College tour

What Questions Should I Ask During A College Visit?

Touring a college is in many ways like visiting a car dealership. Admission counselors and tour guides have a ‘product’ to sell you, and that product costs a lot of money. They’re going to highlight their product’s best qualities and carefully sweep any negative aspects (e.g., high tuition) under the rug. In other words, they’re trying to charm you into buying what they’re selling.

And in both cases, you need to be an informed consumer. Asking questions during a college tour is one of the best tools you have to determine which schools go on your short list.

So, let’s answer your questions…about questions.

Do Prep Work in Advance

College tours may require you to drive or fly long distances. As a result, you may not be at your mental best during the tour. That’s why you need to prepare a few questions in advance. The best way to do this is in the weeks leading up to a tour, commit a few hours to research the college and jotting down questions as they come to you.

Through internet sleuthing, you should be able to find out what each college’s standard tour entails and find answers to the most common questions. If any information looks fishy, bring it up during the tour and receive clarification. Your goal is that for each school you visit, you should have 3-5 questions ready.

Also, remember that everyone – and their questions – are unique. Here are some common question categories to get you started:

  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Living On/Off-Campus
  • Dorm Life
  • Research Opportunities for Undergraduates
  • Honors Program
  • Scholarships and Grants

The list goes on. Again, I am not you, so I do not know what YOU are looking for in a college experience. Start with your needs/wants/desires/etc.

During the Tour

During the tour, expect your guide to be a current student or someone who has no influence on which applicants the school admits. I mention this because it means that you do not need to feel nervous asking questions.

During a standard college tour, expect there to be a few points where your guide will ask if anyone has any questions. Use this fact to your advantage. If you have a dorm question, ask it while your tour group is inside a dorm. Your guide may be able to show you an answer rather than tell you about it. That way, you gain a clearer understanding.

Finally, remember your guide’s name. Keep reading to learn why.

 It’s Okay to Email Questions After Your Tour

It’s perfectly fine if you think up questions after your tour. Most high school students do once they have the chance to explore campus, sit in or a class, or have a meal in the dining hall. Just like during your pre-tour research, keep that paper and pen handy to write down extra questions.

Once you get back home, get out your questions and write an email to the college’s admissions department:

Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening,

My name is [Your Name Here]. On [Date You Took the Tour], I visited campus and went on a tour led by [Tour Guide’s Name Here]. He/she was very informative, and I learned much about the school. As I am seriously considering applying to [University’s Name Here], I was hoping that you could answer a few follow-up questions I have about your school.

After that, ask questions by tying them to your tour experience:

As we were walking through [Name of Dorm Here], I noticed some students who were staying on campus for the summer term. Does your school provide a summer enrichment program in [Academic Subject You Are Interested In.]?

Although you’ll likely have more than three questions, I wouldn’t recommend asking more than three for each email you send the admissions department. You can always write more emails or answer questions yourself through extra research.

Before moving on, here’s one last tip when it comes to contacting the admissions department. Keep their reply so you can reference it in your application essay:

After I took the tour, [Name of Admissions Counselor] quickly responded to my follow-up questions about [Topic]. His/her reply convinced me that applying to [School] was the right decision for my academic future.

This reference accomplishes more than you may realize. The people reading application essays are attracted to thoughtful and organized young men and women who take a vested interested in the application process. And who knows, the person reading your essay may be the same person who answered your questions months ago.

Final Thoughts

With tons of information online, you may think that asking questions during a college tour is a thing of the past. But as you already (hopefully) know, you can’t trust everything you read online. A college visit gives you the chance to get information ‘straight from the horse’s mouth.’

Finally, don’t forget to have some fun during your visit. It’s like the college admission process in reverse: they’re the ones trying to impress you. Enjoy it. 🙂

Round Two: Planning Ahead for College Tours With Your Second Child

I found myself in NYC this past week with my family and as I walked by New York University it dawned on me that it was time to take my sixteen-year-old on college tours. He attended all the tours with his sister two years ago, but since his interests are different from hers, he wants his own college experience.

So I quickly got online and booked a couple of college tours in the city. His sister was a good sport and attended the tours with us. She explained to him that he needed to check in with the tour director, showing demonstrated interest was important and the college starts a file for you the minute you register for the tour. I noticed her nudging him to ask questions or to pay attention when he was drifting off.

