Choosing a college is a huge decision, and to ensure that it's the
best possible fit -- academically, socially, financially and even geographically
-- it's a good idea to tour several campuses before enrolling.
amazing how many students choose a campus never having set foot on it," says
Valerie Bordeaux. She's director of university outreach and school relations
at California State University Long Beach, and director, president scholars
program. "That may be for financial reasons, but the choice about the institution
you'll attend is so important, you should take the opportunity to tour."
think it's fair to compare choosing a college to any major purchase," says
Carol DelPropost. She's assistant vice-president for admission and financial
aid at Ohio Wesleyan University. "You look at all the features and options,
and think about what will best suit your needs. This is a huge investment,
and you need to try it on for size."
The first thing a campus tour
can do is dispel false perceptions about a school. "I think the biggest misconception
is that since our campus is so big, [people] are known more by numbers than
names," says Mike Kolar. He's the assistant director of the office of admissions
at Michigan State University (MSU). "That's not the case. There's as much
warmth and personality there as a small private school. We hear that quite
He says that prospective students touring the campus experience
that friendliness. "We always hear about how willing our undergraduates are
to lend a helping hand to visitors -- whether it's pointing them in the right
direction to the Union, or telling families why they chose MSU."
Arcuri, a senior at Pace University in New York, toured numerous campuses
before deciding on Pace. She says, "They were all very valuable, and are very
much a turning point for decision-making for prospective students."
checked out campuses primarily in large cities and toured another school's
campus seven times. She says that after being away from New York for 18 months,
she toured Pace and really appreciated how it differed from the other schools
she had seen.
"The school was so hands-on and really stressed the
importance of working and being in the real life of New York City," she says.
"The guide really stressed the 'areas of knowledge' classes and the core classes
that, more or less, made you take part in some kind of civic engagement within
the city. The thought of having the whole city as my campus really excited
Just how many colleges a student should tour is an individual
decision, but it shouldn't be so many that it becomes overwhelming or confusing.
"There are some students who begin very early with a long list, and
will visit 12 or 14 schools. I honestly don't recommend that," DelPropost
says. "I think that's really stretching yourself thin in terms of being able
to absorb enough and make logical comparisons. But four, five, or six is a
There's also the question of whether to group the tours
together in a short period of time, or space them out over several months.
Logistics and travel budgets might make it easier to visit several campuses
in one trip. DelPropost says that this can be a good thing as comparisons
are fresh in the student's mind, but adds that whirlwind tours can be overwhelming
"The real advantage of spacing them out is that you
can absorb that one visit, form some lasting impressions, and have some time
to reflect on that experience," DelPropost says.
The key to a successful
tour is being organized. Because students will likely tour several colleges,
they need to keep records that allow them to make well-informed comparisons
and decisions later on.
"I always tell students to take notes, or
bring digital cameras and take plenty of pictures, because six months from
now you'll say, 'Now where was that great residence hall I liked? Was it at
this campus or that campus?'" says Cheryl Brown, director of undergrad admissions
at Binghamton University in New York state. "We always tell students to keep
a file on their college choices."
DelPropost suggests students keep
a journal complete with a checklist and column for each school they visit.
"That requires thinking ahead in order to develop the checklist, although
there are many available on the web so students can print one out and add
Parents should help students prepare for the tour, and figure
out what they want to learn from it. Check out each school's website. See
if you need to pre-arrange an opportunity to sit in on a class or two. Figure
out in advance the types of questions you'll want to ask.
the best questions are really geared to our students. Why did they decide
to attend MSU?" Kolar says. "Asking about opportunities outside the class
helps students become aware of the numerous student groups, organizations,
study abroad [programs] and internship opportunities, etc..."
think there's anything students or parents should avoid asking," Bordeaux
says. "This is their opportunity. They're looking to select the university
that's going to provide them some of the most important days of their life.
Some will meet their mates or best friends, choose a career, fall in love
with something they discover -- so just ask. If it's something that's uncomfortable
for the tour guide, so be it. I don't mean they should be obnoxious or anything,
but this is their opportunity to make one of the most important decisions
in their life. I don't think there are any dumb questions."
the questions is a personal decision. "If you're a parent, you should talk
with your child beforehand about how comfortable they feel with their parent
asking questions, or if it might be better for a parent to take a separate
tour," says DelPropost.
"Parents should not take over the tour," Bordeaux
says. "Not only does that make it uncomfortable for their student, but it
also impacts the others on the tour."
To get the flavor of the school,
Arcuri suggests observing people on campus, eating in the cafeteria and taking
in a game or a school theater production while there. "Get an understanding
of not only the academic environment, but the social climate of the school,"
Assess your visit immediately after each tour, jotting down
any additional thoughts that come to mind -- even little details. "Go on the
college's website to refresh [your memories] after you've been on the tour,
and connect the visuals to what the campus is all about," Brown says. She
also advises students to pay attention to their gut feelings.
a feel for things," Bordeaux says. "Check out the campus, connect with the
students, and see what the community has to offer so you can make the best
choice for you, so you can thrive in your college years."
have to wait until your senior year of high school to tour college campuses.
Bordeaux notes that her university offers family and individual tours, as
well as group tours for middle schools, high schools, community colleges and
- Best time to take a campus tour: when classes are in session
- Worst time to take a tour: weekends or holidays
- Ask about the student-faculty ratio
- Ask about student support services
- Ask about campus security
- Ask students and faculty about their own experiences on campus
- Check out the community
- Don't forget to ask about extracurricular activities