college tours

From American to Emory, from Occidental to Yale, I have attended a dizzying number of college tours. Beginning as a sophomore in high school, I traversed the country to learn about a wide range of colleges – public and private, large and small, highly competitive and less selective. While the primary purpose of the college tour is to simultaneously dazzle and enlighten prospective students, parents often wonder how they can make the most of this entertaining (if not exhausting) rite of passage. Below you’ll find my tips for how parents can maximize the campus tour experience.

1) After the information session has concluded, you may be divided into multiple tour groups; try to join the smallest cohort. It may be tempting to steer your child toward the English major or the lacrosse player if she shares those interests, but by choosing your guide strategically, your child will get to ask more questions and experience a more personalized college tour. Don’t forget to try and (politely) snag a spot at the front of the pack so you can hear your guide.

Pro tip: If you and your family already consider yourselves semi-professionals on the college tour circuit, consider splitting up and following separate tour guides to gather as many perspectives as possible.

2) Bring a notebook with you, or you may forget many of the impressive statistics and anecdotes from the day. (From my own well-worn notebook, for example, I know that students at Syracuse can spend their first semester in Italy, while the University of Miami provides shuttles to the beach!) You can also feel free to take photos on the tour to remind yourself of interesting campus features.

3) Avoid asking questions whose answers you (or at least your tech-savvy teenager) can locate online. Focus instead on questions that draw on the tour guide’s unique student experiences, such as:

  • Why did you choose to attend this college?
  • What surprised you most about the school once classes began?
  • Do you find that your professors make an effort to get to know you?
  • What’s the political scene like?
  • How much of a role does Greek life play on campus?
  • What are some of the hot issues on campus?
  • I know that students here are diverse, but can you characterize the type of student who you think is happy/successful here? Who wouldn’t be happy here?
  • How would you rate the social scene on a scale from 1-10, where 1 means students are constantly studying in the library, and 10 means it’s a non-stop party? (This was my dad’s personal favorite; he literally asked this question at Every. School. We. Visited.)

4) BUT, don’t forget that it’s your student who should be asking most of the questions. If parents are dominating the Q&A session, how can John Jr. find out if Dream College is a good fit for him? (Plus, kids may find it just a trifle embarrassing if mom or dad commandeers the entire tour.)

5) Tour guides are usually so good about following their script (“And here you’ll notice that the nose on this statue is shiny; that’s because students think it’s good luck to rub it as they walk by. Maybe if you rub it, it will bring you good luck, too!”), it’s hard to get them to go off book. After the tour, you are more than welcome to approach other current students to ask them about their impressions of the school. It can be helpful to receive a variety of (unfiltered) feedback.

6) If your student steps out of the car, takes one look at the campus, hates it, and wants to leave, that’s okay. (Yes, this happened to me.) If the admissions officer who delivered the information session or the other prospective students themselves are off-putting, it’s also okay to ditch the tour. (Yes, I did this, too!) There are too many colleges out there for students not to be judgmental. Let them trust their gut reactions! Only by whittling down their initial list of colleges can students ultimately end up with a focused and manageable group of 7-10 schools.

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Written by Elyse Krantz
Elyse Krantz is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Elyse received her BA in linguistics from Dartmouth College and her MA from Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining College Coach, Elyse worked as an admissions officer at Barnard College and Bennington College.