college tour

How to Major in College Touring

Many articles have been written offering advice about how to get the most out of your college tour, but they are commonly written from a one-tour-fits-all perspective. I’ve come to believe that there are actually three levels of college tours and, as students become more familiar with what different types of colleges have to offer and more certain about what they want from their college experience, they should approach the tour with different outcomes in mind. College Touring 101: The introductory Course 

I love college tours - and I go on a lot of them - but I would estimate that a third of what I hear is the same at almost every school I visit. There's a lottery system for housing, there's a blue light system for safety, there's a swipe card for use in the dining hall, and everyone gets to keep their mailbox for all four years. I encourage you to make your first two or three visits to ANY college just to get the patter down and to learn about the features almost all colleges share. The purpose of the first round of tours it to get an overview so that you'll be better able to focus on how colleges differentiate themselves.

Before the tour: Create a fairly broad list of colleges to visit – don’t make your criteria too specific too soon or you might rule out some excellent options.

HINT: You don’t need to travel far for this round of visits; find schools in your area.

During the tour: Listen carefully. Some of what the tour guide talks about may not make sense to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you’re probably not the only one who doesn’t understand.

After the tour: Think about what features of that type college appealed to you and what features really didn’t appeal to you without concerning yourself with whether or not you will ultimately apply to that specific college.

College Touring 201: The Survey Course

Once you are able to recognize the features that most colleges share, for the next round of tours you should visit colleges that more closely match your interests and emerging preferences for size, location, major, extracurricular activities and so on. But don’t narrow the list of schools too much yet – you still want to cast your net broadly enough to see how a school a bit bigger, a bit more rural, a bit more pre-professional, or a bit more liberal feels to you. Try not to make any assumptions until you’ve had a chance to see for yourself. The goal of this round of tours is for you to be able to articulate which specific features, qualities, and programs are important to you and why.

Before the tour: Don’t schedule visits at more than two colleges in a day. Plan to attend both the tour and the information session whenever feasible.

HINT: It can be prudent to sit near the door during these early information sessions. While some sessions are studded with valuable information, others can be painfully tedious. If you’re not finding the information being shared to be particularly useful and enthusiasm is waning, slip out.

During the tour: Ask your tour guide questions about what it’s like to be a student at that college. Look at what is being posted around campus, find out what happens on the weekends, learn about the school’s traditions. Try to get a sense of the culture of the college.

 HINT: About halfway through most of the tours I’ve been on, people stop asking questions. At that point, I move up to the front and engage the tour guide in conversation. They have a wealth of first-hand information so don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about the college from a student’s perspective.

After the tour: Make time to take notes about what you saw. Very quickly your college tour memories will become indistinct from one another.

HINT: Bring a pack of ruled sticky notes with you. After the tour, go through the viewbook and, where a picture triggers a memory about an important detail, write that down on the sticky note and post it next to the image. That way, when you try to remember which college had the rock climbing wall and which had the amazing theatre, you’ll be able to trigger your memory both visually and verbally.

College Touring 301: The Independent Research Course

By now you’ve visited many campuses and you have a much clearer understanding of what you are really looking for in your ideal college and you are narrowing your list. Now you are ready for some really serious college touring – the type where you look in every nook and cranny, ask hard questions, and evaluate carefully how well the program suits your abilities, interests, and goals. The purpose of this final round of tours is to determine whether the college is a place where you would flourish and thrive.

Before the tour: Do a lot of research. Write down questions about those things you need to know more about and identify the parts of the campus that you want to see and the people whom you want to connect with.

Specifically, if there is something that is going to make or break your college experience (being able to have your own radio show, being involved in an a capella group, getting academic support) this is the time to explore those opportunities and resources.

During the tour: Listen and watch carefully. Ask questions. Be fully engaged in the tour.

HINT: I believe that you can tell a lot about the culture of a college by how the students treat the facilities. Watch to see if students are respectful of each other, the classroom spaces, the dorms, the grounds/kitchen crew, the faculty, and the visitors.  This is an important piece of a school’s culture that often goes over-looked. Students who take good care of themselves, others, and their environment are typically good students because they also take good care of themselves and their work. And they are just good people to be around.

After the tour: Leave time to go back and re-visit parts of campus or see the facilities that weren’t shown on the tour. If you have a specialized interest, ask when you schedule your appointment if there will be an opportunity to see those facilities. For example, arts majors should see the studios, athletes (even recreational ones) should see the athletic center, and physics majors should see those lab spaces whenever possible.

Note: Typically on the third round of tours, students also interview while on campus.

