If you have a senior as I do, or even a junior in high school, you are probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the potential colleges they could attend. That’s why college tours are so important. But, how do you make the most of a college tour?
As someone who loves to travel, these visits are eating into my vacation days, so in addition to making the most of the college tour itself, we are trying to have a little fun too. And honestly, I think it’s just as important for your potential student to know if they like the nearby area for the college as well as the campus itself. After all, they will be living there for the next four years!
Related post: Need an afternoon adventure? Visit a college campus.
Start the night before
If at all possible, I try to book a hotel room the night before our college visit. This allows us to not feel rushed in the morning, AND we get a chance to check out the surrounding area.
On the last few tours, I booked rooms close to campus, and as soon as we checked in, we drove over to campus, got out, and walked a bit on our own.
Next, we walked into the connecting town or village area. Almost every campus has this area and it’s probable that your student will spend a lot of time there, so it’s nice to understand how long it takes to get there, what the area feels like in the late afternoon/ evening, and what there is to see and do.
Once we’ve browsed any stores, walked the campus, and checked out the “village” area, we hit up Yelp for dinner. We try to find a place that’s within walking distance of campus. I’ve found that most college campuses actually have wonderful choices and lots of them!
We’ve enjoyed upscale tacos in Ann Arbor (University of Michigan), Vegetarian Pho in Bloomington (Indiana University), brunch in Hyde Park (University of Chicago), and more! It’s fun and if your kid is a foodie like mine, nice to know what their options are.
Insider tip: All these hotels rooms can get pricey, so I highly recommend signing up for a hotel credit card with a big bonus. My current favorite card is IHG. Holiday Inn Express is one of their brands, and they tend to be near college campuses, and are pretty affordable. Plus, although this card has an $89 annual fee, you get a free room each year (there’s one of your visits) AND a free TSA pre-check every 4 years ($85 value). Use this link and you’ll get a nice signup bonus which should easily cover several more nights!
Relax in the morning
I suggest booking a tour late morning (like 10:30 or 11:30). I do it because it allows me to check email so I don’t get behind on work, while my kiddo sleeps in a bit. Plus, you aren’t rushed getting to campus.
Because you were smart enough to head to campus the night before, you should know where to park and where you will be going. So much less stress!
We like to head over about an hour before the tour and grab coffee at the nearest local coffee shop. As you probably know, teens and college students love to hang out and study in coffee shops, so it’s a great idea to know where at least one good one is located.
It also gets you in the college mood to see all those students! Plus, what a great way to start your day – with a local coffee shop, which is exactly what we would do on vacation too!
Make the most of the tour
On the tour itself, be those “nerdy” folks who are right behind the guide. You’ll hear what they say and have the chance to ask questions as you walk.
Have a list of questions to ask – the things that are important to your student (and you!). Some examples might be: class size, professor-to-student ratio, how much support students get from their counselors, etc. Then be sure to ASK them!
If you didn’t see something on the tour you are interested in seeing, ask about it. Even if the guide can’t take you, they can point you in the right direction.
Most of the tour guides are college students, so take a few minutes and ask them why they chose this University, what they like best about it, and any advice they might have for a new student. This is how you get a real feel for what college life is like.
Insider tip: wear comfortable shoes – you will be walking a lot! This isn’t the time to wear those cute little heels. You’ll be spending your time thinking about how much your feet hurt versus soaking in the college atmosphere. I swear by these sandals! I can wear them for 25K+ steps all day at Disney and my feet don’t hurt!
After the tour
After the tour, grab a cup of coffee or a soda in the student union and make a few notes about what you liked and didn’t like about the college. You think you’ll remember, but after 3 or 4 visits, trust me, you’ll forget. If you write it down right away, it will help spark your memory later when it’s decision time.
I’d also suggest taking your own walk around campus. Start at one of the dorms and see how far they are from the union, the library, and the buildings your student is most likely to have classes in. This will give them a good feel of what a daily walk around campus would be like.
If you still have time, go check out something that the town is known for. Maybe a museum or other attraction. It’s a fun way to end the day, and will give you a great memory whether your child attends that college or not!
Hopefully, these ideas will help you as you start to navigate the college tour experience. It’s a lot to take in, and you have a lot of big decisions to make!
I’d love to hear any other ideas you might have on things to look for or ask, so please share in the comments.
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