Dinner conversation that night shifted from my daughter’s college talk to his. It was kind of surreal for all of us since we had just spent the last two years talking about my daughter’s college journey. It was fun to watch him think about his future and he had some serious ideas of where he wants to attend after touring all the schools with his sister.

So even if he toured with his sister, does he need to tour the same schools again for himself? I think so since the colleges do want to see demonstrated interest. And in the case of some schools, his sister toured a different department then he would be majoring in. Does this mean we need to repeat the same college tour vacation we had two springs ago? Do we take his sister with us who will then be deep into college herself by then? All these decisions are creeping up quickly. My short answer is to take him on a tour next Spring to a city that has a bunch of schools he wanted to see that his sister didn’t. And next summer we can regroup and narrow down his choices. He needs to figure out if he wants to go to art school, theater school or a liberal arts college where he can do both art and theatre. I am hoping he won’t need to do all the auditions our friend Anne did. But thrilled we have some good art school portfolio prep from our friend Edie.

We are back home now and the first thing Jasper did was come into my room this morning and ask if he could use my computer to look up some colleges he’d been thinking about. When I picked up the computer later in the day, I noticed all the schools he had looked at were in England. Looks like we will be heading across the pond for next summer’s college tour vacation.

Start Planning Summer College Tours Now

Are you a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior? If so, I bet you’re already looking forward to summer break. Do you have a summer job or internship lined up? Or maybe you’re going to be lounging by the pool or ocean. Either way, summer break is the perfect time for a few college tours with the family. And you know what, it never hurts to start planning for them in advance.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to plan your summer college tours depending on what grade you’re wrapping up this spring.

If You’re a Freshman

If you’re a freshman, you have a simple task: go on a single college tour.

Yep, that’s it. After all, as a freshman, college is still a long way off. At this point, it’s okay to have NO IDEA about where you want to go to college or what you want to study once you get there. So to simplify the process, choose a college within driving distance that you and your family can visit over summer break.

Researching which colleges to tour will also introduce you to many facets of the college experience. Here’s all the information you can learn from just a few minutes reading a college’s website:

  • Majors offered
  • Tuition
  • Housing

Learning about these (and more) topics for the first time will lead to more questions, but that’s okay. By familiarizing yourself now with the ins and outs of the college experience, you’ll be better prepared as the transition to college approaches.

On Your Tour

So it’s summer, and you and your family have arrived on campus. As an up-and-coming sophomore, all you should be doing is listening/taking mental notes. The other students on the tour will be older and might have very specific questions about the college. Pay attention to their questions and the answers they receive.

Since this is your first college tour, you may quickly realize that this particular college isn’t for you. That’s okay, too! The experience is still extremely valuable, however, as the tour will expose you to much about the college experience that is identical no matter where you eventually end up going.

If You’re a Sophomore

In the sophomore year, you take either the PLAN or PSAT to gauge your readiness for the ACT or SAT. The companies who make these tests sell your information to colleges across the nation. Depending on your scores, you may have received dozens of letters from colleges vying for your attention. With such a large stack of letters, it can be intimidating to sort through them all. Your job between now and summer break is to choose three colleges which you would like to tour.

Now that you’re halfway done with high school, you should have a firm grasp on which subjects you enjoy. While rifling through potential colleges, ask yourself some fundamental questions:

  • Which colleges have strong programs that align with my interests?
  • Do I want to be close to home or far away?
  • What can my family afford?

These questions should help you turn a long list of potential colleges into a manageable few. You are now ready to go on some tours.

On the Tours 

This summer, I want you asking questions (lots of them) on your college tours. If you’ve done your research, there is a good chance that one of the schools you visit this summer will be where you go to college. Here are some potential questions to get you started:

  • Can I sit in on a summer class?
  • What work opportunities exist on campus?
  • How does Greek life play a part in campus culture?

Also, while on the tour, imagine yourself spending four years on campus. In many ways, touring a college is like looking for a new home. Choosing a school that matches your personality will go a long way to encouraging your academic success.

If your family cannot afford to visit colleges that are far away, don’t worry. That’s why college websites exist. Also, if you have questions, call the admissions department. They will be happy to answer all of your questions.

