How To Plan a Campus Tour

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Campus visits are a vital part of your college research, and there’s no substitute for putting your feet on the ground and trying a campus on for size. A good fit is made in the details. So, when planning a campus tour, and moving through your college visits, remember to check out everything: academic programs, extracurricular activities, social life, athletics, community spirit, campus location, study abroad programs, opportunities for internships and research, and anything else you might want out of your college experience.

Check each school’s campus tour guidelines before you go.

February and March are busy months for you planning your visits — and it’s also the time when colleges may update their visiting policies for prospective students. These days, one key question is this whether information sessions and tours are being offered in person this year, and the answer differs from college to college. So, before you hit the road, remember that there are a few health and safety details to consider before your campus road trip.

Each college will have its own COVID-19 protocols and a set of explicit instructions for you to follow during your visit. College and university administrators are carefully monitoring safety protocols according to federal, state, and local regulations, so stay up to date on the specific policy for each of the schools on your list. Then, periodically check the websites for updated information and make sure to sign up for email updates. Be clear and current on all policies.

Potential Guidelines

  • Detailed registration requirements for in-person tours
  • Masking guidelines
  • Proof of vaccination or negative PCR test within the last 36 or 72 hours
  • Submission of a health screening form via email immediately prior to your visit
  • Limit to the number of persons in a single party (e.g., student plus one or student plus two)
  • Limited access or no access to university buildings
  • Protocols for indoor and outdoor interactions

Again, the guidelines will vary from school to school for each of these.

Campuses offering in-person visits may be offering self-guided campus tours in addition to tours led by student guides or admissions staff.

(For an example of a self-guided tour, check out University of Maryland’s Audio Terrapin Tour by downloading the TERPLife app; search for Terrapin Tour.)

No in-person campus tour options? No problem!

If a college or university is not open for tours, you will have opportunities to learn more through virtual student-led campus tours, admissions office remote seminars, virtual reality tours, webinars, and Zoom gatherings. Go to individual school websites to connect to the many virtual experiences offered. In the last two years, colleges have become more creative with how to share information with prospective students online. For example: 

Remember to check out social media and You Tube playlists, too!

Make a list.

Prepare for your visit by talking with your parents, counselors, and friends about what is most important to you in a college. For example, is it a specific academic program or the school spirit? There is certainly a lot to consider, and it is perfectly natural for your priorities to shift once you visit a few campuses. It’s still good, however, to have a sense of the main attributes you are looking for in a college. Our College Visiting Scorecard is a great college prep resource for organizing your thoughts.

Participate in an interview.

If the college requires an interview, be sure to arrange a meeting in advance with the admissions office. Practice a mock interview before you leave home. Some interviews are informational rather than evaluative, but, at a minimum, it is always best to prepare a response to: “Tell me about yourself.”

Investigate the campus culture.

Check out the on-campus activities. How do students spend their time when they are not in class? Stop by the student activities/student life office. Consider the upcoming guest speakers, opportunities for service or internships, environmental, religious, or athletic activities. Check out the bulletin boards and investigate the evening activities. Also, look beyond the quad and determine your comfort level with the wider, outside community. Consider whether a small town or large urban area is important to you.

Remember to take notes.

College visits will begin to blur together after a while. Taking notes during the information session is highly recommended in addition to taking advantage of the note section of the PrepMatters College Visiting Scorecard. When writing your supplemental essays, good notes of your visits will make the process much easier.

At the end of your travels, be sure to take time to reflect on your experiences, discuss your impressions with others, and evaluate schools based on your developing personal preferences. Refining and honing your choices will eventually bring you to your final decision — and your college!

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