One important part of the college admission process is visiting campuses to get a real feel for the schools on your student’s list.
Some students are anxious to get started on this stage of the process and others may drag their feet – in some cases because they are nervous. It may make sense to start by visiting a school or two that aren’t on your student’s list of favorites so you can all get comfortable with the format and process, but eventually you get to those all-important visits to colleges on your student’s short list.
Most campus tours are fairly standard. Admission counselors make a short presentation followed by a student led tour around the campus. The tour usually includes key buildings such as the student center, dining services, performance space, classrooms, science labs, library, a typical dorm, and any showplaces at that particular college.
Tour guides also share stories and answer questions as you make the rounds. Be sure to encourage your student to ask plenty of questions to get the information they need.
Why stop there?
Standard tours are fairly similar, and after a while they can all start to feel alike. There’s only so much each college can do to set itself apart. The real experience of college is about so much more than the buildings.
It’s possible that by the end of the formal tour your student will have decided that they have seen all they want. But if the tour did just enough to pique your student’s interest, it’s time to explore further.
Many students (and parents) think there is nothing more that they can do. They may even feel that they aren’t allowed to wander around unaccompanied. That is rarely the case. Most schools welcome you to spend time and explore. After all, the school wants you to learn enough to be interested in attending. Most of the time, no one is even going to notice that you’re there.
Spending some time on campus is an excellent way to get a real feel for a college beyond the packaged presentation and tour. Your student will be able to focus on specific areas of interest and get a sense of place as they walk from dorm to classroom buildings, from classrooms to dining or fitness centers. They can watch and interact with students and get to know who they are, how they behave, what they are doing.
This might even be an excellent time for you to get a cup of coffee somewhere and let your student spend some time walking around on their own. They’ll blend right in, and maybe be more comfortable talking with other students.
What might your student do on a non-tour campus tour?
There are many things your student might want to consider in order to find out more about a school. What they choose to focus on will depend on their interests and the amount of time they want to spend.
Make some arrangements with admission –
- If your student would like to visit a class, make arrangements ahead of time with the admissions office. Most faculty are open to having students visit and many students do.
- If there is an area of particular interest that wasn’t on the tour, your student can go on their own, or ask to be shown the facility. Most admissions offices would be happy to make arrangements.
- Admission offices can arrange for your student to meet with a professor in their area of interest to learn more. This is also a good time to notice faculty office spaces and whether students seem to be around. (If your student meets with a professor, be sure they get their name and write a thank-you note afterward.)
- Your student can make arrangements for an overnight visit. Your student will be assigned to a student host and will stay in the dorm. It’s a great way to get a feeling for residential life and student activities on campus.
Explore on your own –
- Get a campus map and find the areas of interest. Print it out from the website or ask admission for one.
- Visit on a weekday when classes are in session to get a better idea of an active campus. Watch students between classes. Do they talk to each other? Do they seem to be engaged?
- Go to the dining hall or café and sit and watch student interactions. (Admission might even give you a voucher.)
- Visit classroom buildings – especially in any areas of interests. Check out the facilities – labs, theater, art studios, music practice rooms, chapel, fitness center (Are there only athletes there? Would your student feel comfortable?) What are the most active areas on campus?
- Go to an event – athletic game, theater performance, music concert, speaker’s forum.
- Notice whether students are walking around campus or whether people seem to drive everywhere. Does that matter to you?
- Visit neighborhoods around the campus. Are there restaurants or convenient places to shop? Is there green space? Does it feel safe?
- Notice whether there are places for special interest groups. Are there centers for students of color, LGBTQ, first generation students, different faiths, students with disabilities, international students, veterans etc? If one (or more) of these areas are of interest, try to visit and talk to students there.
- Check out centers for tutoring, writing, study abroad, career or internship. Are they busy? Do they feel welcoming? Stop in and chat and ask what they do and how students access them.
- If you can, visit the campus at night as well. It can feel significantly different. Is it well-lit? Is it active? Does it feel safe?
Standard admission tours are important and helpful. Both parents and students can gather information and ask questions. But if your student is truly interested in a school, it’s also helpful to go beyond that standard tour and get a fuller campus experience. Enjoy the adventure!