I picked the cover photo for this article as a reminder that I will one day take my children on campus visits. I will do this even though they are young. Why? A campus tour is the perfect way to teach them that they can reach for more, follow their dreams, and discover their passion. College campuses evoke a sense of awe that encourage visitors to follow their dreams. I want my children to experience that feeling, even if they decide to never go to college. That sense of exploration and intellectual curiosity will stick regardless, and serve them well in their future careers. In many ways, campus visits are a piece of the intangible legacy I want to pass on to them. This is my reasoning behind encouraging families to tour campuses with their children when they visit relatives, take a vacation, or have a free weekend in their own city (provided there is a local university or community college).

How can a campus tour help define a college list?

Of course, campus tours also have practical utility for students looking to choose one college over another. Visiting a campus helps gauge “fit” outside of the answers to predetermined questions like “Should I attend a public or private school?”, “Does XYZ University have my major?”, or “Does this school have a good football team?” I’ve heard of students falling in love with a college based on information provided on the school’s website and brochures, only to refuse to get out of the car when they actually visit campus. Yes, this actually happens. Not that I blame the colleges or the students; those marketing materials paint the college in the best possible light, while hiding all the flaws.

The three most important steps of a campus tour

And it’s important to tour correctly. You won’t get as much out of it unless you follow a few, simple guidelines:

  1. Go on the tour. Don’t neglect to visit a campus that’s on your school list. It really is the only way to know if a college is a good fit. Of course, this costs money and is really inconvenient in the age of COVD-19. Modifications will be made; “normal” tours transformed into safe experiences. Make sure to keep safe and abide by local health laws, travel bans, and regulations. But if possible, seeing campus with your eyes is a unique advantage, even if you decide not to interact with others to keep safe. With this in mind, it might help to view tours as an investment (you’re likely to spend much more in tuition) and insurance (against the possibility of coming home when it doesn’t work out). Also, for selective colleges a campus tour shows demonstrated interest and can help your chances for admission.
  2. Take notes. This allow you to go back and review what you learned on a campus tour, particularly when you visit multiple schools across many months. After all your visits, your notes are the basis for comparison as you pick your top three schools, or even THE final school to attend in the fall.
  3. Ask good questions. This is crucial. When you visit a campus, ask questions about admissions deadlines, financial aid, criteria for top scholarships, campus life, campus resources, academics, program outcome statistics, and career placement. Although much of this information can be found on the website, visitors get additional detail not available from other sources. Better yet, many campus tours are led by students or admissions representatives, so you get it directly from the source. Students can be especially candid, offering a valuable insider perspective.

In the end, if you’re unable to visit campus due to the pandemic, make sure to check out the college’s admissions website. Many colleges are providing virtual tours that mimic a face-to-face experience. Some are actually quite good.

Need a good campus visit checklist? FREE DOWNLOADS BELOW.

I’ve taken my expertise in this space to develop a unique and comprehensive campus visit checklist and list of questions that you can download for free. Be prepared with questions from each of the crucial categories including:

  • Admissions and admissions criteria
  • Financial aid
  • Academic programs
  • Student success and retention
  • Housing and accommodations

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