Last week's post discussed when and where to begin starting your college tours, Part 1 of this series. Today in Part 2 we discuss how to make the college tour a worthwhile experience, where you leave with a great deal of knowledge that you can use to help define what you're looking for in your ideal school, rather than just being herded through campus like sheep.
If this is your first college tour, even a summer tour will be beneficial to you as you begin to understand the college environment. However, it’s best to visit while schools are in session to get the best impression of its truest atmosphere and synergy. You will have to be a detective by being observant and aware of all that is around you. Let the sleuthing begin!
You must take the college tour seriously. You and your parents are investing lots of time, and probably money, too, for you to see those colleges on your list. To make the most of this opportunity, I advise my clients to do the following while on a college tour.
1. Look at the faces of the students. Happy, intense, etc.? That could be you in a year. Do you like what you see?
2. Look at the groups or packs of students. Are we talking loners or is there camaraderie amongst students? The student activity center would also be a good indicator.
3. Go to a Message Board, found in multiple areas, and see the happenings that are being advertised on the board. Is there something you'd be interested in participating or not?
4. Touring a dorm room that is in use has become almost impossible these days. To protect the safety and privacy of students, colleges have arranged "mock" dorm rooms to be shown as an example of what the accommodations are on campus for freshmen in particular. Whatever you see, don't let it deter you entirely. Know it gets better as you move to Upperclassman status.
5. While there, be sure to try to eat at one of the dining halls, or at least observe it, to see what the food that you'd be eating is like. You can ask for a meal ticket from admissions, if not already provided. Additionally, you could just pay cash for a meal, but ask if allowed since many colleges may only be able to charge a student meal plan.
6. Visit the athletic/rec facility. Is there anyone there, or is it a ghost town? You don't have to be an athlete to appreciate a well-run, modern gym.
7. Visit the libraries and observe students.
8. When you meet with ANYONE from your visit, even the tour guide, get their contact information! If it's a student, ask if you can have their info if you have any questions in the future. You'll use the contact info to write a thank you email to the people you met.
9. Don't be afraid to approach a friendly-looking student. Introduce yourself as a prospective student and that you're trying to decide where to apply. Ask what they like about the school, what was their deciding factor in choosing it, and what they do for fun on and off campus. Another telling question: what would they change about the school or their experience?
10. Pay attention to your feelings while on campus. Are you comfortable?
Academics are important in college, of course, but this is also your home away from home for at least 4 years. It's important that you feel comfortable, that you like the people, the food and the facilities, and the weekend activities. Go beyond campus and see what else there is to do when you're not in class. The more you visit different schools, the clearer your direction will become. Make mental notes of what you like and don't like about the schools you visit so you can make a record of it when you get back home. Trust me, it'll all start to blur together if you don't!
Additional Questions You Can Ask While on Tour
1. What changes will the school be going through during the next four years? New buildings, new leadership, new programs?
2. How would you describe what makes the school's students unique?
3. What is the college's strongest draw in major and/or student?
4. What is the school’s priority when it comes to creating the next class of incoming freshmen?
5. What is the school’s mission statement, and can you give a personal experience or example that exemplifies that mission statement?
You don't have to ask all of these, but one or two that are most important to you would be wise to have on hand.
Be honest with your impressions! This is important that YOU evaluate it for yourself.
Whenever there is a good amount of time ahead of the visit, I always work with students to research and make arrangements in certain departments of interest to reach out to and meet with certain professors. If a good impression is made, they tell admissions about the kid they met and it can have weight during the admission process. Additionally, sitting in on a class is always a fun awakening for students that I also encourage. Try to make the time you’ll spend on a tour much more than just walking around campus following a backward-walking student tour guide, as impressive and talented as that may be. Apply this advice and stand out from the herd!
Safe travels, and have fun!