Friday, October 25, 2013

The Best Questions to Ask Your Tour Guide

I was talking to a friend today, and she's in the middle of planning a few campus visits to several of her top schools. It got me thinking about my first time planning campus visits, and I'll admit, I was completely overwhelmed. When I went on tours, I didn't even know what kinds of questions to ask.

Now that I am a tour guide at Saint Mike's, I've experienced plenty of talkative tours as well as quiet ones. I know that on the quiet ones, the students are probably experiencing the same feelings as I had just a couple of years ago. So, to help you get the most out of your tour, I've compiled a list of the best questions I've received--and my personal answers to them!

1.) What made you choose to attend this school?

I'll be honest--it came down to a feeling. It might sound crazy right now, but you'll know when you find the right school. When I first came to Saint Mike's, I didn't have a tour scheduled. I had been looking at some colleges in the area, and SMC was a last-minute stop on the way home. I knew absolutely nothing about the college but figured a quick look at the campus wouldn't hurt.

I was totally surprised when I got here and started walking around. It seemed like everyone knew I was a visitor. Granted, I was wandering aimlessly, probably looking quite lost, and both of my parents were with me, so I probably stuck out. But instead of ignoring me, every now and then someone walking by would ask if I needed help getting somewhere. A couple of students approached asking if I was thinking about applying. People wanted to get to know me. They also wanted to tell me about their own college search process and how they ended up here. And they would not stop talking about how they absolutely LOVED Saint Mike's. My dad made a joke about there being "something in the water" because everyone was "brainwashed". Turns out, everyone here is just really, sincerely happy.

Needless to say, I planned another trip to Vermont and made sure to include a tour and preview day at Saint Mike's. Once I got back on campus, I pretty much never left--the rest is history!

2.) What is your favorite and least favorite thing about this school?

Favorite thing: THE COMMUNITY. I know, I know. Everyone says it. But the thing is, when SMC students say it, they really mean it. You can talk to anyone who has spent time here--students, alumni, faculty, staff, frequent visitors--and the word "community" would probably come up at least once in their description of the college.

I love that every semester, there are some familiar faces in my classes but there's always someone new as well. I love that I can drop in on my professors in their offices, to ask questions or even just to chat. I love that I have a "family" here, and that we really refer to ourselves as a family. I love that even though it's only a 2-minute walk to class from anywhere on this small campus, I have to leave at least 15 minutes early to account for the time I spend stopping to chat with the various friends I encounter along the way. I love that I've done things here I never thought I'd do, including service trips with MOVE or overcoming my shyness and fear of public speaking to become a tour guide. I love that I've kept in touch with professors from previous classes and even my admissions counselor. I love that when I need a recommendation letter or to ask a favor, I have several people to go to, and I don't feel funny asking a single one of them because I know they're willing to lend a hand. And on and on...

Least favorite thing: When I toured here, someone asked this question to our guide. He stopped, thought for a minute, scratched his head, and finally said, "Well, there are a lot of puddles. Also, I wouldn't mind having Sunday brunch an hour earlier."

The truth is, it's really hard to find something here that I'm dissatisfied with. I'm living in a beautiful place with incredible friends, receiving a good education and making connections, having great experiences both inside and outside of the classroom, and learning how to live on my own but still feeling the support of the community around me. So the first time I was asked this question, I couldn't provide much of an answer. I gave a "puddles" type of response. However, that really got me thinking, and I finally came up with a true concern.

My least favorite thing is the "Saint Mike's Bubble." Any students reading this probably just nodded their heads. Because we are all so connected and comfortable in our little community, it's easy to forget that there's a world outside of 1 Winooski Park. Because of this, any problems that occur seem massive when they're really not, or some things that are okay to do here become habits that we really shouldn't practice. For example, leaving valuables and possessions unattended--I'm sure every student, at some point, has left their laptop sitting alone in the library or discarded their backpack in Alliot for hours. Because we're close here and we all tend to respect each other, it's usually not an issue (though we're constantly reminded by Res Life and other faculty that it's still not a great idea). Another thing: expecting that when you need help from someone, they will immediately drop everything and try their best to get what you need. Although it's a common practice here, it's not great to expect that from the "Real World." It will often take more time and effort to get in touch with people, and it's better off to allocate time for that than waiting until the last minute to schedule your appointment, interview, meeting, etc.

The other issue with the Bubble is the physical Bubble--as in, sometimes I realize that I haven't left campus in weeks. When that happens, I know something is wrong. Because as much as I love this campus, it's important to have an off-campus experience. Off-campus internships are a great way to do that, and you make some cool connections with people in the community. But it's also good to escape the Bubble when you're stressed out too. If you've been working on a term paper for hours and need a break, take a quick walk in Woodside Loop (the nature trails across the street from North Campus). If the weekend is here and you have no plans, grab a friend and go downtown for dinner or watch a sunset at the waterfront. There are always tons of events going on too, and Burlington is one of the best college towns in the country.

In short, the easiest fix for the Bubble is to get outside of it every now and then! And remember: sometimes it's okay to be a little uncomfortable. :)

I'm realizing now that this can turn into one heck of a post, so here's what I'm going to do: "The Best Questions to Ask Your Tour Guide" is going to become a series. I really do think this is something worth returning to, and trust me, I'm full of material for this! Plus, this way I can post whenever I get a really good question on tours, and it will all stay neat and organized so you can find the questions easily. If you have a question that you want me to cover, send it in at!

Remember, these are questions that can and should be asked at any school--getting a student's perspective is a really important part in choosing where you want to go because you can read all the statistics you want online, but your tour guide or another student is the only one who can really show you what daily life is like at their school. Ask these questions wherever you go, and don't be afraid to speak up: if it's on your mind, chances are it's on somebody else's too. Tour guides love questions--I promise!



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