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The College Tour: When and Where to Begin? Part 1



The earlier you begin the college search process, the easier the college application process will be when you find yourself starting your Senior year. One element of that "start-early" plan involves scheduling college tours earlier than when most think is appropriate. As a result, your college list will be more refined because you'll know exactly what you do and don't want in a college. Every tour will help define what your "ideal" college looks like. So, when and where do you start?


Earlier Than You Would Expect

The summer BEFORE you start high school is the moment you become a college applicant. Remember that if you want to be ahead of your competition. You're coming into this game completely unaware of what you want in a college, and that's okay and expected, but if you book some college tours, you'll quickly learn what could become an important attribute to your list of college characteristics. The point is, you won't know unless you check things out.


The summer after your Freshman year is an ideal time to get your feet wet on the college scene. Before you start panicking and thinking, "How am I supposed to know which college I even want to tour?", let's slow it down. At this point, it JUST DOESN'T MATTER. This early in the process, it doesn't matter about the specific college but rather about getting a tasting of a college's demographic setting. That's what you'll be sampling!


Where to Start?

There are four labels I use to describe a college's demographic setting: City, Urban, Suburban, and Rural. Everyone seems to understand the differences between Suburban and Rural, but some confusion sets in as to the differences between City and Urban. A City school is one where there truly isn't a distinct college-centered campus. The school's buildings are jumbled about between other city buildings, apartments, coffee shops, etc. A City school's dorms, if you're lucky enough to live in one after freshman year, spills out onto the city's sidewalk. You'll be heading out elbow to elbow with tourists, along with business professionals heading off to work. You'll be dodging cabs and saying "hello" to the homeless people you come to know on your daily walks to class. This may sound terrible but think about the energy and pulse of the city. Even with the constant sound of sirens filling the air, this can be absolutely thrilling for most students, if they have the street smarts to stay safe. An Urban school is still considered "city-like" but with one huge distinction: there's a definite campus center; an invisible line, if you will, between the college world and the "real" world. The Urban school is typically located away from the downtown center of things, but just as necessary to be streetwise when walking from place to place. There are so many benefits to an Urban campus. You get all the fun of so many things to do in the city, but without being in the center of it all. It's a bit safer, too, since the people on campus are typically associated with the school, not just wanderers.


How to Book a Tour?

I would suggest you book a tour of each of these different college setting demographics. You'll have to get exposed to these different settings and pay attention to how you feel in each. You're still young as a Freshman, and your comfort level may change as you get older, so keep that in mind. But getting exposed to each demographic and taking note of your preference will help the college search process immensely in the future.


If you're reading this from the Cleveland, Ohio area, here's a great breakdown of each demographic that could be toured without too much trouble. Again, you're not touring to see the specific school, necessarily, just the demographic setting. The specific school comes later!


For an Urban school setting, book a tour with Case Western Reserve University or Carnegie Mellon University. (DO NOT book an interview!)


For a city setting, book a tour with Cleveland State University or the University of Pittsburgh.


For a suburban setting, book a tour with John Carroll University or Baldwin Wallace.


For a rural setting, book a tour with College of Wooster or Miami University of Ohio.


These schools are easy to get to and will tell you a great deal about how you feel in a particular demographic setting. You want to be comfortable in the local setting of your future college, so getting an idea of the differences now will help you decide later what you truly like. Exposure and experiences are the only way you'll truly know.


Visit a college's website and the tour booking option is usually found under the Admissions tab, then the Visit tab. Be sure to go on an "official" tour, instead of wandering a campus. Booking an "official" tour has many benefits, including Demonstrated Interest. I spoke about that in this post. Also, you'll begin to understand what a college looks like, various dorm options, and the differences in dining facilities. Starting Freshman year is not too early, it's how to begin your college search: with a plan, with a focus, and it may even motivate you to do better in school now that you can see a goal, albeit a bit blurry right now. Next week's post will discuss how to make any college tour worth your while!


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