The High School Student’s Guide to Campus Tours

Applying to college can be an exciting time, but with all the options out there, it can be overwhelming. There is a lot to consider when making your decision; you’ll want to think about the major you want to pursue, the location of the school, extracurricular activities, costs, and many other things. One of the best ways to make your decision is to schedule campus tours at the colleges you’re considering.

Where to begin

High school is often the perfect time to schedule your campus visits. Since there are several deadlines to consider, you’ll want to ensure that you give yourself plenty of time to visit a specific campus and make any decisions – whether it’s applying or responding to an acceptance letter. Waiting until you’re done with high school and pressed for a decision can make the process stressful when it should be fun.

Virtual tours

Virtual tours can be a great place to start, and many schools offer these on their websites to prospective students. With just a click of a mouse, you could be exploring a campus that’s located on the other side of the country – or even the other side of the world. It’s not always practical to travel to every college you’re considering beforehand, so virtual tours are a fast, free, and convenient solution. They can also be a good first step for any college you’re interested in even if you’re a planning an in-person visit, as it can help narrow down your choices.

Although virtual tours can be a great place to begin when it comes to exploring a prospective school, nothing beats an in-person tour to truly get a feel for life on campus.  This can be especially important if you are planning to move away from home for college. You’ll be there for the next few years and this could be one of the biggest investments you’ll make in your lifetime, so you’ll want to ensure you’re happy with your final selection.

Deciding which schools to visit

If you’ve got a long list of schools you’re interested in, visiting them all may not be feasible, but you want to make sure you visit enough so that you can compare both the pros and cons of each college. It may vary depending on how many out-of-state schools you’re interested in versus local colleges, but visiting about seven different colleges can be a fair balance. At the very least, students should visit their top two choices.

Scheduling your visit

While many colleges will allow visitors to explore some areas of campus on their own, a scheduled tour can offer many benefits and shouldn’t be missed. Walk-in appointments are rarely available and tours will usually need to be scheduled in advance, so you’ll want to be sure you give yourself plenty of time to get a date and time reserved, especially if you’ll be traveling far. Each college will have its own scheduling process, so be sure to directly reach out to the individual colleges that you’d like to visit.

Plan your campus trip accordingly so that you don’t have to rush your visit. You’ll want to spend a considerable amount of time at each school; don’t just make time for the campus tour (which can take a few hours), but set aside some time to explore both the campus and the surrounding area on your own, too.

The best time to visit

Your senior year of high school is the best time to begin your college visits, although your junior year can be a great time to start if you already have a good idea of the schools you’re interested in attending. Ideally, you’ll want to complete all your college visits before your applications are due, as this could help to narrow down your choices. If you’re unable to schedule any tours until after you’ve received acceptance letters, campus visits can still be very advantageous and can help you make that final decision.

You’ll also want to consider the time of year that you visit. During the summer and the holiday season, many campuses may not offer tours. Even for the ones that do, keep in mind that some schools will be less populated during these times, so it’s unlikely you’ll get the true feel of the campus. The end of summer and the beginning of fall are ideal, as many colleges have sessions that begin at this time. Typically, you’ll also want to avoid Fridays and weekends; Monday through Thursday is usually best, as most colleges are usually in full swing during this time when there’s a semester in session.

If you find that you’re pressed for time as you’re trying to line up your campus visits, especially out-of-state tours, get creative when it comes to your scheduling. For example, if you’re going on a family vacation and one of the schools you’re interested in is located within a reasonable distance, try to fit in a campus tour as part of your trip itinerary.

Making the most of your visit

You’ll want to be sure that you get the absolute most out of your campus tour, especially if you had to make a trip to get there. After all, this visit can help make or break your decision about the school you’ll attend, but you’ll need to get all the information you can.

Start by making a list of questions to ask. Write your questions down beforehand and bring them with you for all of your campus visits. From typical costs to campus security, you’ll want to think about all the things that can affect your college experience.

You’ll also want to take plenty of notes and photos throughout your visit so that you’ll have something to refer back to later on. While certain things may stay fresh in your mind for a while, it can be easy to forget minor details, especially if you’re visiting multiple colleges.

Another way to take advantage of your campus visit is to talk to current students. Although your campus tour guide (which will likely be a current student as well) should be very informative and be able to answer any questions you have, it can also be very helpful to learn about the school from the perspective of other students.

Beyond the tour

Keep in mind that your campus visit can go beyond just a scheduled tour. For example, if you’re thinking about living in an on-campus dorm room, you may also be able to sleep in one overnight, so be sure to inquire about possible arrangements when you’re booking your tour. You may also be able to attend a class and meet with various college personnel, such as professors you’d be taking classes with, student advisors and admissions officers, and so on. You’ll want to do everything you can to truly immerse yourself in the college experience – even by eating meals in the dining hall.

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