This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow.
After doing a few college drive-bys and tours on our own, our first official college tours began. Here are some of the lessons we learned, so you can make the most of your college tours.
- Plan to spend more time than you think, especially if you want to explore on your own after the college tour. College tours take longer than advertised. They may say they’ll last 60 to 90 minutes, but at the scheduled completion, you’ll probably be standing in the student fitness center on the opposite side of campus from where you parked and you haven’t even seen the dorms yet.
- Avoid taking two school tours a day. It’s challenging even if the other school is only a short drive away. This ties back to point #1 (college tours take longer than advertised) and that general tours often start late morning or early afternoon making it harder to coordinate more than one.
- Take notes. Once you attend a few college tours, they start to blend. Give your student time to put their thoughts on paper when you return to the car before anyone can influence their perspective.
- Consider scheduling department-specific tours or discussions. This decision is more about education than amenities. The general tour is likely to walk by and say, “over there is the XXX building,” and that may be all you hear about it. But I found that professors and department heads are willing and enthusiastic about meeting prospective students.
- Be aware that general tours can be biased and skew the “takeaway” based on the interests of the tour guide. For example, if the tour guide is into sports and fitness, they may neglect to discuss theater or music, and your student leaves without hearing about those offerings — or vice-versa.
- Have a purpose in mind for your college tour. If you take a tour early in the process, the goal may be to kiss or kill a school as you put together your final list. Later visits may provide more details about financial aid, costs, and program specifics. Separate the tasks you can do from home versus what is best handled on campus, so you don’t waste the limited time onsite.
- Ask your student to score each school (1-10) using multiple criteria, rather than just rank the schools in order. The scores can help show if there is much difference between the top choice and the second choice, for example. A quantitative list makes it easier to draw the demarcation line and integrate colleges from subsequent tours.
- Encourage your student to send thank-you emails to the staff who gave up their time to support these tours and meetings. It’s good manners, and some of them may be the primary decision-makers on merit aid, portfolio review, and auditions.
- Grab a meal on campus. You’ll be able to sample the food and have an opportunity to observe current students and campus life. Take note of campus attire, morale, and the overall vibe to see if it’s a good fit.
Additional college tour suggestions from PFC 101 Members
Use Organizational Tools and Resources
Find a way to keep track of tour dates and information that works for your family.
“I created an easy Google Doc with sections for tour guides, campus, surrounding area, and student population,” said Carolyn G., who toured eight colleges in five days with her student. “Each section had easy multiple-choice questions and an area for comments. We filled it out after each tour to keep them straight and dumped all the results into a Google Sheet for reference later.”
“Pick up a student newspaper,” said Jenny C. “You can learn a lot about a school there.”
Another Jenny C. in our group noted that you shouldn’t “be afraid to ask to see something that isn’t on the tour. My son is an athlete and the gym was not on the official tour, but we asked admissions if the building was open (it was). We were able to wander around. A student gave us a tour of the athletic facility, and the coach was actually in the gym at that moment with the team!”
Be aware: not every tour guide will have all the facts. Do your own research ahead of your visit. Angie C. said her son ended up attending a school that they were told (during a tour) didn’t have the music program they inquired about. The reality? “There were symphony and jazz options for non-majors,” she said, “and a (later) audition led to my son picking up music as his double major before ultimately changing to music education as his main major.”
Other Stories You May Like:
College Campus Tour Red Flags: What to Look for on a Visit
Choosing a College: Henry’s Story
Planning Some College Tour Trips? Here’s How to Save Yourself Time, Money, and Heartache
CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT
HOW TO PAY FOR COLLEGE
JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS: