Choosing a College: The Importance of the Campus Tour

Let's be honest, if you believed everything you saw on the college Web sites and in their marketing pamphlets, you might think that all college campuses have beautiful limestone buildings and tree-lined sidewalks, all college sports teams win every game, all college students are so happy that they never stop smiling, and the weather over every college town is sunny and 75 degrees every day!

To get the real story, you need to see the campus yourself. After you've narrowed down your choices to the top two or three schools, you should set aside some time to take a campus tour of each. Don't accept an offer from even your top school before you visit the campus at least once.

Contact the admissions office to plan your visit so they can schedule some time for an interview while you're there. Most college admissions offices need at least two weeks' notice to plan your visit, but some require more, especially if you're looking at a popular school. Try to plan your campus visit during a regular semester so the kids are in class and campus activity is at its normal level. If you visit during summer, or during spring or winter breaks, you might find yourself thinking that even a rowdy college seems quiet or that the town doesn't offer enough to do.

During your visit, you should do as many of the following as possible:

  • Talk to an admissions counselor or have a formal admissions interview

  • Take a guided tour of the campus

  • Attend a class in the program you're thinking about studying

  • Meet with a professor or academic advisor in the program you're thinking about studying

  • Tour a residence hall (and eat in the dorm's cafeteria)

  • Talk to a coach (if you plan to play sports)

  • Save some time to wander around on your own

  • Explore the community around the college

  • Spend the night in an actual dorm room (if possible)

Admissions offices are able to set up most, if not all, of the above activities.

During your visit, don't be afraid to ask questions and take notes! Encourage your parents to do the same. Don't be shy; to get a clear picture of what campus life is like, you need to talk to as many people as you can find, from admissions officers and tour guides to faculty and students. Ideally, the college you select will be where you live and work for at least the next four years. You want to be sure that you choose a school that suits you — and one where you'll excel academically and have a great time doing it.