College tours are exciting. You're strolling around a beautiful college campus, listening to an enthusiastic tour guide describe all the out-of-this-world opportunities you'll have at this university. Award-winning professors? Check! Hundreds of student organizations? Check! Free ice cream sundaes at midnight? Check!
This information is all pretty thrilling, but it isn't the only thing you'll end up considering when it comes time to build your college list or make your final college decision. Think of the college tour as both a reconnaissance mission and an opportunity to figure out whether the school is a good fit for you. Whether you're planning your first college tour or making one last visit after being accepted, these strategies will help you make the most of your time on campus.
1. Plan your day in advance.
Colleges offer a set number of tours per day. The number and the timing of those tours varies from day-to-day and season-to-season. Needless to say, you should (a) look up those times in advance and (b) not miss out! But there are even more benefits to planning in advance. Some universities may offer passes to the dining hall so that you can experience what an average meal on campus would be like. Others might have specialized tours that focus on particular academic areas. Do your research ahead of time so that you can take advantage of all the available opportunities.
2. Visit on a weekday.
If possible, schedule all of your college tours on weekdays when class is in session. Most college campuses are very quiet on Saturday and Sunday mornings, so if you visit on a weekend, you probably won’t get much of a sense of the campus culture. On a weekday, on the other hand, you’ll see firsthand what it’s like for students to trek to class, meet up with friends, and hit the books.
3. Use your connections wisely.
Do any of your friends or former classmates currently attend the school you’re touring? What about friends-of-friends? Tell family friends about your college tour plans and find out if they have any connections to the school. Meeting up with a current student is an invaluable way to experience the real campus culture.
If you do meet up with a student, don’t be shy about asking questions or requesting a dorm room tour. Most college students enjoy showing prospective students around their campus – they remember how it felt to be an applicant, after all! – and you’ll benefit immensely from the inside information.
4. Create a “Things That Matter To Me” list.
What college experiences are most important to you? Are you committed to doing research as early as your freshman year? Are you a devoted volunteer who wants to meet like-minded peers? Are you a go-getter who plans to be in the career services office as soon as you arrive on campus? Reflect on what’s important to you and write down the key topics: research opportunities, community service, career services offerings, social life, et cetera.
Once you make this list, you’ll have a set of broad topics you’d like to learn more about, and you can inquire about them whenever the opportunity arises. (Plus, you’ll probably be asked, “Do you have any questions?” pretty frequently during the tour, and you’ll earn bonus points for breaking the ice by asking one.)
5. Be observant.
As you walk around a campus, pay attention to your surroundings. It’s easy and completely understandable to feel a little awestruck by the college environment. The tour guide is so impressive, and the campus is so beautiful! Still, try to look beyond these shiny surfaces. What do you see students doing? You’ll spot students looking stressed or racing around to classes at any university, but if you look closely and try to engage, you may get a better sense of the campus.
Here are two of our favorite assessments for measuring overall friendliness: do students hold doors for one another? And if you make eye contact and smile at students, do they (or at least some of them) smile back?
6. Read all about it.
There is a lot of free reading material on college campuses. From school newspapers and literary magazines to event posters and course catalogs, you can learn a great deal about a school by reading the printed media that's scattered around campus. School newspapers provide insight into current conversations on campus and the issues that are important to students. Event posters reveal what types of non-academic opportunities are available and how students spend their free time. Course catalogs (which are also available online) help you envision your future academic schedule.
You can also check out the college’s social media presence. Look up local Instagram and Snapchat stories and search for events on Facebook. This digital sleuthing will provide yet another perspective on campus life.
7. Go beyond the official tour route.
Explore the campus on your own. Some colleges allow prospective students to sit in on certain classes. (Ask the admissions office, as they may be able to provide you with a list of these classes.) And while not every school will allow you into a seminar room, you can probably walk right into the library, bookstore, student center, and/or other public spaces.
8. Explore the surrounding area.
If you plan to live on-campus, you will soon be living, working, eating, sleeping, and socializing in one single place. This is called the “campus bubble”, and most college students end up wanting a break from it every now and then. With this mind, make sure to explore beyond the campus bounds. Does getting off-campus require a car, or is the university situated in the center of a walking city? Are there places for students to eat if they get tired of dining hall food? What about fun things to do off-campus? Could you imagine yourself spending your free time here?
9. Take photos.
Take pictures of your favorite parts of campus, flyers that feature events you want to look up later, and anything else that stands out to you. The images will jog your memory when all the campuses you've visited seem to blur together. And don't be embarrassed about snapping away – filling your camera roll with campus photos is practically a prospective student rite of passage.
10. Debrief after every tour.
College tours are jam-packed with information. After you’ve visited a few campuses, the details may start to fade. Keep track of the information you learned and your impressions of the school by recording your thoughts ASAP after each tour. Write down information that stood out to you, details you’d like to research further, and your subjective impressions of the campus environment. These reflections will come in handy when you’re writing those “Why ___ University?” essays, and they'll help with your final college decision, too.
Questions about college tours or the admissions process? Send us a message.