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Campus Visits: Hints for Happy Hunting

January 10, 2012

Jessica gazed deeply into Josh’s luminous, brown eyes. Every time he smiled she felt as if he saw only her, and she pictured herself walking across the quad with Josh’s arm draped casually over her shoulder....

Snap out of it, Jessica! Josh may be “all that,” but the purpose of this college tour is to see what the college’s campus and community have to offer, not to be wooed by a strikingly attractive tour guide (nor deterred by an especially uninspiring one). Since Jessica only had eyes for Josh, she completely overlooked the gloomy dining hall, and failed to notice that there are three girls to every one guy on campus. Lots of competition for ole’ Josh there, Jessica.

All kidding aside, as thousands of juniors hit the road for their campus visits this spring, there are a few “dos and don’ts” they would be wise to consider before embarking upon this life-changing quest.

  • Plan ahead: Typically, colleges offer a student-guided tour and an information session for prospective students, and both provide valuable opportunities to learn more about the college - and perhaps even gain some insight about the type of applicant the college values. Before you head out, check the college’s website to see how it structures tours, and if you must make a reservation to attend a tour or an information session. If you have a specialized interest, such as art or music, you should also inquire about the opportunities to view those areas of campus which may not be a focus of the general tour, but which would have special importance to you as a student.
  • Make a list: Before you leave, talk with your parents, counselors and friends about what is most important to you in a college. The PrepMatters Visiting Colleges 101 document is also a good resource. There is certainly a lot to consider, and it is perfectly natural for your priorities to shift once you actually visit a few campuses. That being said, it’s still good to have a sense of the attributes you are looking for in a college before you step foot on campus.
  • Go solo: No, that's not to suggest you should arrive in a separate car from your parents. I do recommend splitting up for the tour – parents going with one and the student with another - if two or more tours are leaving at the same time. Aside from giving everyone a much needed sanity break after spending hours traveling together as a family unit, it will give you multiple perspectives of the campus. And, if one is unduly attracted to, or repulsed by a college because of the tour guide, perhaps the sharing of information afterwards will offer more clarity on what is really offered.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff: In addition to the potential for tour guide distraction, try not to be overly influenced by temporary occurrences or lousy weather. As an example, every March the groundskeepers at the college where I worked fertilized the lovely planting beds on campus. Just before the largest influx of students to campus, it smelled like...well…like fertilizer. We could only hope that those with olfactory sensitivity could appreciate its temporary nature. Now, if the residence halls smell like fertilizer, then there may be reason for concern.


  • OMG – an interview?? There are colleges that offer only individual tours, and when you call to reserve a time, you will be informed that you will be meeting with an admission counselor. This is not cause for alarm. These interviews are generally considered informational, rather than evaluative, in nature. Even so, it is a good idea to demonstrate at least a nominal level of interest in the college. If asked, “What brings you to Podunk College?,” the answer: “My mother’s minivan,” will not be warmly received. Inevitably there are at least a couple reasons the college could have some appeal for you, and be ready to answer a variation of that question. If you do meet with an admission representative individually, please remember to write a thank you note. This small gesture will be appreciated.
  • Don't overdo it: If possible, it is wise to schedule only one or two college visits each day. There is a lot to evaluate and absorb during the visit, and you don’t want campus fatigue to set in, undoubtedly coloring your impressions of a college.
  • Take notes: Trust me, even for a seasoned professional like myself, college visits all begin to blur together after a while. Which college had the rock-climbing wall, and which one offered the Seven Semesters Abroad option? I highly recommend taking notes during the information session – it’s a little tougher to do on the tour. Check out our handy College Visiting Scorecards. They will ensure you cover all the necessary bases and, later on, will also help jog your memory about the great, and the not-so-great, when it’s time to finalize your college list.

Most importantly: enjoy the journey

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