College Tours 101

For Parents of College-Bound Students

While there is a wealth of information about colleges available online, in your college counselor’s office and even on social media, there is nothing that can take the place of walking through a college campus. You are looking at a significant investment of both time and money so, if possible, take a little extra effort to make sure you are getting that investment right.

Touring college campuses is an exciting time for both parents and students! Whether your student has already been accepted into college or if he or she is still in the process of applying, here are my Top 5 Tips for having the best possible experience when touring college campuses:

  1. Plan, plan, plan! This simple tip will diminish much of the frustration parents and students often experience when preparing to tour a college campus. Do some research ahead and figure out where you can park, where the tour will be meeting, how long the tour will last, and how much time you will need to reach the campus.  Do your best to allocate enough time for the tour and information session, as well as some time to grab a coffee in the student union, a trip to the book store and a leisurely stroll around campus. These “non-structured” times are likely to tell you more about the school than any formal activities.
  2. Ask questions. During a college tour, encourage your student to inquire about school traditions, clubs they would like to join, or what dining options they will have. It is important that your student is involved and listening on a tour, but it is perfectly OK for you to ask questions as well. Find out about campus safety, health services, and career counseling. Your child may seem embarrassed but, in the end, he or she will be happy you asked.
  3. Dress Appropriately. If the campus is hilly or if the tour is long, wearing comfortable shoes that you can walk in is a must. Bringing a jacket may also be a good idea. Even on a warm day, college buildings may be kept chilly. There is no reason to attend a tour in business attire but be respectful. Keep your torn jeans and midriff tops at home and remember that no one wants to see T-shirts or baseball caps from their rival school.
  4. Beware the Tour Guide. As a former college tour guide, I put a lot of emphasis on the quality of the tour. If ever pressed for time on a campus, always opt for the tour instead of the information session. Although there may be a few small differences, information sessions at most schools are largely the same. They go over the admissions requirements, the admissions process and highlight some key marketing points. All of this information can usually be found in the school brochure or website. But, the tour is a chance to get a feel for the campus, meet a real student, and get a slightly more candid and less scripted account of life and academics at the school. However, it is important to remember that your tour guide is only 1 student out of thousands. As such, it is important not to put too much importance on how much you liked – or didn’t like – your tour guide. You should never apply to a college just because you loved the tour and you should never take a college off your list because your tour guide was a dud. Use the tour as one input into your overall decision making process.
  5. Take Notes. Anyone who has done a multi-college trip knows how quickly campuses tend to merge once you get back home and try to remember specific details. Know what you are looking for in a college experience and make a grid or set of questions you want to answer at each college you visit. You should absolutely note things like interesting majors or academic opportunities that appeal to you but also take note of things you can only learn by visiting campus. For instance, are students sitting in groups, working or chatting together, or are they sitting solo, listening to headphones in front of an electronic device. Do professors seem friendly and approachable or do they walk through campus with their heads down, hoping no one stops them? Is campus easy to navigate or will it take a taxi and 2 buses to get to your next class? Keeping note of these details will help you remember each campus more accurately and will also come in handy when you write your “Why Paragraphs.”
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