When you get ready to tour colleges, you already know that it is more complicated than simply going online to reserve a date or calling up a school and arranging a visit. Your parents have to take the day off from work, make travel arrangements, you have to find time in your super busy school schedule, and more. How to tour colleges effectively will be extremely important to shaping your college list and final college decision!
Let’s walk through the steps of how to tour colleges successfully, including arranging a visit, planning for your travel, what to expect, putting together a list of questions, maximizing your opportunities on campus, and frequently asked questions about visiting colleges.
Arrange a Visit
The first thing you need to do is to arrange a visit on campus. We will then walk you through the steps of how to put together an A+ visit that fits your needs.
Step 1: Contact the admission office.
Grab your calendar and call the admission office of the first school on your list. If you are wondering how many colleges you should visit, that depends on every student, but a good rule of thumb is to consider visiting five to six colleges so you have a few to compare. It is also a good idea to go for your number one choice first because it is possible to run into scheduling complications later on — go for Number 1 first and then add colleges as time goes on. (You can always squeeze a Saturday visit in at a local college if there is a time crunch.)
Make a personal connection and call each admission office — do not sign up for a visit online. Try as much as possible to talk to the campus visit coordinator at every college or university you want to visit so they can lay out every single possibility available to you.
One more insider’s tip: Do not have your mom or dad call. Admissions officials recognize and appreciate when students take the initiative on their own. Call yourself and make the appointment or join in on speakerphone with a parent so you and the campus visit coordinator can discuss your visit as a team.
Step 2: Talk through your needs and schedule.
It is important to recognize that not every student has the same needs while visiting campus. If you do not make your specific interests or preferences known, admission offices cannot accommodate you. For example, if you are interested in learning support or mental health resources, it is important to communicate that information in advance.
Furthermore, if you do not talk to someone about your dietary needs, you may not have a chance to meet with the dietitian on campus. You may never know about participating in steel drum practice on campus (or whatever you are interested in!) if you do not talk to a live person about your interests.
Students are so varied, interesting, and different — do not treat your campus visit as if you are one of a thousand cattle herded by a cattle rancher. Make your requests known and specific. The college or university may not be able to honor every request, but they will likely try!
At the very least, make sure you build in time to:
- Listen to an information session with an admission counselor.
- Go on a campus tour.
- Eat lunch on campus. (This is important, believe it or not!)
- Visit with someone in an academic department of your choice.
- Talk with someone who leads extracurricular activities that you are interested in, such as athletics or other specific clubs or organizations.
Step 3: Consider whether you want an individualized or group visit.
Are you the type of person who squirms in the limelight or do you thrive when you receive individualized attention? At Campus to Career Crossroads, we highly recommend requesting an individualized visit when possible.
What is the difference? During a group visit, everyone listens to the same speaker and sometimes goes on tour with hordes of people. In short, it is not individualized at all. Individual visits often give students a deeper opportunity to talk one-on-one with professors, sit in on classes, talk to members of, say, the tennis team, and more.
Plan for Your Travel
Once you have a schedule in place, it is time to plan your trip. Naturally, planning for your travel depends a lot on where you live and where the college or university is located. For example, if you must travel from home in California to a college visit in Maine, it is likely that you will need to fly. However, if you are traveling to a neighboring state, it may be a matter of simply hopping into the car.
One great resource to check out in advance to understand the local scene is College Scoops. You can get insider’s information on where to stay, eat, and explore from their student ambassadors.
Tip 1: Consider planning for travel in the off-season.
Opting for off-season travel means you will likely save money on hotels, at restaurants and on rental cars. It is helpful to compare costs from one season to the next. For example, if you are considering a college visit in September but check into prices in January, you may save even more. Consider waiting a few months to attempt a college visit if you are interested in saving on visit costs.
Tip 2: Ask about application waivers.
Some colleges want to recognize your time, money spent, efforts in touring, and may provide an application waivers code. This waiver code generally will cover their application fee! If you do get an application voucher, be sure to save it in a safe place since you may be applying for months.
Tip 3: Ask about discounts for visiting colleges.
