I’ve been on more college tours than anyone I know. I’ve seen every school that was ever on my list. In 2014, I toured 21 campuses all over the country. So naturally, I’ve learned some lessons along the way. Here are my top tips.
Talk to current students
Before you leave on your trip, tell your college counselor which schools you are going to visit and ask for a list of your high school’s alumni that currently attend each of these schools. Don’t be afraid to contact them. Most people will be very excited and willing to talk to you about their school.
A tour given by one of these alumni can actually be more helpful than a tour given by a real tour guide. First of all, this person knows what it’s like to make the academic and social transition from your high school to that college. They can give you unique and personalized insight. Also, they are likely to be very honest about the downsides of attending that school, so you’ll get information you would never get from the actual tour guide.
When I toured one college campus with an alumna from my high school, we got to eat lunch in the dining hall, hang out with her friends, and attend a psychology class. She showed me her dorm, so I got a sense of what the typical living arrangements are like, because the college tour provided by the school usually only shows the best dorms on campus.
If no alumni from your high school attend the college you’re visiting, talking to any current student can help. Make conversation with whomever you can. When I toured one school, candidly speaking to the assistant tour guide on a walk back to the admissions office convinced me that that college would be my top choice.
While on the tour, taking notes can seem dorky and troublesome. When you look around, the only other people you see scribbling in a notebook will probably be tiger parents. When I was walking through campuses, I definitely didn’t feel that taking notes was worth it. But I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong. When it came time for me to write “Why our school?” supplements, I was screwed. I didn’t remember anything from the tours except the general vibe I felt on campus (which definitely wasn’t enough to fill the required 300 words).
Just take notes! It will make your life a lot easier in a few months. When you look back at your notebook, you can simply make an outline of the most important information you wrote down and then write the supplement based on that.
Do research beforehand
If you do research about the aspects of college life that are most important to you (be it Greek life, sports, academics, etc.), you can bring questions to the tour. This way, you can get the most out of the experience. It would suck if a few weeks later you discover that you have an important question that you could have asked on the tour. But now it’s too late and you’re thousands of miles away.
Don’t judge the tour by the tour guide
This one is harder than it sounds. Even if you don’t mean to, it’s easy to assume that the tour guide is representative of the entire student body. But this assumption is usually false.
Sometimes, you’ll get a terrible tour guide, which makes you hate the college even if it’s great. Other times, you’ll get an amazing tour guide and you’ll feel it’s easy to overlook a lot of the problems with the school.
Spend some time walking around on your own and talking to current students (as explained above) to get a better idea of the true nature of the school.
This tip also goes for other superficial things that aren’t really representative of the college. For example, don’t judge the school by the weather that day. I tended to like schools more when it was sunny and warm outside and dislike schools when it was cloudy.
Explore the city
It’s important to know where you would be living for the next four years because you probably won’t spend 100% of your time on campus. Check out cool restaurants. Go sightseeing. Don’t forget to take notes on how you felt about the city as well.