It’s never too early to get your feet on a college campus. Really.
My husband and I started having conversations with our teenagers about which colleges they were interested in visiting during the summer leading up to their junior year of high school.
For some, that might seem early, but many colleges and universities accept early applications right around the beginning of senior year, so we wanted to get a jump start on planning.
My daughters always knew they wanted to attend college – it was never a ‘maybe’ kind of thing for them. We all knew that they’d be going… the real question was simply ‘where?’
We followed a long and winding path to help them find the right college fit for them, and found that the college tour was an absolutely essential and incredibly helpful step in the process. So here I am! Hopefully our experiences (and missteps!) will help you in your college-bound journey.
Not sure which colleges you want to visit? Time to do some research.
If your high school offers a college fair or has college reps visit, this is a great place to get ideas and first impressions of some colleges you may be interested in touring. Once you have some ideas, get to Googling! Visit the school websites to preview your top choices – you can even take virtual tours to learn more. This may help you narrow down your list.
Wait, what list? You’ll probably end up with a short list of schools that you like, so yes, you will need to jot down notes and impressions as you do your research. Consider a dedicated notebook or Google Doc to keep the information handy in one place. Use it to make a list, add the pros and cons for each college, document questions you might have, and so on. We found that our Pros/Cons list was especially helpful not just while doing this initial research, but we also used it again later when we needed to narrow down our top choices.
After identifying where you’d like to visit, it’s time to make a plan.
Now that you’ve got a list of potential colleges, the next step is to make a plan to get the most out of your tours. Colleges offer options based on your needs; some offer group tours while others offer personalized tours. Either way, be sure to register your visit with the college. Signing up for a tour in advance is a MUST DO – it allows school staff to make sure their tour group sizes aren’t too big, and helps them tailor your visit to your needs and wants.
So your first step? Register for a tour.
You can typically schedule tours by visiting the Admissions section of each school website.
Colleges may also offer breakout sessions during your tour, which may be important to you. You might learn about the admission process, paying for college & financial aid, majors, housing & meal plans, campus life, and health/medical care.
For us, some of this was repeat information because we already did a ton of research. But even having said that, I can tell you that we walked away with at least a few excellent nuggets of info from each breakout session we participated in. So take advantage and attend the sessions you might benefit from the most.
And remember that you may also need to pre-register for these sessions, so find out ahead of time. Don’t wait until you get there to decide, as the sessions may already be full.
Some schools also offer a chance to meet with an admissions counselor, faculty member, athletics coach, band director, or other extracurricular activity staff member. These people can help answer questions and give you an idea of what being a student there is like.
So when it’s time to schedule your campus visit, be sure to consider all your options, register, and make any necessary appointments as soon as you have your schedule in mind.
Now that you’ve registered, lay out your travel details.
Ready to go? Just one more step before you hit the road.
Once you know your timeline, complete any pre-work before you travel. Stuff like filling out questionnaires, registering for breakout sessions, printing out parking passes, and saving/printing directions or maps. All of that is easier to do at home before you get there.
Don’t wait until the last minute to do this, as that will add unnecessary stress.
My daughters checked out several out-of-state universities, so I can tell you that if you are traveling a long distance, arrive at least the day (or several hours) before your tour to give yourself time to get a lay of the land.
And, on the day of the tour, don’t plan to arrive just in time. Arrive early so you can park and find your meeting place with time to spare.
It’s finally campus tour time!
Make sure you’re ready on the day! Here are a few tips to prepare.
Dress for the weather
You will do a lot of walking indoors and outdoors – hellloo layers!
Wear comfortable walking shoes
Eat a good meal prior to arrival
Eat something before you go, even if you’ll get a meal on campus. Nobody likes you when you’re hangry!
Carry a small bag or backpack
Pack water, snacks, and your notebook & a pen to take notes and jot down questions along the way. You can also throw all the swag and pamphlets that you’ll collect into your bag.
During the tour, listen and ask questions. If you are in a group tour and have a hard time hearing, don’t be shy – speak up to let your guide know. You’ll probably only go on one tour, so you don’t want to miss any good info or personalized tips!
Take your time and give each tour its due diligence. If you are on a personalized tour, don’t rush through it, soak up every minute. Remember, not every guide is perfect or will have all the info you need, but you will learn something from each guide.
If they offer you a meal in the student dining hall, be sure to participate. This will give you a glimpse of what your meals will be like should you choose to attend that college.
Tour’s over! Now what?
When the guided tour is over, explore the parts of the campus that weren’t included in the tour. Visit the buildings where you think you’ll be spending the most time.
Then, you’ve got that notebook, right? Go grab a cup of coffee at the campus coffee shop, and do some reflecting. Write down notes and questions that weren’t answered or you didn’t think of during the tour so you can follow up. You might have a new list of pros and cons – write those down too.
Spend time thinking about how you feel on campus. Do you feel safe? Do you feel at home? Does the college have extracurricular activities that meet your needs and personality? Did you hear something about a certain building, upcoming campus project or activity, or institutional accolades that piqued your interest? You won’t regret having written that all down when it comes time to decide on a college.
Just a few more things to consider…
If you are planning to look at more than one college in the same geographic area, give each tour adequate time. One per day is a good starting point (don’t overwhelm yourself!), but if you do plan back-to-back visits, give yourself breathing room between appointments in case one runs long or you encounter inclement weather or heavy traffic.
Incorporate colleges of various sizes (small, medium, and large) into your tour schedule so you have a good idea of all the options.
Although it’s tempting to do all your campus tours during the summer when you have more free time, consider visiting while classes are in session. You will get a much more realistic look at what being a student there would actually feel like.
Once you’ve done all your touring and narrowed down your top college choices, take a second look. If it’s possible, spend a day or two on campus with a friend, acquaintance, or ask if the college offers an option for this. Choosing a college that is a good fit for you is really important, so spend the time and effort so you can make an informed decision.
If you plan to attend a tour with a friend, be sure that each of you gets what you need out of the tour.
Keep in mind that this is also an opportunity to meet other incoming students, and get a jump-start on making new relationships.
Don’t forget to snap the obligatory photo in front of the school sign and stop at the bookstore for souvenirs and swag! These were fun experiences for my family and I, so I am happy we stopped for a photo op.
Of course we had to get a photo of the bobcat statue while touring Montana State University!
Mapping out your plan will help you have a smooth college tour with little to no stress. My hope is that these small tidbits will be helpful as you decide where to visit, and make the most out of your own college tours.
Remember, there is a lot to consider as you look to the future, but always remember to be true to yourself and your needs.
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