College tours are schools’ best opportunity to convince potential students that they’ve got everything you could ever want to successfully complete your degree while having fun doing it. Their motivation to win you over during your brief visit is good news because you’ll learn a lot about the school in a fairly short time. In the end, visiting a school in person might be what helps you determine where you end up going. There’s just one catch, you’ve got to be fully present to get the most out of your visit. I’ll let you in on two exercises that you can do while on campus that are game changers.
Before we talk about the tour, let’s talk about some different ways of organizing your visits. Many people think that a multiple day trip to visit as many campuses as possible is the only option. That’s not true. Organizing campus visits, tailored to meet your budget and schedule, can be fun and creative. You don’t have to do it all at once or even in the same year.
Visiting colleges can be expensive and time-consuming. Here are some ideas to get you thinking about ways to save time and money when touring colleges:
Let’s say that you’ve got a good school list going and you are ready to visit some campuses. The first thing to do is book a tour well in advance. You can reserve a space on their website, via email, or by calling. Tours can range in length depending on the school, but they generally follow these three types: self-guided, ambassador-led, and the overnight stay.
The self-guided tour is a good option for someone somewhat familiar with the campus or for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time. And with a map in hand (or recorded tour), you can spend as little or as long as you like exploring points of interest.
The ambassador-led tours (private or group) go over details about the school’s history, student life, athletics, and health and safety. Once underway, the guide might take you to see a sample dorm room, a busy dining hall, impressive library, state-of-the-art fitness center, bell tower, stadium, or college store. The tour ends with a question-and-answer period that often includes a visit by an admissions specialist. These tours usually last a couple of hours.
The most immersive tour is the overnight stay program. This choice offers a student-to-student perspective that usually includes a night in the dorm, shared meals, and a chance to sit in on a class or lecture of interest. This is sometimes a good option for students who have already applied and been admitted and are trying to get a more immersive experience to help them decide which school to attend.
After the admissions office and experienced guides have done everything in their power to leave a good impression, it’s now your turn. How can you get more value out of your visit? After taking advantage of any one of the tour options stated above, take a moment to think about any other places that weren’t on the tour that you want to see. For instance, if you love rock climbing or playing tennis in your free time, take a walk over to the climbing wall or tennis courts. If you think you might want to get involved in dance or drama, stop by to see the theater. Most colleges offer a ton of different facilities and not all of them will be highlighted on the tour. Be sure to take some time to see the places where you can picture yourself spending your time.
After you’ve seen all of the places that you want to see, it’s a good idea to allow for some extra time after the tour to just observe and do an honest check-in with yourself. The best way to do this is to find a place on campus where you can settle in. With coffee or lunch in hand, step off the main pedestrian path and take a spot under a tree, stretch out on a sprawling lawn, or look for an empty bench where you can have a seat. Then simply observe the comings and goings of the students, faculty, and staff.
Notice what it feels like to be there. Does the energy feel right to you? And most importantly, can you imagine yourself there as an attending student? If all the other criteria for choosing this school matches up (location, size, weather, area of study, cost, etc.) then this is an excellent exercise to do and here’s why – you are essentially learning if your personality and the school’s personality are a good fit and if this is somewhere you’d like to call home for the next few years.
How else can you determine if the school is right for you? Explore the areas around campus just as you would explore the campus itself. Take a slow approach to or from campus. No matter its location (urban, suburban, or rural), if you are able to, forgo taking a car, rideshare, bus, or subway to bring you right up to the entrance of campus. As long as you feel safe, make a slow approach by foot (or with assistance) so that you have time to notice the characteristics of the neighborhood including its relationship to the natural world.
As you walk around, notice the natural world around you. What trees or plants do you see? Is there anywhere to take in the view of the mountains, rivers, lakes, desert, or parks that make up the nearby landscape?
Don't rush past any of it. Take in the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the place. Get a feel for the entire environment, including the flora, fauna and people. Who and what is thriving there? All these details are important and should be part of your consideration because, if you attend this school, you will be part of this landscape too! Slowing down to experience the details can help you decide if you reallyfeel at home here.
After your visit, you may want to jot down what you noticed on your tour, how you felt while walking around, and anything new and interesting that you learned while on campus. These notes may be helpful to refer back to if you end up deciding between a few schools. They will also come in handy when it comes time to write your “Why X College” essay, which is often one of the hardest parts of the application for students.
The reality is, not everyone can swing an in-person campus tour. Fortunately, there are other ways to get a feel for a school like exploring their website. Many colleges have expanded their virtual tour offerings over the past few years, and now offer fully-guided video tours, opportunities to join a class remotely, or interactive maps that allow you to live stream what is happening on campus in real time. Some videos provide aerial or drone shots of the surrounding area that give a better perspective of the towns, cities, and landmarks nearby. If you can’t visit a school in person, be sure to explore the virtual tour offerings, and follow the steps above.
You can also talk to current students or recent graduates to get a sense of what it’s like to be a student at that school. Many admissions offices will connect you with current students with similar interests, if you reach out and ask. These options help you get a feel for a place even if you aren’t physically on campus.
If you do have the opportunity to tour one or more campuses, then you owe it to yourself, after all the hard work of getting to where you are, to make the most of it. It’s simple, take the time to check in with how you feel while you are there. Then ask yourself, can I see myself here and will I make the best of all this institution has to offer, both on campus and the surrounding opportunities of the neighborhood? If the answer is yes, then I recommend applying or accepting so you can begin your next journey.
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