Many hotels and restaurants offer discounts if you tell them that you are visiting a college in their town. Some colleges can provide you with a list of hotels and restaurants in advance of your visit. Check through emailed information and packets that get sent in the mail prior to your visit. Sifting through that information can reveal discounts and other perks.
What to Know in Advance of Touring Colleges
What can you expect once you actually get to campus? Your heart may be pumping, you may be nervous — and that is completely normal. College campus visits are completely new territory for high schoolers. One other thing — unless specifically requested (such as for a scholarship interview), you can dress casually.
Let’s take a look at some of the things you can expect to encounter on your visit and how to prepare for them in advance.
Write down a list of questions in a notebook, including financial aid questions. University staff on campus want you to pepper them with questions, so do not disappoint them! Check out the College Board’s Campus Visit Checklist for a short list of questions to ask during a campus visit.
You should receive materials prior to visiting campus (either via email or snail mail), so do not open them the night before. You should receive a map of campus, information about parking, and more.
Before you even set foot on campus, you will want to research the parking situation ahead of time. Parking can be a nightmare on campus, so it is important to know the acceptable parking lots available to you. In most cases, parking should be free but it might not be. If you do not receive a map or directions ahead of time, ask for specific parking instructions before you leave.
If you attend a group college visit, you may learn more about the college or university through information sessions. These topics can range from admission to financial aid to academics or athletics. Think through some questions you may have about the information session you will attend ahead of time. This way, you do not walk away wishing you are missing information. This is your chance to get all your questions answered — make sure you get the information you need. You may have an opportunity to ask one-on-one questions after a particular session.
The campus tour offers all students and parents the chance to get a feel for a college campus. You want to get a thorough, comprehensive tour of the campus. This includes viewing:
- A residence hall
- The dining hall
- An academic building (including a typical first-year classroom)
- The student center
Note that you want to see the first-year residence hall and the first-year dining hall. If they only want to show off upperclass rooms, it may raise red flags. In fact, do not be afraid to ask to see the first-year residence halls during your visit.
Meeting with Admission Counselor
If you have the opportunity to meet with an admission counselor, take it! An admission counselor is the person assigned to help you with all the parts and pieces of getting admitted, as well as meeting the deadlines to get there. In many instances, the admissions counselor will be reading your application and making a decision about your admissions fate. Getting to know your admission counselor allows you to take advantage of the “fast track” to the inside scoop. If you have a question about applying through the Common App or their institutional application, ask the admission counselor. If you have a question about residence hall life, ask the admission counselor. If you have a question about a particular scholarship, ask the admission counselor.
Think of the admission counselor as the master of the switchboard. All you have to do is ask one person your questions instead of trying to track down answers from many different individuals on campus. Get to know the admission counselor during a visit on campus — it will pay off in the end.
Who knows? Getting to know the admission counselor may even work in your favor beyond applying. What if the counselor were to call you if they find out about a scholarship that will fit you perfectly? Maybe there is a meeting with an alumna who will be in your town soon and they think of you! Building relationships is always a good thing.
Meeting with Professors
Chances are, the sooner you can develop relationships with professors, the sooner the school you should attend will become more apparent to you. Meet with the people who will teach you and influence you in profound ways. It is a good idea to keep in mind how this person should conduct himself or herself, how you like to be motivated and taught, and more.
You may be intimidated to meet with a professor, but remember that they are usually really friendly people. They may shape your entire future and career, so if you get a chance to meet them, why not take that opportunity?
Attending a Class
In addition to meeting with a professor, you may want to get a feel for what it is really like to attend a class. If you are visiting a large state university, ask to attend a traditional first-year lecture hall. You will likely know right away whether that classroom size is for you. On the other hand, a small private college will yield a much smaller classroom size, so checking out a smaller classroom may help you decide whether or not it is too intimate for you. (Some class sizes might end up containing ten or fewer students!)
Going to a Club Meeting or Athletics Practice
In addition to meeting the coach or extracurricular director of a particular activity, you may want to actually attend a club meeting or athletic practice. This allows you to meet the other club members or student-athletes. Ask them questions about their experience, their views on the coach, and any other question you can think of about the campus community. You want to find the right team that you know will support you. Remember, you will eat, sleep, live and breathe with these people, so make sure they are the right fit!
