College Visit Tips to Make the Most of Campus Tours

Getting a real-life taste of a campus is a key part of picking a college. To help, a metro Detroit college admissions expert offers her top college visit tips.

A college campus tour guide with a prospective student

Planning any college visits this spring? Websites, guides and student reviews are good tools for research. But nothing takes the place of an in-person visit, a meal in a dorm, a tour or an opportunity to sit in a real class.

Metro Parent interviewed Meegan McRoberts, owner of Future Plan College Consulting of Birmingham, to get some tips for making the college visit the opportunity it is meant to be.

McRoberts, an independent educational consultant, helps students and their parents navigate the challenging college admissions journey.

A former English teacher, McRoberts earned a college counseling certificate from the UCLA Extension. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Colgate University and a master’s in education from Washington University. She is a member of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling, the Independent Educational Consultants Association and the Higher Educational Consultants Association.

“This trip is about gathering information,” McRoberts says. “The only way to do that is spend some time on a wide variety of college campuses.”

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Read on for some of McRoberts’ top college visit tips.

What’s your best tip for students for going on a college visit?

“The most important tip for a student during a college visit is to consciously be an active observer. Their job is to observe the students, the campus, the classrooms and the energy. In the active observer role, they need to interact with the schools as best they can. Students don’t always know what they want in a college, but they can often figure out what they don’t want during college visits.”

How can students interact with schools?

“Depending on the personality of the student, this could mean asking questions and talking to students in the dining hall. Other students interact by following up the visit with emails and questions to their admissions representative or tour guide. After the visit, they can continue to be active in the process by reflecting on all of their perceptions and how they inform the level of fit of the school for them.”

How can students decide which schools to visit?

“It can be hard to know where to begin to choose schools to visit, so start by making a list of schools that speak to you. Any conversation about potential college visits will begin with the question, ‘What type of school do you want to attend?’ This seems simple and obvious, but for a high school junior with limited knowledge of the vast offerings, it is not.

Big or small? Urban or rural? Not sure? Make a list that includes a variety of different types of schools. Once you decide what type of schools you like and have a list of schools that are interesting to you, decide which ones to visit.”

How much time should we spend on a campus visit? 

“Spend enough time on each campus to get a feel for fit. That can be a few hours, a whole day or an overnight visit for your child. Most college visits include an information session with admissions and a college tour led by a student. Many families also like to dedicate time to visiting the bookstore and eating lunch in the cafeteria with current students.

“Make sure that you plan in enough time to visit parts of the college that will be important to your student. Is your student a workout enthusiast? Sometimes the recreation center is not included in the tour, and if this is essential to your child, it is worth the extra time. Does your student have a 504 plan in high school? Speaking with the office that handles accommodations, often called ‘disability services,’ can be enlightening.”

What is a parent’s role on a college tour?

“Just listen. Your child does not want you to ask a lot of questions, but they may not be willing to do it themselves. Students who are quiet are not wasting the time and effort when they visit the college just because they don’t ask questions; they are gathering valuable information.

“I encourage you to enjoy this time you get with your child and make it fun. Plan dinners in the towns you travel to that are unique and memorable. Research fun, non-college things to do and see to lighten the mood. Get ice cream, or visit the school book store. Also, if time permits, give your student a bit of alone time. Try to allow your student to sit alone in central part of campus, even if it’s just 15 minutes.

“Part of visiting colleges is allowing students to try it on and see how it feels. Do they feel comfortable? Overwhelmed? Have them read the posters hanging on the bulletin boards to see the types of events that are available. Does anything sound appealing? Let your student take it in and imagine themselves in the role of an actual student at that particular school.”

Do you have any quick tips to help students remember the tour?

“Take notes and photos. Students need to remember what each school has to offer. Traveling from campus to campus can become confusing, so quickly jotting down impressions and highlights in the car on the way from one campus to the next is also a good idea for your child. Pictures are great reminders of the campus tour.”

Want more information on college visit tips and college admission specifically? Visit Future Plan College Consulting.

Get even more tips

The author of this post, Kim Lifton, is president of Wow Writing Workshop, based in Royal Oak, Michigan. Her strategic communication and writing services company is a leading expert on the college application essay.

Wow works directly with students, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants.

To learn more about writing an attention-grabbing college essay, download a free electronic copy of Lifton’s book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, The Inside Scoop for Parents.

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