College Visit Preparations: How to Plan a Campus Tour
After touring a few universities you’ll find that visits are indeed helpful. During your college visit, consider that this is the campus environment and local area where your child will be living for the next 4+ years. And if there are job opportunities in the area, this relocation could be an even longer commitment.
You’ll need to discover if a small, medium, or large campus is most suitable. Is a city or suburban campus the best fit? If the locale is of little importance, then you’ll have even more options open to you. More tours, oh my!
Campus visits can be an all-day event or a quick one hour tour. Consider whether you want to take a formal tour through the Admissions office and/or an Academic Department or a self-guided tour. Both have their pros and cons. In fact, for those colleges that remain top on your student’s list, I would recommend both.
A formal visit will typically involve setting up an appointment via the college’s website and possibly setting up a more detailed visit to the academic department of your child’s intended major.
Formal visits are usually lengthy with a set schedule. Your day could include checking in at the Admissions Office or Welcome Center, a presentation about the school, a general tour given by student ambassadors, lunch in the dining hall or food court, a visit to an empty classroom, a tour through a staged dorm room, a session on financial aid, and more.
A formal visit may involve touring with a large group of students in varied majors or a small group of students hoping to pursue the same course of study.
Consider college tours versus larger preview days. Preview days are usually large events sponsored by the school during which you’ll get to tour the campus, sit in on presentations, visit a club fair, and/or see a sporting event. These are campus wide events rather than smaller Admissions Office gatherings. Both are beneficial, although I find the larger events to be a bit more time-consuming and stress-inducing. These larger events however are often planned on weekends rather than weekdays making them possibly an easier fit in your calendar.
Meeting with an Academic Department
You’ll need to set up an appointment with the academic department of interest in advance.
If your visit includes meeting with an academic department, then this is where you’ll want to really take notes. What are the criteria for admissions? Does the school support internships and co-ops? How soon will the student begin taking classes in their major interest of study? What projects are required to be completed during senior year? Do they offer scholarships? Are there first-year class requirements that must be met before a student is admitted into the major?
Will your child be spending a large amount of time in a computer lab, engineering lab, theater, or music room? If so, ask to see that space. If the engineering labs are in an old part of the campus, deep within a tired engineering building, then perhaps the school isn’t putting funds toward that particular curriculum.
Self-Guided Tours and Summer Camps
On the day of your formal tour, I would suggest leaving at least an hour free to spend some time exploring the campus on your own. Visit the bookstore, sit down in the food court and observe students, ask a student some questions. Ask what popular restaurants are within walking distance of campus and have dinner there. You’ll see the prettiest areas on your guided tour but may notice some less than stellar sights roaming on your own. Then again, you may find even more to love as you explore!
We’ve received extremely helpful information from current students participating in our son’s intended major as well as from students in marching band. Ask about the activities that interest your child.
Look for summer camps and other ways to spend more time on the campus that most interests your student. For one of Nic’s top school choices, we returned to roam the campus on our own. Consider participating in a summer camp at one of the colleges. A stay in the dorms and more time spent with the students and professors before applying? Yes, please!
You’ll often hear talk of a dream school. Is it the one with the best ranking nationally? The best ranking for a certain course of study? A local school with a great football team? An inspiring campus with beautiful buildings? A campus with a plethora of dining options? The party school? The Ivy school? The school with the fantastic hotel-like dorms and outdoor swimming pool? A dream school has a different meaning to each student. Maybe it’s a family member’s alma mater. Your family may require several visits to this school to determine whether it really lives up to expectations or whether it falls flat in some unexpected ways. Then again, a one time visit may result in that dream school sticking and that’s exciting!
Ideally, parents and/or your student should review college materials that have already been mailed or picked up at college fairs. We devised a question sheet before our first college fair and it’s been amazingly helpful throughout our chats with Admissions, College Deans, Professors, and students.
Many colleges have virtual tours on their websites. We like to watch these together on our big screen TV, if time permits.
Confirm start times and locations. On our first college visit, we forgot that we were traveling from the Central time zone to the Eastern time zone. While we left with plenty of time to make up for this error, we then ran into traffic. After a detour, we finally arrived on time but the mad dash stressed us all out and wasn’t a good way to start a long day. Learn from our mistake!
College campuses can also be large and sometimes their layouts are confusing. Consult a college map prior to your arrival. Know where the parking lot for visitors is located and how far it is from your tour’s starting point.
Decide before your visit if you would like to set up a chat with a coach, marching band director, or other person who may be important to your overall college experience.
When to Visit
Try to schedule a visit while the college is in session. Some campuses don’t even give regularly scheduled tours during the summer months. You’ll need to visit during a high school break that doesn’t conflict with the college’s schedule. And this is why you should absolutely start touring colleges early!
Common Data Sets
We do recommend creating a spreadsheet to compare schools. Student body size? Campus size? Number applied? Number accepted? Number enrolled? How many students join a fraternity or sorority? How many men vs women are on the campus? What’s the average ACT or GPA score of accepted students? Is an interview part of the admissions process? How many students live on campus or are from out of state? Do they have a jazz band, newspaper, or other club of interest?
All of these questions can be easily answered with a quick Google search for common data sets. For example, “Auburn University common data set”. Insert the name of each school and voila! Instant data!
Day of Visit
Eat a good breakfast. It may be a long time before you can sit down for nourishment. Some colleges put out a spread of breakfast food, others provide a bottle of water and a meal ticket for later in the day. With lots of walking, sometimes in all kinds of weather, you’ll want to be fortified.
Speaking of weather, check the forecast. We’ve been caught in a downpour. We’ve toured in extreme heat. Bring extra water, even though schools usually have bottles available.
Bring a notebook. We like to sit down with Nic during lunch or immediately after a college visit and ask him his immediate impressions. He may note that he liked or didn’t like the dorms. He’ll give us his thoughts on the engineering facilities. Any random observation that he can look back on to help with his decision is jotted down quickly. Some of these details will be difficult to recall after you’ve visited several campuses, so you’ll appreciate being able to refer back to them.
Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Even if the campus is large enough to supply a bus, van, or trolley transportation for part of the tour, you will still be walking and standing on your feet a lot.
Should You Visit Every School of Interest?
It depends. Does time and budget permit? Do you really want your child to see that high reach school before you know if he/she is accepted?
Make the Most of Your College Visit
As an investment in your child’s future, be sure to go on college visits, ask questions, and help guide your child to find the right fit for them.
Is the school with the best ranking, newest buildings, and/or coziest dorms the top pick for your child? Does the school closest or farthest from home appeal more? Is the university with the most costly tuition (or the one offering academic merit scholarships covering the full price of tuition) the best choice?
We don’t have the answers to those questions. What we are concluding is that the best fit for our child will be unique from what the best fit is for yours. There’s not a single path to success. Help your child set their own course with a college visit!
Update: Nic applied to 7 schools. He was accepted to six (Florida Institute of Technology, Purdue, University of TN at Knoxville, University of Alabama at Huntsville, Ohio State, and Auburn University). After careful consideration, Nic has chosen his college path. He’ll be attending Auburn University, Auburn, AL.
Now, it’s your turn to help us on our journey to college. Tell us how many colleges your child visited and what was the criteria that led them to pick their school. Or just give us your most helpful tips and advice!