Eating in the Dining Hall
Many people underestimate the importance of eating on campus. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner on campus if you can. It will give you an idea of the food choices, how it tastes, and even how social these mealtimes are at certain campuses. Ask if you can eat with a student who works in the admission office and take that opportunity to ask them as many questions as possible. What do they like about college? What would they change if they could? Even if the people you go to lunch with may not be your best friend once you are on campus, they can still give you great insight into what college life is like.
Spending the Night in a Residence Hall
Nervous about spending the night in a residence hall with strangers, do not worry — that is a common reaction. However, remember that you will be amongst strangers when you leave for college for the first time. Staying on campus can give you a sense of what students are like and whether you think you feel “at home” in a particular residence hall.
Have your mom and dad stay in a nearby hotel and give it a try. Overnight visits can usually help you say “yep” or “nope” to a particular college or university.
Maximize Your Opportunities on Campus
What else can you do besides what we have already mentioned? Plenty! Do not forget to take time for yourself, ask questions during the tour, consider a repeat visit, and follow up.
Take Time for Yourself
We get it — spending time on a college campus can be overwhelming. There are so many new sights, sounds, tastes and smells. Whenever you think you want to take a break, we encourage you to do it. Sit in the library and observe the students. Take a minute to watch an art class paint on the lawn of the art building. Watch the students picnic and study underneath the clock tower.
You can learn a lot through observation, so take time to watch the students when you get a chance.
Ask Questions During the Tour
Do not get swept up in what the student tour guide is saying — ask questions during your campus tour! No question is too silly. If you have a question about the size of the closets or the height of the ceilings, ask!
One of the most important things to remember is to not get completely wiped off your feet by the beauty of the buildings. You are not there to make friends with a classroom. You are there to make friends and surround yourself with people who will support you throughout the time you are in college. People first, buildings second.
Consider a Repeat Visit
If you think you need another visit later on, do not be afraid to admit it. It is easy to get confused about what you liked best at each college, which is why it is important to take good notes after each college visit. If you spend just ten minutes scribbling down some notes after each college about your likes/dislikes, it could save you time down the road.
Then, later on, if you have two colleges you just cannot decide between, you may want to do a “tie-breaker” visit between the two. Do not forget, colleges where you are accepted at will hold an Accepted Student Day generally February through April. Accepted Students Days provide a much deeper dive beyond the initial tour.
After you visit campus, we highly recommend that you send thank-you notes to everyone you came into contact with. Yes, seriously! Not too many other people send thank-you notes (you know it is a dying art) and it puts you in a favorable position among all who come in contact with you. They will be impressed, mark our words.
Learn the Process from Start to Finish
Learn how to tour colleges from start to finish, from first developing a shortlist to sending out notes of thanks. It is a good idea to make sure you keep great notes on each college or university you visit and ask for your family’s input as well.
Need more help with how to tour colleges and the entire process? Campus to Career Crossroads can help you.
Let’s take a look at a few frequently asked questions about how to tour colleges.
What types of colleges should I tour?
It is a good idea to tour a wide variety of colleges and universities. Do not limit yourself to looking at only large public universities or only liberal arts colleges. Take a look at the following:
- Large public universities
- Private universities
- Liberal arts colleges
- Religious affiliated universities
- Colleges That Change Lives
Do colleges care if you tour?
Colleges absolutely want you to visit their campuses! However, they will not force you into the car. You have to make time to do it on your own. Look at college and university websites to get a sense of the best time to visit campus (maybe during a particular athletic season!) and go! If you are having trouble nailing down the right time to visit, call the admission office for more information.
When should you start college touring?
It is never too early to start visiting colleges. Anytime during high school is a great time to consider visiting. However, it is a good idea to start visiting colleges no later than junior year.
How do you explore colleges?
There are many different ways to explore colleges, but the best way to do it is to get your feet on campus and make your college visits your own. Formulate them to fit your personality and specific needs and make sure you get everything out of them that you can.
One thing you should never consider doing in place of a true on-campus visit is a virtual tour. Needless to say, it is not the same thing as an on-campus visit!