I strongly recommend that students tour as many of the colleges they are applying to as possible, preferably before submitting an application. If not then, college tours should be done later with the student’s top choice schools that offered an acceptance as one means of making the best decision about where to attend. Here are some pointers about how to approach college touring:
Why tour before applying?
It’s great to learn from a client that her or his family started visiting schools early (sophomore year isn’t too soon!), possibly incorporating visits in family vacations and trips. In my view the more visits, the more students are likely to become discerning judges of what a college has to offer. It is also the case that some schools interpret a documented visit as an indication of sincere interest, a bit of an advantage for the applicant later when the college is evaluating applicants.
How to plan college tours and make arrangements….
The majority of schools offer twice a day dual offerings, most typically an information session led by an admissions staff member, and a tour conducted by a current student. Both are valuable, and provide key information and impressions that can help with evaluating institutions. A typical schedule for a given college is a morning info session (for example at 10 a.m.), perhaps in the building where the admissions office is located, followed by a one-hour tour at 11 a.m. Then there will be an afternoon pairing of sessions at perhaps 2 and 3 p.m. This allows for the possibility that families can schedule two schools in one day, provided they are close enough to permit travel from one to another.
Visits should be planned and scheduled well in advance. Go on the college website and click on Admissions, or Prospective Students. Somewhere on the site there should be a schedule for campus visits that shows times and locations. It may be possible to register for a visit directly on the site, although you may need to call the admissions office to receive confirmation. Once you are registered you will probably receive information in the mail or via email, and possibly a parking pass also.
Some schools offer a much more in-depth experience, especially to seniors and candidates of high interest. These add-ons may include the possibility of meeting with a professor, staying overnight with a current student in a dorm, eating a meal in the dining commons, or attending a class. For students applying to distinctive programs such as athletics or musical ensembles, additional events may be open, such as observing a rehearsal or meeting with a coach. I suggest locating the admissions rep for your school or region and contacting that person to learn about the possibility of an expanded visit.
Remember that a significant focus of admissions events is a marketing orientation, so do your homework beforehand and ask good questions about the things that matter most to you. Try and grab a copy of the student newspaper while on campus, as the stories may reveal a more inside perspective. Chat up as many current students as possible during your time on campus, especially some who are not affiliated with the admissions office.
Touring colleges across the U.S. is a constant for me as an educational consultant, and I never tire of it. Some fun things that I do to commemorate a visit is to take several photos while on the tour, and stop by the campus bookstore to purchase a pennant and a pack of pens or pencils. The pennant is for my office, and the pencils are for gifts for clients. I hope you enjoy your college tours as much as me!