It’s the time of year when college acceptance letters are coming out for high school seniors and high school juniors are preparing to look at schools. And with all the brochures, trips and on-campus interviews, certain parts of the search may be overlooked. Like the college tour.
The college tour is one of the best ways of getting the feel for a school, say college admissions counselors. We spoke to several to find out how you can make the most of your college tour.
- Talk to students other than the tour guide
Sure, the tour guide is trained to answer all your questions. And that’s exactly why you should also get another perspective, said Laura Hosid, a Bethesda-based college admissions counselor.
“I always tell students to do the official information session and tour, but take all of that with a grain of salt Talk to as many people as possible. Sometimes [the tour guide] will tell you [the answer], but it’s good to talk to somebody who isn’t being paid,” she said.
She advises people to talk to students in the cafeteria, library and elsewhere around campus for a more unvarnished perspective of the school.
- Don’t ask questions that you can easily find the answer to.
“Essentially, stay away from anything in the brochure or easily google-able,” said Nicole Porcaro, founder and president of No Anxiety Prep, a local college prep company. It’s annoying, it wastes time and the guide will probably say it anyway.”
Good questions to ask include: “What kind of support systems do you provide, both academic and social?” and “What kind of non-partying social activities are around?” These will give you a better idea of whether the school is a good fit.
- Find out about the college’s advisory program.
A college adviser is the one who approves classes for each semester and keeps students on track to graduate. Some advisers may form close relationships with their students. Others may just sign forms and send students on their way.
According to Elana Hoffman, director of college counseling at Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, “On one end of the spectrum, some colleges will assign students an adviser who signs off on class choices before registration and has little additional interaction with the student. On the other end of the spectrum, advisers and students are carefully matched and meet together regularly to discuss how the student is doing academically and socially.”
In schools where advisers are more involved with students, professors usually are too, Hoffman said. And the opposite tends to be true, too.
- Arrange your visit for a time when students are busy — but not too busy
Visiting during summer vacation may be convenient for you, but it won’t give you an accurate idea of the school’s atmosphere. Nor will visiting during finals week or before a vacation break.
“The end of August is a really good time, since classes resume then,” Hosid said.
She also advises families to visit during the winter, if they’re looking at a school in a state known for its snowy weather.
- Parents and kids should try to take separate tours.
Hosid recommends that parents and students go on separate tours, if possible. That way both parents and kids can ask questions freely without anyone getting embarrassed.
And since you “get twice as much information,” it’ll help give a better view of the school. Even though you’ll visit the same places, you’ll get different perspectives and expertise from the tour guides, she said.
- Try an overnight stay.
Before you schedule your tour, ask if you can also plan an overnight stay where your student can settle in a dorm room with a current student. Not only does this let the student have a look into the more mundane features of campus life, it’ll give them a good sense of the general feel for the school.
“Overnight stays can be a really good way of seeing formal and informal settings within that school, and can be really good way of learning about specific communities within a campus setting,” said Jeremy Lowe, associate director of admissions at American University.
- Remember to be open-minded.
The kind of school you start out looking for might not be where you end up. You shouldn’t avoid visiting a school because you don’t necessarily like the size or location of the campus.
“When you look at schools, they may be different from what you expect,” Lowe said. “I think it’s important that when students are choosing where to visit, that they choose different kinds of colleges. Doing a visit will help you figure out what environment suits you best.”