her junior year, we stopped in Flagstaff and spent an hour or so walking around Northern Arizona University. She liked the feel of the campus, so we spent part of her junior year spring break doing an official tour and learning about her options.
  • Take advantage of the options available in Utah for events on college campuses. My daughter went to Weber State for Girls’ State, BYU for French Fair, and we’ve attended plays at Pioneer Theatre Company on the University of Utah campus.

Even when just walking around campus, I think you get a sense of what the campus life and culture is like. For example, if we looked lost, did people stop to try to help or walk by and pretend we weren’t there? When we walked into campus offices, were we greeted and helped or did it seem like we were bothering people?

On official tours, we put together a list of questions we wanted answered. Many of them were answered by the formal presentations, but we made sure we asked about anything that wasn’t explicitly discussed.

Here are some of the things we asked about:

  • What are your admission standards (GPA/ACT)?
  • What kind of academic merit scholarships are available? How are these awarded?
  • What is the deferment policy if a student leaves for religious, military, or humanitarian service?
  • What internship opportunities are available in this program?
  • What kind of departmental scholarships are available?
  • What kind of tutoring or academic help is available?
  • Freshmen housing – do freshmen have to live on campus? How many do?
  • If your student is interested in particular co-curricular or extra-curricular programs, be sure to ask. We asked about study abroad and honors college.

When I hear “Pomp and Circumstance” in a few weeks and she crosses the stage, it’ll be the end of one piece and the beginning of what we’ve prepared for. With all we’ve done, she’s headed to college knowing it’s the right choice for her: programs that fit her goals, cost we can afford, a campus that fits her personality and where she feels comfortable.

Download a list of questions to ask when you’re on a campus tour

Laura is a research analyst with the Utah System of Higher Education and a mother of a college-bound daughter. She has also worked as an academic advisor and English teacher, and has her degree in Educational Psychology (M.S.) and Secondary Education (B.S.) from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.