Make the most of your college tours – there are things to be gained even from a bad tour. The college process is a time to learn more about yourself and to think carefully about what you most want from your college experience. This is a big decision, so take the time to gather the information you need, even if it means returning to a college for a second visit. The more engaged you are in your college tours, the better your final college list will be.

One Tour, Two Different Perspectives My daughter is a high school junior and last week we took our first official tour of colleges specifically for her. Although I had, of course, anticipated this moment for years, looking at colleges through the eyes of an invested parent instead of a detached consultant, was an extraordinary experience for me, unexpected in many ways. I worried about how she would find her niche in this new community, I tried to imagine her taking a semester to study abroad, and I wondered how she would be shaped differently by her experience at each college.

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4 Reasons why the library should affect your college choice I've always been a fan of libraries as a place to study, read quietly, and hang out with friends. But with the advent of Kindle and the ready availability of information on-line, schools and colleges are starting to question if and why they should devote space and capital resources to maintaining their libraries. Here are some compelling reasons why libraries are, and should remain, the hub of a school's campus and a place certainly worth checking out on a college tour.

The College Tour

Between sports, after-school jobs, clubs and homework, high school students are finding it increasingly challenging to make time to tour colleges. However, April vacation presents a wonderful opportunity for these visits: There is enough time to see schools at a distance, classes are still in session, and admissions offices have fully turned their attention to the Class of 2009. Yet, while tour guides and admissions deans can provide a wealth of information, before you leave campus take the time to go beyond the facts and try to uncover the real culture of the school.

Colleges offer information sessions and tours for students, and it is a good idea to attend both. Information sessions are generally lead by an admissions officer who will share the important facts and statistics about their school and then open the floor to questions. Sometimes a panel of students will share their stories and experiences. These sessions are a wonderful way to get a broad overview of the school.

A student-lead tour of the campus allows you to see where students eat, sleep, study and play, and gives a good sense of the type of student who is happy at that school. The tour guide will provide information about a class day, the nitty-gritty details about meal plans and lottery systems for room selection, and will freely share stories of their experiences at the college.

Tour guides will flesh out the college experience at their school, but generally their anecdotes are limited to their personal experiences.

However, for many prospective students, the factors that will contribute to their happiness and ultimate success at college have little to do with class size, wireless Internet availability or the opportunity to "keep the same mailbox for all four years" - all the type of things your tour guide will cheerfully tell you about.

More often, it is the friendships that are cultivated, the experiences never captured in the view book, and the events and traditions that make up school culture that make the "college experience." So, the challenge to juniors is just this: After the campus tour, spend some additional time on campus to uncover the real culture of a school - those things that truly define the undergraduate experience.

One of the best places to start to get a strong feel for a school is to spend time where the students hang out. Note who is where and doing what. Are lots of students in the library studying? Are they helping professors with research? Are they playing foosball in the student center? If you can imagine yourself spending your free time the way many of the students you see are, then it is likely that this school culture is a good match for you.

Another way to get an insider's perspective on a school is to enjoy a meal in the dining hall. Sometimes the admissions office will give prospective students a meal pass, but even if they don't, the information you can gather there is well worth the modest investment. More important than understanding the variety of meal plans the school offers is to get a sense of how many students eat on campus, whether meals are an important social event or just a calorie-consuming opportunity, and if students seem to be friendly and welcoming of everyone or whether specific, well-formed cliques can be identified.

I recently visited a campus where students were encouraged to compost their food waste and recycle their plastics. While it has nothing to do with the dining experience, per se, these are things that are important to me and I could imagine finding soulmates in that dining commons.

For students who know what they want to major in, try to arrange to meet with a professor while you are on campus to learn about unique opportunities for study or research within that department.

The student athlete should certainly be in touch with the coach of their sport but, more broadly, if there is a specific person connected with a club, activity or interest that will define your college experience - be it the maestro of the orchestra, the learning center director or the study abroad coordinator - make an effort to meet that person while on campus.

Making the most of a college visit means investing some extra time and energy, but finding a school that matches your academic, extracurricular, athletic and social interests is more than worth the added effort.

Don't let the tour guide be your only source of information - dig deep!

Tips for a successful college visit

  • Make your reservations early - tour slots fill quickly
  • Sign up for both the tour and the information session
  • Leave plenty of time to walk around campus and the town on your own after the tour
  • Pick up a copy of the student newspaper, read bulletin boards
  • Talk to students you see on campus
  • Walk up front with the tour guide so you can hear him and ask him questions between stops
  • Take notes - you'll forget what you heard
  • If you're inspired, take pictures

Reprinted with permission from Metrowest Daily News