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The hosts with the most

Maclean's / February 2016

Suggestions from the trenches: Leave mom at home, check out the town, and follow your heart

They say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but some questions are better than others. Campus tour guides have heard some a thousand times—then there the ones nobody asks when they most definitely should. To spot the difference, Maclean’s asked guides across Canada what prospective students really need to know.

Laura Belgiorgio
Dalhousie University, Halifax

Your guide: A third-year neuroscience major from Pickering, Ont., who just transferred from biochemistry, which was “not quite my niche.” She prefers smaller tours with fewer than 10 people.

Common question: “How do I make the right choice?” Belgiorgio, who is living proof you may make the wrong decision, says only you can answer this one. “It’s completely based on your personality,” she says. “What’s great for you isn’t great for someone else.”

Better question: “How do I make sure I’m getting where I want to be?” Belgiorgio says to follow your heart. “Go where you know you’ll be happiest, because that’s what will bring the most success.”

Karlene LaCombe
Concordia University, Montreal

Your guide: A 21-year-old marketing major from Ottawa who was looking for a volunteer gig, but was promptly scooped up as staff instead. Lives off campus and loves the city.

Common question: “How much time will I spend in a classroom? How much homework will there be?” The answer depends on your major—and your work ethic.

Better question: School’s important, but so is the rest. “Ask about extracurriculars and student groups,” says LaCombe. If Concordia’s 50-plus options don’t suit you, you can start your own club. “Get an idea and some people, and you get a budget.”

Scott Maufront
Trent University, Peterborough, Ont.

Your guide: A 22-year-old international politics and business administration student; gives daily summer tours and weekly winter tours.

Common question: Students eyeing a small-town university experience are often visiting for the first time. They always ask, “How big is Peterborough? How far is it? What’s downtown like? Are people friendly?” His answer: You’re already here; take a few hours to explore and decide for yourself.

Better question: Be interested in, and ask about, offerings outside your program area. It’s good to be keen on your major, but Maufront sees too many eyes glazing over when he is discussing other departments. “You’re going to have lots of electives in the next years, so to overlook your options is a bit foolish.”

Khatija Sahib
University of Toronto

Your guide: A 21-year-old commuter and double major—environmental sciences and human geography—who has hosted a weekly walking tour ever since first year, when a flyer for a paid job as a guide caught her eye.

Common question: Sahib spends much of the 1.5-hour tour fielding questions about the university’s sometime-confusing college system. “How do the colleges work? Which college should I choose?” The answer is each of the seven colleges is a unique community, some are larger than others, and each offers its own academic programs, accommodation and food options. (And you can research them online.)

Better question: No matter which college you choose, you’re likely living off-campus by second year. “So ask instead if we have commuter resources. We do! A whole centre with couches and computers.” There’s also housing services, dedicated to helping find affordable off-campus options.

Nic Sieban
University of Calgary

Your guide: A master’s student in biochemistry and senior staff tour guide. Since his parents are local, he’s enjoying the perks of life at home.

Common question: Helicopter parents want to “see where their child sleeps” and “know someone will feed them.” (Sieban makes sure to introduce them to the community advisers in residence, a.k.a “floor mommies.”) Students tend to be more concerned about their program.

Better question: Feel free to come solo. And if you’ve already enrolled and have a class schedule, ask if you can bring it along. Not only is the answer a big yes, but Sieban will do one better. “I’ll personally show you where every single one of your classes is.”

Anne-Sophie Deman
University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Your guide: A senior student ambassador and international relations student, 21, from Belgium. Deman fell in love with UBC—where else?—on a campus tour.

Common question: “I get asked a lot about the weather,” she laughs. “It’s really at the forefront of people’s minds.”

Better question: For students coming from afar, “be sure to ask about campus culture: Where do students grab lunch? Where do they hang out between classes?” Building a full life outside school fights homesickness, and your guide is an insider who can tell you all the best places to go.