If You’re a Junior

If you’re a junior, this is your last high school summer break. Before classes are back in session, you need to finalize your college list. Doing this may require an additional college visit or two. Why not more? Well, the summer break before senior year is one of your final chances to set yourself apart as a future applicant. Here are some examples:

  • Taking the ACT or SAT for the second time
  • Performing an internship (Or working at a job where you learn a vital skill)
  • Completing a volunteer project

There’s already a lot to do this summer, so I don’t want to overload you. One or two final college tours is more than enough.

On the Tours

As an up-and-coming senior, the purpose of your college tours should focus on answering vital questions you have about the school’s academic programs and how they can prepare you for your future. It’s alright if you don’t have a major picked out (remember that plenty of college students change their majors, too) but make sure the college has strong programs in two or more of your primary academic interests.

After a Tour

Before wrapping up, let’s discuss what to do at the end of a college tour. If you received permission to sit in on summer classes, that should be #1 on your list. After that, here are some ideas that will help you better get to know your potential home for the next four years:

  • Eat in the cafeteria with your family
  • Explore the library and lecture halls
  • Read the student newspaper
  • Take to some current students

In short, become an active observer.

Final Thoughts

Even with the internet and email, college tours are still an essential stepping stone between you and receiving a letter of acceptance from your dream school. Also, they are the rare occasion when colleges try to impress potential students (and not the other way around). So this summer, invest a little of your vacation time into planning for the future.

See you on campus!

Admitted Student Tours – Do You Attend These and How Many Can You Squeeze Into One Week?

I just came back from two Admitted Student Tours with my daughter and plan on going to a third next weekend. I have to admit while attending Prospective Student Tours on the East Coast last year, I never imagined we’d be spending this Spring break touring schools on the opposite coast.

Admitted Student Tours differ from Prospective Student Tours in that the admitted students are greeted with congratulations, SWAG, food and balloons. Many students have had multiple offers from colleges and universities and now it’s the time to decide on one. The schools use these tours to sell their school to the student and parents. It’s time to close the deal.

The tours are a good chance for students to meet peers who have been accepted and it’s a good time for parents to ask detailed questions, like a big one for both the schools we just saw: Is housing guaranteed for all four years? No in both cases. Only one year for one school and two for the others. A big reality if the student is far from home.

It’s a chance to ask specific questions about majors and even meet with professors. It’s a time to see the dorms and sample the cafeteria food. And it’s  time to really understand how far away home is.

When I think back to the ten schools in twelve days in four states I visited with my daughter on the East coast last Spring break, I realize of those ten she only wound up applying to two. And of all the schools she was accepted into, she had only visited one of them. The others she had learned about from brochures or meeting with campus reps who visited her high school.

In the end, my daughter may end up in a school in a state we’ve never been to. This is the school who offered her the biggest scholarship and who have the most interesting opportunities for her major. A year ago I never would have predicted she’d end up there. Nor could she. She had her heart set on a big city school in NY. But in the end, she wound up not even applying there. Instead she may be at the opposite side of the country at a small school in the mountains.

There truly is no road map for this journey. But I have enjoyed it none the less. It’s been amazing spending so much time with my daughter. And I am grateful to her for taking me along on this adventure with her.

How Do You Make Your Decision Once All the Decisions Are In?

This is a pretty exciting week for seniors as the college decisions begin to arrive. If your student is fortunate to have been accepted to several colleges, then decision time is here. My daughter is still waiting on about five colleges to send their decision letters, but the majority have come in.

So what now? How to decide where to go? Several factors fall into play and cost is at the top of the list for most people. You’ll find that the offers and financial aid vary from school to school. Private universities and college acceptance letters usually come with a financial aid offer. We are still waiting on financial aid from the UC schools.

So once you narrow down the schools you can afford, what next? Most colleges offer tours for accepted students. If you have not already toured the campus, or are unsure if this is where your student wants to spend the next four years, then this is a great opportunity to see the school. Many accepted student tours fall within the Spring Break dates. This is great if you have not planned a Spring Break trip with your family. But it’s also tough if you now need to schedule last minute flights to visit schools.

In our case we can schedule a road trip and head up the coast to visit several California schools. Luckily we already did the East coast trip and don’t need to see those schools right now. I have heard from many parents that they did not do previous visits to colleges, but were saving the visits for the schools their student was accepted to. That’s a great way to do it and hopefully those families had kept Spring Break open for just that purpose.

