Should I Tour a College Before Applying?

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Should I Tour a College Before Applying?

At first glance, it might seem like the college admissions process is all about finding ways to make yourself a candidate that’s suitable for the university of your dreams. How about deciding what schools would be suitable for you? This is where college tours come in handy.

Most high school students get caught up in the storm of SAT and ACT prep, resume building, and personal essay writing, but another aspect of college applications is figuring out which schools you should focus your attention on. We’ve put together a blog about navigating the benefits, and potential drawbacks, of visiting schools. Is it worth it?  

Reasons College Visits Might Not Be Necessary 

1. Travel and Cost Restrictions 

Usually due to either finances or logistics, college tours are not always accessible for prospective students. Some students apply to colleges across the country, or even the world, and scheduling in-person visits might not be possible due to distance. Also, many students apply to 12 schools or more, and time restraints and busy schedules may not always permit lengthy travels to every school on one’s list. Money is also a factor; travel costs and hotel stays simply cannot always be in a high school student’s budget.  

There are also ways that visiting could be possible, even if money and travel time is an issue. These options do vary by school, but some institutions sponsor fly-in programs that allow a small number of diverse, high-achieving students to visit campuses. Through these opportunities, colleges pay for prospective students’ expenses, including airfare, room, and board. 

2. Tour and See the School Virtually 

Even if you do face these barriers, there are still ways to get to know schools without touring them. Try reaching out to administrators and connecting with current students online to get first-hand perspectives and answer any questions you have.  

Additionally, look at photos and virtual college tours on school websites, to feel that you are physically there. Searching Google images and social media, such as Instagram and YouTube, are also good ways to get a visual feel of a school. In terms of social media, it can be beneficial to look at the school’s social media presence, but also to learn about current students’ experiences.

Watching YouTube Q&A videos about the college, viewing vlogs filmed on campus, or combing the university’s location tag on Instagram are ways that social media can build a fuller picture of what life at that school is like through pictures and videos.  

Reasons College Tours Are Helpful  

1. Learn about Your Preferences  

Often, those advising students to visit schools focus on getting a sense of specific school environments to decide if it’s for them. Another benefit is getting a baseline idea of what types of schools are for you more generally. Knowing what kind of campus, community, weather, and geographical location is for you is only possible when you try those things on for size.

Before you even start putting together a college list, stepping foot on a college campus that piques your interest is a great way to kick off putting together a more complete list of schools.  

2. Get to Know Specific Schools for Yourself 

Doing a college tour is a great way to get a more in-depth view of what campus life is like at that institution. Students usually associate college visits with the tour itself: walking around in a large group with a pamphlet and listening passively to a PowerPoint presentation. Touring a college can give you a more comprehensive picture of what campus life is like beyond what the FAQs on the website have to say.

During a visit, you could attend a class to get a feel for class size, step into the dining hall to try out some of the campus’ food, look inside a residence hall or walk around the college town and try out the most popular spots to eat and shop. Outside of the tour itself, then, visiting a campus can give you a more realistic sense of what life at that school would feel like as an actual student. Make the most of your trip while you’re there! 

3. Improve Your Application 

Touring a school could help your chances of getting admitted. Some schools keep records of who visits to keep tabs on those interested in attending. This admissions metric is “demonstrated interest.” Colleges tend to fear accepting high-GPA students who merely use the school as a safety option and don’t plan to attend; schools want to admit applicants who will enroll. Another practical, admissions-related, reason to visit is to enhance your “why-us” essay. Many colleges require a supplement describing why you’re applying to that school.

A visit could give you some first-hand experience to draw on in writing it. What drew your attention? What made you especially drawn to or connected to the campus? The more specific the better. For example, you could include details about the natural scent of trees on campus, or a school spirit that was especially palpable. 

Stepping foot on campus could also give you the chance to meet with an admissions counselor in person. This in-person meeting allows you to put a face behind the name written on your application and could put your admissions package a step above the rest if you make an especially good impression. You could ask questions to demonstrate your interest in the school or speak more about parts of your application or specific aspects you want to highlight, such as an extracurricular endeavor or volunteer work.

If you’ve already applied, this meeting could be a more formal interview, which gives admissions officers a more holistic sense of who you are and what you could contribute to campus culture. If you want to visit the admissions office, make sure this is a possibility, or you must make an appointment.  

Keep in mind that these offices tend to get busier during application review season in March and April.  

4. Get Student Perspectives  

What better way of gauging on-campus life is there than talking to students that attend? This isn’t only useful for getting a sense of students’ opinions. What they say, or how they feel, might not be applicable to what your experience will look like. Having one of these conversations can give you a chance to ask any questions for which the answers aren’t available on the school website.

What’s their favorite study spot? What is dorm life like? Is there good support for freshman’s transition experience? You could, of course, ask students you see sitting or walking on campus. However, a campus tour guide is also a great built-in resource to use. They already must help you, so you might as well ask more personalized questions while you have the opportunity!   

The best time to visit to have the best opportunity to talk to students is when classes are in session. Colleges typically have spring, winter, and Thanksgiving breaks. Also, during finals, students hunker down studying, so they are not likely to be out and about on campus. Dates for exam seasons and breaks vary, so be sure to check each school’s calendar as you plan your trips.  Many high schools give junior students 3 to 4 excused absences to visit colleges, so that could be a potential option to consider if the school is in session during the best times to visit.  

Individualized College Plans  

There is no clear-cut answer about whether school visits are worth it or not. Since accessibility is an undeniable factor, this isn’t a question for which there can be a universally applicable answer. It’s certainly not a must, but as we’ve covered, it can be really beneficial to see campuses in person, especially at the top of your school list.  

You do not want to waste time and money on applications for schools that you could never actually see yourself attending. Though, also, if you are visiting, be sure to invest your time and money in traveling to schools that you are serious about attending. So, do your research before you plan your visits. For more guidance on college preparation and for help deciding which school could be for you, contact a college counselor at TestPrepScore. 

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