How to successfully plan your campus tour ? (+ Bonus Checklist)

You are about to make one of the most important decisions of your adult life – where to continue your education. You already have a general idea of what career you want to pursue. You know where your interests lie and how you would like to apply those interests. Now you need to decide where to pursue the educational aspect of that career.

You have several types of institutions from which to choose. For some students, a traditional four-year liberal arts college is a good choice. It provides core courses for a major and a wide range of other classes to encourage broad-based education. Private universities, such as the Harvard or Yale, tend to be smaller universities. While they receive some federal funding, they rely on tuition, alumni donations and other fundraisers to support their activities. Public universities are state-owned and tend to be larger in student body size than private universities. Since they receive public funding, tuition is usually lower than at a private institution.

Community colleges and technical colleges offer a number of benefits. Generally speaking, these institution offers a two-year degree or certification program in a highly-technical field of study such as phlebotomy or automotive mechanics. Many community colleges also offer articulation agreements with public universities, enabling students to transfer their credits toward a four-year degree.

Your high school guidance counselor or career counselor is a treasure-trove of information for continuing education that meets your goals. A quick Internet search provides thousands of individual institutional websites.

Some sites, such as Americolleges, help you marry the two – your interests and available institutions – to help you narrow down your list of potential colleges. Once you have pared your search down to a handful of choices, though, it is time to plan your campus tour.

 

What are the benefits of planning a campus tour?

Just as you only get one chance to make a good first impression, your prospective institution of higher learning also only has one chance to put its best foot forward. Planning your campus visit gives both you and the college time to prepare for the visit.

You have already done your research, so you know that you and the school may be a good fit. A little bit of planning can turn your visit from “ho-hum” to “Hey! I really belong here!” or “Hey! This is really not where I want to be!”

You will certainly want to schedule time with Admissions, Financial Aid and the Department Head of your chosen field of study. If at all possible, plan to shadow a student in your major for a day and spend the night in the dorm with him or her. You will be able to experience campus life, be it at a university, community college or for-profit school, life first-hand, see how the professors teach, see how the students react, and learn things that would not necessarily be included in the generic tour.

 

What should you do before the campus tour?

Before stepping foot on campus, gather all the information you can find about your prospective choice. Read the current year’s curriculum/catalog. Read a few issues of the school newspaper or magazine if they publish one. Many traditional and non-traditional colleges now offer virtual campus tours. While these tours are obviously promotional, they also provide you with some valuable information.

Make a list of things that are most important to you personally and educationally. If you want to stay close enough to home that you can go back for the holidays, but far enough away that no one will just casually drop by, draw a circle on the map that meets this criterion. Include items such as whether you prefer a structured or unstructured learning environment. Do you want the excitement of a large university or the personalized touch of a smaller school? Are you looking for a liberal arts education or a specific, technical curriculum? How important are athletics to you? Do you plan to continue your education at the graduate level? If so, what institutions would be most appropriate?

Prepare a list of questions for the guided part of your tour and try to ask the same questions at each facility. The more you guide your experience, the more information you gather, and the easier it will be to make your final decision.

Pack appropriately. While it may seem obvious, if you live in Florida but plan to tour a technical school in Vermont, bear in mind that the temperature, even in the summer, will be much cooler. If you are a religious person, plan to attend campus services to understand that aspect of student life and pack appropriate attire. No matter what the dress code, dress comfortably. Chances are good that you will have to walk quite a bit, during your scheduled tour, to and from any meetings and tests you may have, and during your down time.

Locate friends, family members, community members or individuals online who have attended each school you are considering. Listen to as many different opinions as you can find, and carefully consider the source of each one.

Most importantly, once you have prepared yourself for your visit, approach the campus with an open mind. No matter what anyone says or how many videos you watch, nothing can replace your own observations once you are on site. After all, you are the one who will study there, not your friend, your neighbor or your relatives.

 

What should you do during the campus tour?

Remember those questions you prepared prior to your tour? Take out your notebook and take plenty of notes during your visit. Most campuses offer guided tours, and the tour guides can provide a wealth of information about the college.

Sit in on a class, if at all possible. Although you will likely arrange your tour during the summer so as to not miss class time, most community colleges, technical schools and traditional universities have summer school sessions. Auditing a class, even if it isn’t in your major, will give you a good feel for the institution’s overall academic tone. Bear in mind, though, that teaching styles vary greatly among professors, just as they do among your current teachers.

Go off the beaten path. After your guided tour, allow ample time to wander around campus on your own. Ask questions of current students – how easy or challenging they find the curriculum, what the average dress code is, what the atmosphere is like, whether they are happy with their choice. Not only will you receive honest and unbiased answers to your questions, but you will get to know the student body and perhaps make a few new friends.

 

What should you do after the campus tour?

Even if you do not usually keep a journal, make a few notes about how you felt while you were on campus. Just as you would with any important decision, create a list of “pros” and “cons” about your visit. Memories fade and perspectives change with time and each campus you visit. After your third or fourth campus, you’ll end up scratching your head thinking, “Was that the one with the pretty stone walls or the one with the really good food?”

Compare what you observed during your tour with all of the information you gathered prior to your visit. Naturally, a traditional or non-traditional college’s promotional video will showcase its best features, with the lighting at just the right angle. But, on the whole, did the promotional information line up with what you observed from multiple viewpoints and sources? Anyone, either you or a campus, can have an “off” day. But even on an “off” day, some things will ring true. What rings true for you comparing your visit with your prior information, and how does that affect your decision?

Also compare what you experienced with your “wish list” to see how closely each institution matches the things that are important to you. Chances are, no one community college or four-year college will check all of your boxes. Combine the one that checks the most boxes with your list of “pros” and “cons” and your gut feeling to determine which one comes out on top.

 

Bonus: your ultimate campus tour checklist

For the best outcome, try to include the following activities with your campus visit:

  • See what amenities are within walking distance. You may need to run to the store or the laundromat.
  • Discover local attractions and entertainment. If you like music, movies or museums, see if you can experience those things near your prospective school. If not, it is still a good idea to get to know the community in which you will be living for the next several years.
  • Check out public transportation. Sometimes, you simply need to escape campus for a few hours, maybe for some downtime, some study time or some fun.
  • Explore housing options. Does the school offer on-campus housing? Can you commute from your current home?
  • Browse the bookstore. Campus bookstores generally carry any and every thing bearing a school logo, but they also cater to the student body’s tastes. Look at what the bookstore has in stock to get a good feel for what is popular on campus.
  • Observe student behavior. Just sit quietly on a bench and watch the students. Do they seem social with one another? Watch student/professor interactions. Do the professors seem genuinely interested in carrying on conversations with their students after class?
  • Look for employment opportunities. Most students could use a little extra pocket money, so take time during your tour to see if there are any small businesses in the area that might hire a college student on a part-time basis.
  • If you plan to commute to your for-profit school, make sure that it is a comfortable commute time.
  • If you plan to work full-time while attending community college, make sure that they offer the classes you need in the evenings, on weekends or online.

 

Exploring the next stage of your education is an exciting, and sometimes frightening, time. Preparing for a thorough campus tour, one that will give you the best idea of your new home, is the first step in your journey.

Americolleges can help you start your search. With a few simple questions, Americolleges assists you in narrowing your field of study and offers a wide variety of informational articles to help you choose which institution best suits your career path. Whether you are interested in medicine or makeup, Americolleges houses detailed information about hundreds of for-profit colleges, state universities, technical institutes, community colleges and other centers of higher education throughout the United States.

Start your search with Americolleges and end with the career of your dreams.

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