I’ll be honest, I was not a fan of college tours. They are usually pretty long, and most tours are the same. But, if you are able, I think they are very helpful for figuring out where you want to apply and for writing college essays. If you plan college tours strategically, you can minimize the time in tours while getting the most out of it (if you want personalized help making a tour plan with current college student advisors, sign-up for a counseling session with a DeweySmart tutor)!
Why should I visit colleges?
Visiting colleges is one of the best ways to see if a school is the right choice for you. First of all, they can give you an idea of what a campus environment, culture, and lifestyle are like. For example, you can figure out if you like a big or small school environment or university or liberal arts college.
For smaller liberal arts colleges and some universities, going on a college tour can show demonstrated interest, which is any time you are showing a school you are interested in attending. Make sure to sign up for college tours if the school tracks demonstrated interest because they may check whether or not you visited during application review. However, schools like the Ivy’s and public universities do not care about demonstrated interest, so it’s okay if you aren’t able to sign up (but still visit if you are applying).
College tours also give the opportunity to hear from a current student (your tour guide). You are able to ask them questions about their experiences and some of their favorite parts about their school. These pieces of information and your general observations can be great content for your supplemental essays, as many ask why you are interested in attending that school.
What if I can’t afford to do college tours?
College tours are free, but travel and hotels can be expensive. So if traveling far away is not an option for you, try and visit some colleges close to home. Even if you aren’t applying to that specific school, visiting any college can tell you what you do and don’t like about that type of school. Try visiting your public university or a smaller private school if there is one near you. It will be a good experience even if the school isn't on your target college list. Any kind of information can be valuable. Another option is virtual tours, which are usually accessible on a college’s website.
When should I go on college visits?
I recommend starting in February of your junior year. You can go earlier, but I do not think this is necessary since you won’t be applying until fall of your senior year. A lot of people go on tours during spring breaks of their junior year and the summer between their junior and senior years. If you have time on the weekends, you may end up doing some last minute tours during the fall of your senior year (like I did ) but try to get them done before. You can also visit after you apply, but I think visiting before is optimal.
How should I plan my college visits?
Make a schedule! If you are able to travel around the country, go by region. For example, if you go to Boston, you can visit BU, BC, Emerson, Harvard, and Northeastern all in the same trip. Urban schools are not the only opportunities to visit many in one trip, as some areas have groups of schools in rural areas like Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr or Colby, Bowdoin, and Bates. I recommend doing only 1-2 visits in a day, as they can be tiring.
You can sign up for college tours on their website under the visit page. Usually, you have to choose a date and put in some basic information like your name and email address. Keep in mind that tours can fill up, so try to plan in advance. If you want help making an effective college tour plan, check out DeweySmart’s admissions counseling services.
What do I do during the tour?
You can ask the tour guide questions, but try to refrain from asking questions that you can easily find online like how many students there are or if they have a good math program. Use the opportunity to ask a current student about their experience: what has been your favorite class? What is the school culture like?
If you don’t like asking questions, you’ll probably get just as much out of it by sitting back and listening. There is no way for admissions to know if you asked questions or not, so just try and pay attention to what other people ask and keep some mental notes for later…
After the tour, write up a couple bullets about what you saw and heard. When you’re writing supplemental essays, all the tours will blend together, so it is good to have some notes to differentiate them. Try and answer questions like:
College tours are boring, do I have to do the official one?
Unless the school keeps track of demonstrated interest, you do not have to do the official tour. In my experience, I got just as much out of walking around the campus and doing my own thing as going on an official tour. In fact, sometimes this is better. With a campus map you can see the parts of a school that will be more relevant to you (like the science building or athletic facilities).
If you know someone currently at the school you are visiting, I HIGHLY recommend getting them to show you around, either instead of a tour or in addition to it. Tour guides do a great job, but they are trying to sell you the university, so they will say what the school wants them to say. A friend will tell you what a school is actually like, including the bad things. These can often be the most important in making decisions about schools.
If you want to hear about the (good and bad) student experiences at top universities around the country, sign up for a one-on-one counseling session with DeweySmart here!