It’s interesting to go from fantasizing about which school your student thinks they want to go through to what school they will end up in. A year ago my daughter found the small New England schools to be appealing and was convinced she did not want to stay in California. Now that she has been accepted to several California schools and several New England schools, she is thinking being closer to home might not be so bad.

At the moment I’m likening this experience to buying a new car. You get excited by the shiny brochures. You walk into the dealer and love the new car look and smell, but then you test drive a couple and discover the car you fell in love with at first isn’t the perfect match for you. Then you see the ticket price and begin to think more practically. You might not drive a shiny red convertible off the lot, but you will end up in the car that’s the right fit for you and your family. In the end it’s the same with college. After a lot of looking and practical thinking, your student will end up in the school that’s the right fit for them.

How to Make the Most Out of the Winter Break

Winter break is the perfect time to visit colleges. Whether your student is a senior who has been accepted to some Early Action schools or if you have a junior or sophomore, now is a great time to visit college campuses. It’s easy to schedule a tour of any college by searching for “campus tours” on their website. They will give you a list of dates and times to sign up. Try not to tour more than two schools in one day as the process can be exhausting.

While at the campus, especially if you are traveling and staying nearby, look into any student performances that you could attend. Perhaps a play, musical or music concert. There might be art galleries on campus you could visit. Visiting a campus while it’s in session is a great way to give you a feel of what it will be like to attend. And a performance that showcases student talent will be a great insight into the school too.

If you and your family can’t travel during winter break, then tour some local colleges that might not have even been on your radar. For example, we plan to go out to Occidental College which is about a forty-five minute drive. We’ll have have lunch out there and go to the Norton Simon Museum which we love, but don’t always have a chance to get to. We’ll make a day of it, a stay-cation.

If your senior is completely exhausted of campus tours and already has seen the one she or he plans on attending, then I’d say it’s time to do something completely fun, almost maybe even child-like. Why not, go to the zoo or a local amusement park one day as a family? Embrace their childhood. They have worked so hard and deserve some fun silly times too. Most likely they’ll be moving away from home in the fall, so have some fun together. You have all worked hard this year! Or maybe your senior is like mine, when I asked what she wanted to do this break, she replied, “Sleep!”

Enjoying College Tours With The Entire Family

My kids, Sydney and Jasper, have always loved road trips. From our base in Los Angeles, we’d take weekend trips and along the way, we’d always veer off to stop at any nearby college. Just to walk around, grab a meal in the cafe, or take in an art gallery. Were we pushing the idea of college too soon, too young? We thought we were just getting them used to the idea that one day they would be going to college. Or maybe we were being pushy.

When Sydney was a tenth grader, she and I took our first mother-daughter road trip. The explicit goal was to look at colleges in Northern California. We didn’t sign up for formal tours, just walked around as we always had, this time with her interest peaked. Could she see herself living in Santa Cruz or Berkeley?

This past spring, Sydney was a junior and Jasper a freshman. Sydney wanted to visit East coast schools. Since I grew up in Baltimore and my husband was from New York, we decided to make it a family vacation. To keep things affordable, we stayed with friends and family, some of whom we’d never met. This time we booked formal tours. Which meant we followed along with the student guides, wincing as they stumbled backward while explaining all the pros and a few of the cons of their schools.

I was thrilled how willingly friends and family opened their homes to us and fed us and drove us to the tours. We never needed to rent a car. We traveled on trains, buses, and subways. Getting to know relatives we had never even met was a wonderful bonus. There seems to be something about the college quest that opens an easily shared bond, especially with the parents who had been through it with kids of their own. We dined in college cafes and had a great time. But it was exhausting; the tours lasted two to three hours so we couldn’t do more than two in one day.

Jasper didn’t want to think about college yet, but he was a good sport. He toured every college with us except for one woman’s college, where my daughter did the tour with her aunt. That day Jasper and I hung out at a cafe, threw rocks in the stream and kicked a ball around the soccer field. When I asked him which college had impressed him the most so far, he said Columbia University. It was the only one where the tour guide didn’t walk backward, so he didn’t have to worry about them tripping.

Then, on a formal tour of a nearby college last weekend, our tour guide fell backward over a low wall. Jasper shook his head and whispered, “I’m not applying here.”

It’s so hard to pick a college. But it’s never too early to establish criteria. Walking forward is a good start.

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