Spring break for college students means heading off campus for vacation, family time, or service trips. Spring break for high school students, on the other hand, often means heading to campus for college visits. Typically, these trips involve attending information sessions and taking college tours, leaving students and families with piles of glossy packets, bookstore souvenirs, and perhaps a photo or two. Most, if not all, of the schools will highlight their engaged student body, their commitment to diversity, and their renowned faculty. What is often lacking, unfortunately, is good information that truly helps students distinguish between institutions.
To help combat the “all of these schools are starting to sound and look the same” problem, we’ve put together a list of five ways that students can have more fun and gather better information on college tours.
- Do preliminary research: We know you’re going to get bombarded with information while visiting, but there are some facts you should find out beforehand. For starters, determine if there are program-specific tours for your particular area of interest, such as business or engineering. Then, find the name of the admissions representative who works with students from your area and email to ask if he/she would be available for a meeting. It’s always a good idea to have a relationship with this official, because they’ll most likely be one of the readers responsible for reviewing your file. Finally, explore potential majors, clubs, study abroad programs, and campus traditions until you find some interesting opportunities you’d like to learn more about. You’ll need these for the next step.
- Talk to everyone–and ask questions: We ourselves go on dozens of tours every year, and we’ve noticed a disconcerting trend: painful silence whenever tour guides ask if anyone has questions. If you don’t ask questions, you’ll get the facts of the campus, but little of the character or insider insights. Don’t ask about statistics you can easily find online; ask your tour guide about favorite memories, traditions, and courses. Also, don’t feel as if you have to limit your questions to your tour guide. You’ll meet other students along the way when you’re in campus, whether you’re looking at someone’s dorm room or dining in the cafeteria (many schools will offer vouchers for this for visiting students). Unless they’re rushing to class, most students are happy to chat about everything they love about their school.
- Take note of everything–and take notes: If there’s one piece of advice you take from us, please let it be this: put your phone away! Even if you’re still listening, you’re not taking in everything you could be if you’re texting, Snapchatting, or scrolling. Instead, take a look around and try to envision what it would be like to be a student on this campus. Do you see more students socializing or studying? Are the walls of buildings filled with flyers for upcoming events or posters with rule reminders? Is the campus quiet or lively? As you’re observing, jot down some notes about your impressions that you can refer back to later.
- Linger on campus after the tour: There’s no rule that says you have to leave campus once your tour is over, and most tours don’t hit every part of campus. Ask your tour guide if there are any other places he/she would recommend seeing, or pick up a campus map from admissions and take yourself on an extended tour. Walking around at your own leisure also allows you to spend more time judging the overall vibe of the campus and students.
- Take a separate tour of the town: Chances are you’re not going to spend all of your time on campus. After you’re done with your touring, questioning, and lingering, head to the nearest downtown to explore some more. This is a great way to discover what the surrounding area offers for shopping, dining, working, and learning outside the classroom. Think about some of the activities you currently like to do, and make sure the town or city would offer these.
Essentially, we want you to do as Robert Frost would do and take the tour less travelled. We promise this will make the process far more enjoyable–and far more worthwhile.