Spring and summer breaks are wonderful times to visit college campuses. If you are planning college tours with your future college students, here are some tips to help make the visits successful.
Prior to visiting a campus, schedule an appointment. Most campuses offer tours twice a day. Weekend tours are very rare. Usually included in campus tours are an information session with a college admissions officer in which you can ask the hard questions such as admissions statistics, tips on what to include on the application, STEM programs for females and very specific questions regarding campus safety. Also by attending the information sessions, you will demonstrate to the office of admissions that a student is seriously interested in that campus. Colleges track these visits and it could make a difference in admissions. The student led tour of the campus gives prospective students an insider's look at life on campus ? dorms, dining commons, classrooms, and the library, to name a few. Some campus tours are booked months in advance but you are always welcome to take a self-guided tour. The downside to self-guided tours is you don't get the admissions information session and you may not have the opportunity to see dorms or classrooms. However, it is easy to engage with college students hanging out on campus and ask them the questions about their experience.
Depending on the academic and social preferences of the tour guide and the prospective student, there might not be a connection. Try not to let the perception of the campus be influenced by the tour guide; it's only one person and one perception. The good news is with social media, prospective students can log on and chat virtually with current students and inquire about their majors or clubs and activities from campuses to get a flavor of the respective campus. Students who have a clear interest in a particular department can always get in touch with the chair of the department and schedule a conversation and perhaps even discuss with current students in the department.
When you ask tour guides why they chose their campus, you probably won't get an
entertaining response like these Yale students put together, but you will learn about how they made their decision.
Another consideration is WHEN you visit a campus. If it is during finals week, spring or winter break or on the weekend, the campus might not have the same "vibe" as it does when fully in session. I've visited large CSU campuses on weekends when there are literally only a handful of students walking around, not to mention that most of the buildings were closed. During the week, you are happily dodging pedestrians, bikes, and skateboards!
Did you know community colleges even offer campus tours? You can register online to take such a tour. For example, Foothill Community College offers tours that last about 45 minutes. They also offer self-guided tours. For more information, visit their website.
For students who do not have the time or financial means to visit every college on their prospective list, virtual tours are the next best thing. Two websites many of my former students have found helpful are College Week Live and Campus Tours. Many of the colleges will visit local high schools (inquire with your high school for more details) and NACAC offers a spring college fair in the Bay Area. These options allow students to demonstrate interest and meet admissions officers without having to travel to their respective college campus.
I would also recommend visiting colleges AFTER you have been admitted if your budget doesn't afford costly travel expenses. Keep the physical college tours for the short list. Some colleges will offer fly-in programs for low income students. Typically, the college covers housing and meals and the family covers travel expenses. Inquire at your colleges to learn more about this possibility and to determine if you are eligible to apply. Alternatively, visit local campuses that have similar personalities such as the campus size, the setting?city vs. suburbs, the same or equivalent academic programs, the opportunities for financial aid, etc. That way students at the very least can get a feel for what a campus with 6,000 students versus 35,000 looks like. The size of a campus and whether it is in a city or a small town are features that can be found in any state across the country. Even if local campuses are not an exact match, they will at least provide perspective.
Here are some questions commonly addressed during college tours and informational sessions:
Admissions Information Session
What are your graduation/retention rates?
How many students applied/accepted last year?
Parents should ask what the process is if their daughter/son is a victim of a sexual assault/physical assault/bullying by a fellow student, and also what safeguards are in place to protect the accused student from being unfairly treated.
Ask specific questions in the area(s) you are interested in.
What is the faculty to student classroom ratio?
Does the campus offer research programs for undergraduates?
Are the classes taught by professors or teaching assistants?
What is the average amount of time students study outside of the classroom?
What is the grading system like (curve, A-F, evaluation based, etc.)
If your campus is religiously affiliated, you will want to find out what those requirements are.
What career opportunities does this major offer and how successful have former students been in finding an agreeable, well-paying position?
If they can't show you a dorm, ask very specific questions.
How many students to a room?
Are there co-ed buildings or same sex floors?
Does the campus offer themed floors/dorms, etc.?
How many students live on campus and how many commute?
What are the housing requirements (some campuses require you to live on campus two years)?
Are freshman allowed to have cars on campus (this is a popular question)?
What does the college do if my roommate and I are not getting along?
Financial Aid (if this is applicable)
How many students receive Fin Aid?
What is the average Fin Aid package?
Are there merit-based scholarships?
Does the campus offer work-study jobs?
Will the Fin Aid office work with me on payment plans?
If there is a club/activity you are particularly interested in, ask questions
What is the campus culture like?
What type of clubs/organizations are offered?
What do students do on the weekends? Specifically if you are at a campus where students tend to go home, you want to make sure you have a built-in community; otherwise, you are on campus bored and alone on weekends.
What kind of activities are available off campus?
What types of Arts and Cultural events are offered on campus or in the surrounding community?
If your campus is religiously affiliated, you can clarify is attending a religious service (i.e., mass or chapel) is mandatory or optional.
Are there social and support programs available for first-generation students?
How many students participate in Greek life?
How many fraternities and sororities are offered on campus?
What is the time commitment to be involved in a fraternity or sorority?
What is the pledge process like?
Weather - this especially plays a critical factor in decision-making for students moving to a dramatically different climate.
Does the campus offer light therapy for students who suffer from depression?
How have students from (California, for example) adjusted to living in cold conditions (like New York or Boston)?
What policies does the campus have for snow days?
What if any policies are in place for "natural disaster" situations? (Basically, how prepared is the campus for this kind of situation?).
What is the food like? If you have a specific food requests (organic, locally sustained, vegan, gluten free, etc.) be sure there are enough options available to you.
What are the meal plans offered?
How many dining commons are provided on campus?
How are the dining establishments off campus?
Your tour guides are current students. Ask them where they are from, what their major is and how they decided to attend this college. You can also ask them where else they applied or which other colleges were they accepted to.
Campus Resources and Safety
What types of academic resources (counseling, tutoring, EOP/First Gen, etc.) are available to students?
What type of personal services (counseling, health and wellness) are available?
How safe is the campus?
How many incidents (crime, assault, etc.) are reported annually?
Be sure to allow enough time to walk around the surrounding areas of the campus. See if the neighborhoods are student-friendly (is there ample off-campus housing, safe bike routes, laundry, grocery stores, etc.). Visit a local coffee house or eatery to get a feel for the community culture and compare that to the campus culture. And, most important, students need to ask themselves if they can live, learn, and become an integral part of that college's community for the next 4-6 years.
If you have additional college tour tips, please include your thoughts in the comments section below.