It’s impossible to overstate the importance of a campus visit. Your student is going to spend the next two to four years of their life here, after all! When students start researching universities, seeing them online is one thing, but seeing them in person is an entirely different, and very important, experience. However, the process of planning tours and visiting colleges can be overwhelming and stressful. Don’t worry – there are concrete steps you and your student can take to plan an effective college tour. We spoke with Nancy Steenson of Steenson College Coaching to discuss the best strategies for making the most of your student’s college tours.
Why is it so important to tour different colleges?
When it’s time to start looking into colleges, the first place everyone starts is the college website. College websites are excellent resources, and they get more sophisticated each and every year. But let’s admit it, after a while…they all start to look the same. They all have beautiful campuses, compelling majors, exciting study-abroad programs, and a wealth of extracurricular activities.
Touring colleges can help your student differentiate between colleges in a way that simply isn’t possible when they are staring at a screen. Physically being on a college campus is the best way for your student to get a feel for the vibe of a school and the culture of a student body.
In addition, many students may not know what they actually want until they experience it. Nancy notes that some students will say they want a city campus…but when they visit and see it in person, they realize it’s not for them. The same goes for small schools versus bigger schools. Students may think they want one thing, but seeing it in person, in real life, can quickly and dramatically shift their perspective.
Tips for Making the Most of Your College Tours
Tip 1: Register for the College Tour
Some people forget that you need to register for a college tour. You can just show up to campus, of course, and explore the space…but it won’t have the same effect as an official tour. Registering for a tour online in advance has a number of benefits.
First, and most importantly, registering for a tour or information session ensures that your student is in the college’s system and that they have demonstrated interest in attending that college. This can be very important when it comes time to apply to that institution.
Second, registering will help you to access the answers to the questions you and your student may have. It means that an official guide will tell you about the school and give you and your family a guided tour of the facilities. College tours normally include a short information session about the school as a whole, and students and families are encouraged to ask questions throughout the tour.
Tip 2: Eat at least one meal in the dining hall or student center
If you’re on campus, take the time to eat a meal in the dining hall or student center. Eating in the dining hall can inform your visit in a number of ways. Plus, “you may as well see what the food is like,” Nancy advises.
Eating in the dining hall means learning more about the food quality and the choices, of course. But it also helps you pick up on the feeling of the campus in a different way. How do students act in their everyday routines? What is the tone of communication? How do students interact with each other?
“Look around you. See if students are intermingling with each other. If they’re having fun. If they seem stressed out…I really see differences from campus to campus,” Nancy says.
Tip 3: Explore other places on campus that are important to you
Every college tour is different, and every college tour takes you to different places around campus. Some facilities might be relevant to your student, like the dining hall, while others might not be – the hockey rink, or the ceramics studio, perhaps, though college is a great place to try new things!
That’s why it is so important to allow your student some extra time to explore the campus themself. They may want to visit the Disability Center on campus, or they may want to visit the college gym. The campus theater may be of interest, or the Faith Center. Whatever your student’s interests, make sure to allow for extra time to visit these areas and imagine what their routines or hobbies might look like.
Tip 4: Visit only 1-2 Colleges per day
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you try to tour too many colleges each day, you and your student will start to forget what you’ve seen and experienced. “If you have the luxury of time, one college a day is wonderful, two colleges a day is acceptable,” Nancy says. Cramming in too many tours also makes it much harder to differentiate what your student likes – and what they don’t like.
Nancy’s best advice? Mix it up! Spend one morning at a larger school in the countryside, and the afternoon at a smaller city school. It’s going to make it much easier to differentiate between schools in your memory and hone in on what matters most.
Tip 5: Take notes when touring colleges
There are many advantages to taking notes when you tour colleges. Writing down what you and your student like and don’t like will make it much easier to remember, especially when you’re visiting multiple schools in a day. The little details may seem strange to note down at the time, but months down the line they may be extremely helpful when it comes time to make a decision. It can be easy to forget the feel of each college and the energy, so focus on notes about things that aren’t listed on the college website.
Tip 6: If you have time, sit and observe
Another reason why it is so important to build time into your college tours: you need time to simply sit and observe to really get a feel for the campus. Find a place on campus that is well-trafficked, maybe the quad, the library, or the cafeteria.
Are students sitting out and studying on the lawn? Are they playing games? Are people talking, or keeping to themselves? All of these little observations can make a big difference in your student’s understanding and impression of the campus and school as a whole.
What questions should you ask on a college tour?
When you take a college tour, more often than not, the tour guide will be a current student. This presents an excellent opportunity for your student to ask questions about what it’s like to be part of the school. What has their experience been like? What do their classes look like? What do they do on weekends?
College tours can get repetitive, so it’s crucial to ask specific questions to get useful information. Consider the following questions:
- What do students do on weekends?
- Have you had an internship? Have your friends had internships?
- What kinds of internships have you had? How did they get them?
- After being here for a semester, or a year, what surprised you the most about this school?
- What’s your favorite thing about this college?
- What’s your least favorite thing about this college?
- If this college received a $50 million gift from an alumnus, what do you think they should spend it on? (This is an easy way to ask about the school’s weaknesses, and receive an honest answer!)
Questions like these will take the tour guide beyond their assigned script and help you get real answers about the student experience at each university.
Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you want until you see it in person – and that’s why college tours are so crucial in deciding what college your student wants to attend. Make sure to take your time, take notes, and ask plenty of questions to get the most out of your tours. If you and your student are seeking help in planning for college or preparing for tours, don’t hesitate to contact Nancy at Steenson College Coaching for her expert perspective and guidance!