15 Secrets to a Successful College Tour

Spring break is an ideal time to experience college life in action, allowing your child to get a sense of how each college operates on a daily basis. Signing up for the official tour is the obvious first step, but what else can parents and students do to prepare for and make the most of these important visits? Before you hit the road, read on to gain valuable insights. When decision time rolls around, you’ll thank yourself for being in the know.

1. Consider conducting most campus visits before senior year.

This will ensure adequate time to make a well-informed decision. College applications are time-consuming. Starting early will allow your teen to relax and enjoy senior year. To avoid burnout and unneeded stress, don’t stress formal campus tours until second semester of sophomore year Cool Tool: Lauren Carter’s book Mindful Admissions suggests using informal visits as a way to “ take baby steps” that make visiting colleges fun. Anytime is a good time to attend a college basketball game, art show or theater production

2. Before heading out on tours, take time at home to discuss your teen’s values.

Help them clarify their Why for attending college. Being in touch with who and what they want from their college experience helps frame the focus of your tours. Cool Tool: College consultant Dr. Steven Antonoff offers free, downloadable tools to help families start the discussion. Link

3. Engage with a diverse range of people beyond the scripted tour.

Ask at least three current students questions about their campus experiences to gain honest answers and valuable insight. Get specific. Instead of ”What’s the social scene like?” ask “What did you do last weekend?”. Instead of “How many majors are there?” ask, “Do counselors help freshmen sign up for classes? Is it easy to get classes?”

4. Sit in on a class that interests you.

How are students engaged? Does your student like the anonymity of a large campus with lecture halls or prefer smaller classes and building relationships with professors?

5. Ask lots of questions about dorms.

Housing availability can play a big role in your child’s stress levels. Ask about availability of on-campus housing beyond freshman year. If not guaranteed, what’s the process to obtain off campus housing? How far in advance do students typically plan? Is it a hassle? Does overpriced housing often place excess pressure on students’ budgets? Cool Tool: Join Grown and Flown Parents Facebook group of over 50,000 parents that discuss important issues.

6. Observe how people get around campus.

Are they riding bikes? Taking the bus? Walking? Is the campus walkable to local shopping and dining? Is there a free campus shuttle to town?

7. Be a people watcher.

What are your impressions of the student body? Is there a fun, positive vibe or do people look stressed and exhausted? Does the campus have the right fit of diversity to help you grow and thrive? Can you see yourself happily fitting in among these people and this environment?

8. Safety first.

Are safety measures in place around campus and in the surrounding area? Look for emergency call boxes. Ask if there are campus security escorts or free shuttles available at night.

9. Beware of Instagram distractions.

Universities understand the lure of social media; some spend big money to build luxurious features such as climbing gyms, even lazy rivers. Instead of allowing these tempting features to take center stage, have a checklist of places important to your child: the gym, counseling center, financial aid office.

10. Eat in the dining hall.

How well do they accommodate your dietary preferences or needs? Can meal plans be used at cafes campuswide? Notice the vibe. Are students eating together or mostly picking up to-go orders? If your child manages food allergies or celiac disease, safe dining accommodations should be a major determinant in your college decision.

Cool Tool: FARE’s site offers expert advice on colleges that best support students with food allergies.

11. Take photos

Take photos to help you remember key positives and negatives about each campus.

Cool Tool: Use this tracker from College Board to help record your impressions.

12. Visit the Career Center.

Ask questions about job boards, work study, internships. Ask: How often do students meet with career counselors? What services do they offer?

13. Visit the surrounding neighborhood.

Walk into shops and restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores you’ll likely frequent. How does the neighborhood feel?

Can’t get away for college visits? Here are some great options:

14. Campus Reel

This is an online guide with real students leading you through a typical day at their university. (dorms, cafeteria, nearby neighborhood) Link

15. Visit the variety of local universities in your town.

They’ll give you a good indication of what feels right: small, medium or large school, and other factors like natural or urban settings.


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