Q. What are questions kids and parents should ask if they are going on college campus tours over spring break?
A. High school spring break is an excellent time to visit many college campuses, as their spring break is usually a different week, so college students will be on campus. "Even though the summers are more convenient, what you're visiting is an empty shell," says Trish Portnoy, who teaches a class on applying to college at West Islip High School.
Portnoy offers these tips; she offers an extensive checklist in her book, "College Apps" ($14.99, Cengage Learning):
* Listen to the tour guide, but do your own research as well. "The tour guide is going to be a very positive force for the school," Portnoy says. Check collegenavigator.gov -- it gives concrete, school-specific statistics on campus safety, the number of freshmen who return to campus for sophomore year, the four-year graduation rate, financial aid information and more.
* Consider campus size -- not just number of students but acreage. Can students walk to classes? Is there a shuttle service? Is the campus too big, too small, too hilly?
* Is housing guaranteed for four years? What modern conveniences do the residence halls have? Is there Wi-Fi? Accessibility to printers? Is there a fitness center nearby? What about dining halls? How far must students walk for a meal? Is the dining plan all-you-can-eat or is it pay as you dine? Visit a dorm room and eat in a dining hall while you are on campus.
* Ask about safety. Does the campus have blue-light emergency phones? A campus police force? Escort services to walk students home from the library at night? Check out any adjacent town area.
Portnoy also recommends taking notes and photos from each visit, as campuses blur together after you're back home.