Campus Tour Tips: What I Do on College Visits

Megan Dorsey at Duke (2010)

Megan, what do you do when you go on a college visit?

Before I visit, I go online and schedule my trip through the admissions office and spend some time learning about the school.  I like to have a picture of the university in my mind, so I know what to expect:  size, location (urban, suburban, rural), top programs, unique features, cost, type of students, and overall feel.

On the day of my visit, I try to arrive early and drive around.  This lets me see where I need to check-in and I can begin making a mental map of the campus.  At this time, I like to see the area surrounding the school.  There are some schools that are gorgeous, but if you venture two blocks from campus, the surrounding neighborhood is questionable.

I like to arrive ten minutes early for the information session, so I can begin looking over any materials and get ready to take notes.  I write a lot during the information sessions because I know I won’t remember the details if I wait until the end of the day.  Anything that seems to distinguish the university from other schools is worth jotting down.  I also like to record all admission statistics—scores, requirements, deadlines, etc.

Most information sessions end with the group moving to a student led tour.  If I get to choose my guide, I try to pick the student who is from my area, especially if I’ve traveled out of state for my visit.  On the tour, I usually put my notes away because I haven’t mastered writing while walking.  This is the time I like to take out my camera.

I take a lot of pictures wherever I go.  After a couple of college visits, universities begin to look the same.  Taking pictures helps me remember.  My first picture of every campus includes the name of the school, even if I have to snap a photo of a brochure or campus map.  This helps if I’m visiting a number of schools on one trip because I can easily tell where one series of pictures ends and the next begins.

While on the tour, I try to step back and let prospective students take a lead in asking questions. I still try to walk towards the front of the group to better hear all comments and because it lets me talk with the student guide as we walk.  This is my time to get a more candid view of the school.  I know that anyone giving the admissions tour is an enthusiastic proponent of the university, but I want to know more from a student’s perspective.

As we walk, I like to casually chat with the guide.  I have standard questions I ask on any tour:

  • How big was your largest class?  What was it?  How many large classes have you had?
  • What has been your smallest class?  How many students?
  • How hard is it to get the classes you want?  Do you have priority registration?
  • Where else did you apply?  (what other colleges?)
  • What made you decide to come here?
  • What would you change or improve about the school?  Why?  (and if they say the food, I laugh and say, “No, really, there have to be things you and other students would like to see done better,” and I repeat the question.)

As the tour concludes, I make sure I’ve had a chance to ask all my questions.  What I do next varies.  If I have an appointment to meet with an admissions officer, it is usually after the tour.  This is when you may have an interview or appointment with a particular department.  If I have any remaining questions, I ask before I leave the admissions office.

Be prepared to leave with your hands full.  Typically, I receive multiple brochures, a pen, and some type of school logo item.  Cynically, I will tell you this is where all your admissions money is going.  The admissions tour is comparable to a car showroom; they are there to impress you with their slick brochures, t-shirts, tote bags, water bottles, and rubber bracelets.  Personally, I like getting t-shirts and my neighbors can confirm that I often wear my college visit shirts when I go to the grocery store.

Some schools will provide dining credit to eat in the campus food court.  I advise my students to skip the food court and try to eat in the regular cafeteria.  Personally, I did my time eating standard cafeteria fare, so I visit the student center and grab something from the food court where I try to talk to at least a few more students.  If I haven’t picked up a copy of the campus paper, I make sure to find one, so I know what issues students are discussing.

A quick visit will take me two hours and a full visit with individual meetings can last four hours.  By the time I leave, I want a good feel for the school and the type of students who will be most successful in that environment.

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