Websites, books, and brochures can be incredibly informative, but a campus tour is one of the best ways to see and learn more about a college or university and what it has to offer. Prospective students and their parents are generally advised to see a variety of schools before deciding to apply for acceptance, but some families only visit one or two schools.
Touring a college campus while classes are in session—when true student life and campus culture can be observed firsthand—is preferable. Unfortunately, that may not always be possible due to schedule conflicts, so here are six sneaky ways to make the most of your campus tour:
1. Talk to “real” students. Although they are often the first “face” that prospective students see on campus, always remember that campus tour guides are also student employees who work for the Admissions Office and receive a paycheck for showing families around campus. They go through extensive training and their spiels are very well rehearsed, if not completely memorized. They are great at emphasizing the “good” while placing less emphasis on the “bad,” so make a point to speak with students other than your tour guide. (Lobbies, cafeterias and other large open spaces are good places to find these “other” students. Most are more than happy to talk if you smile and explain the situation!) Ask what they like and don’t like about the school, and why they decided to go there.
2. Visit the old buildings, too. Construction and renovation are fairly common on college campuses. Newer residence halls are much more glamorous than those that were around even ten or twenty years ago. Newer classrooms and auditoriums are built with constantly advancing technologies in mind. While these buildings are impressive, make sure you sneak a peek into other buildings, too—see what “the other half” of campus looks like in person.
3. Sit in on a class if possible. Most schools are happy to arrange for prospective students to observe a class or two during their time on campus. This may be harder to do if you visit a college during the summer months, when far fewer classes are scheduled, but shouldn’t be impossible.
4. Check out your potential major. Even if you aren’t 100% percent sure you want to major in computer engineering or art or whatever it is that you’re thinking about, visit the college or department where classes are held. Look around. Ask questions. Is the equipment old and outdated, or top of the line?
5. Sightsee in the surrounding community, too. Go off-campus to see what you can find nearby. Freshmen who live in the dorms are often not allowed to bring cars with them—is there a grocery store or drugstore within walking distance? You will want to leave school every now and then. Is public transportation readily available? Where is the closest hospital? Mall?
6. Take pictures and make notes. Make sure you take plenty of photos and write plenty of notes, especially if you’ll be visiting multiple schools within a short timeframe. It can be tough to keep all the details straight and remember what you saw where!
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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