Tips for a College Tour Visit

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Originally published March 13, 2015. Updated June 8, 2020.

It’s that time of year that thousands of students and their families make college campus visits to take tours and discover more about the school. Two years ago we learned a lot when we took my oldest baby on five college tours.  I’m still recovering from the college selection process with my oldest, but here we go again with my second baby. We’re off this month for a new round of college visits with child #2.  As we get ready for our tours, I thought I’d share some tips for a college tour visit.

2 images of brick college buildings and open grassy areas with text overlay

The obvious considerations in choosing a college are the college ranking, programs of study offered, location and cost.  But there are additional points to consider in selecting a college that you can learn from taking college visits and taking a college tour. Preparation prior to your tour is the key to learning those additional factors.

Tips for a College Tour Visit

1.  Be sure to sign up for both the informational session and the student-led tour.

 You get a feel for the official personality and focus of the college from the information session.  This is where the college tells you what they want you to know and it’s delivered by staff they’ve chosen to represent their image.  

You get an entirely different insight into the students that attend the college by taking the student-led tour.  And there are more opportunities to ask your questions and hear the behind-the-scenes answers.

2.  Research the college before the visit.

Both you and your child should research the college before you go to visit.  This will help you focus on the areas that you’re interested in or uncertain about.  You can make the most out your visit by reading the basic background information on the school’s website.

This allows you to focus on asking the questions you can only have answered while you’re there.

3.  Prepare a list of questions prior to your visit.

After you’ve researched the school, you’ll be able to prepare your list of questions tailored for that college, your situation and your child’s interests.  Preparing specific questions will help you make the most of the visit.  Take advantage of the College Visit Checklist that I created for my daughter’s visits. 

Consider questions about:

  • Specific fields of study and requirements
  • Freshman dorms and off-campus residence
  • Sports and activities
  • Computers, computer repairs,  Wi-Fi and printing plans
  • Scholarships & Financial Aid

4.  As a parent you’ll want to talk to the staff, as your student should also.

But your child should be searching out students to talk to. 

Parents will want to ask questions of several different staff members to get an idea of how easy the college staff is to work with and how knowledgeable they are. 

Your child will want to get an idea of the personality of the students that attend the school.  My daughter who is in college recommends that your child asks students about the workload and specific activities or interests to get the inside scoop.

5. Walk around the campus on your own.

After you take the student-led tour, take some time to walk around the campus on your own. 

  • Check out how long the walk is from the farthest freshman dorm to the farthest undergraduate building. 
  • Look at how far the dining halls are from the freshman dorms. 
  • Note how far the nearest convenience store.
  • Determine where the medical clinic is located (ask me why that is on my list).
  • Look at the environment around the campus and think about safety issues. I attended college in the heart of a very large city and was unprepared for the crime around the campus since I had not been able to visit prior.

6.  Examine your gut feeling after the informational talk.

Don’t entirely discount a college if the informational talk doesn’t go well, but do trust your gut feeling. 

My daughter felt that she could tell from each informational talk whether she would like that college or not. 

I feel that the informational talk tells you how the university wants to present itself and you can decide if that’s where your child would be most successful and happy. The person giving the talk has been chosen to best represent the college. 

If you or your child finds that person off-putting, then that same feeling may very likely apply to the college as a whole.

7.  Really look at the dorm room during the tour.

You’re often rushed through a “typical” freshman dorm room.  The school will most likely show you one of the newer rooms.  Be sure to pay attention to the room, the closet, the bathrooms, the laundry and the elevator, if applicable. 

Realize that many of the other dorm rooms may be less desirable than the one you are shown.

8. Eat a meal in the dining hall.

If the school offers it, take advantage of eating in the dining hall.  Again, it gives you insight into the personality of the college. 

A friend’s child chose not to attend one school based on the types of meal plans and dining halls available. If that’s important to your child, you should look into it.

It’s better that you find out before you start at that college that you’d prefer a different dining option than after you’ve committed to that school.

9Consider the weather and timing of your visit.

The first visit should be made during good weather, if possible.  This allows you to really explore and experience the campus. 

If the college is in a climate very different from yours, make the effort to visit during the inclement weather season so that your child understands what they are signing up for if they chose that school.

10. Ride public transportation or look at the parking.

In addition to walking around the campus, be sure to experience the public transportation that your child will be using. 

One friend’s child attends a large university where she has to ride a university bus to get from one campus to another for her classes.  My daughter attends school in a major city where she often takes public transportation. 

Another friend’s child takes her car to college each semester and parking is an issue.  Exploring these options helps your child know what to expect.

11. Visit local stores on and near the campus.

If you have time, drop by the campus bookstore and local convenience store to compare prices and sales tax to stores near your home.  It’s a good idea for students to start to pay attention to the different cost of living at different colleges.  It’s also a good idea to know what shopping will be available near the campus.

What tips for a college tour visit have we missed?  What did you wish you’d known when you selected a college for yourself or your child?

See all my tips, ideas, printables and care packages in the table below. You can scroll though the table and look for ideas or search for specific ideas with the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner (on desktop). Click on the topic and then click through the specific article.

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  1. These are great tips! We did the college tour last spring and I agree that it definitely pays to do your homework ahead of time and be prepared. After our first college visit, we also prepared a criteria sheet so we could compare all of the colleges to one another. Things my son added that weren’t originally considerations were: recreation facilities, student diversity, available club sports, male/female student ratio (what can I say, he’s a boy!) and the availability of self-structured classes. He didn’t even know to consider some of these things before we went to the first campus so it’s helpful to make the list afterwards and revisit it as you visit subsequent schools.

  2. These are all fantastic tips! I try to prepare my students to be prepared. It’s always best to set up an actual tour rather than go it alone.

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  4. All great tips. Taking your baby to see where they will spend the next 4 years is an emotional trip. Being on track with a list like this will be very helpful. There is so much to look at and understand when touring colleges. My daughter “knew” the right college as soon as she stepped on the campus, we still had a checklist though!

    1. I found that my oldest “knew” the right college immediately, too. But I made her go through the checklist and the listing pros and cons process.

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  6. My oldest is only 4, but these will make great tips for the day she goes off to college (if I ever let her leave 😉

    College is a huge investment and the experience can shape the future of our children, so I think it is definitely a decision to put a lot of thought in. Thanks for these tips!

    1. Thanks, Andea. Enjoy the time with your “babies”, it really does fly by. The next thing you know, you’ll be visiting colleges.

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