I don't know if you know this about me, but when I was in college I was a volunteer tour guide for my campus during my Sophomore, Junior, and Senior year. With that experience I have helped a number of potential students tour my Alma Mater's campus in a number of ways from student information days (we called them Bear Facts Days) to one-on-one and group tours. I have even done a tour on a bus (my least favorite tour, personally) point being--I know a lot about tours.
I don't think I have ever truly talked about this experience on the blog save for a post I did a few years back about questions you can ask your college tour guide and a post I did for The University Network on how to have a great college tour day. There is a tad bit of overlap between that post on The University Network and this post, but overall I feel they stand on their own.
So, with it being prime time tour season right now, I thought I would share my complete guide to college campus tours.
What Type Of Tour Should You Go On?
At my school there were two main types of tours. I am going to break those down and let you know which one I think is best.
At my alma mater we used to have tours two times a day Monday-Friday and once every other Saturday. I am not sure if that is the same schedule they have today, though I am sure it's about the same schedule. With this tour it usually took about an hour to an hour and a half. It was a walking tour around the most important parts of campus. You were paired with 1-2 tour guides and you were usually in a pretty small group of other parents and students.
This is one of the best tours for truly getting to know the day-to-day campus experience. You get to go through campus buildings, see students on their way to and from classes, and in my opinion you get the best feeling of whether you would belong at a particular campus. There isn't as much pomp and circumstance on a daily tour. It's just you, a group of other potential students, and a few guides.
Information days are MUCH more curated.
At my school, they started early in the morning with a ton of tour guides on staff greeting hundreds of potential students. You got some refreshments and then you were seated in our biggest auditorium. You listened to a few speakers from across the university, then you were split up into your academic colleges.
At the college talk you got to meet your potential academic dean and the higher-ups of your academic college. Then, we took our students back to an area where they could go on a campus tour, go on a housing tour, get free shirts, visit with financial aid, get their application fee waived for applying on site, and even attend a fair to meet the student organizations on campus.
The afternoon was wrapped up with lunch, and sometimes we even gave away game tickets because the event was usually on a Saturday.
This experience is curated from your very arrival on campus. Yes, you are able to accomplish a lot in one day, but a Saturday is not usually a good representation of a college campus. On Saturday's, you have one of two things happening:
- Everyone has gone home for the weekend.
- Everyone is tailgating because it's College Football Saturday.
Well, at least that's how it is in Arkansas. Either way, you could end up with a warped picture of what a day on the campus is really like.
Also, our campus tours were really abbreviated on information days. At my school, we had a special tour route just for information days. I am not sure if that's how it is at every school, other tour guides will have to fill me in on that.
Which One Is Best For You?
They both have their positives and negatives.
On a daily tour, you are going to have to create much of the experience yourself. You will get a lengthy tour with a tour guide and you will be able to see the campus how it normally is, but that's about it. Your experience is only curated while you are on the tour. If you want to meet with housing, get a meeting with financial aid, meet a professor, etc. you will have to arrange that on your own which can be frustrating for many students.
When visiting for an Information Day, you normally get the entire VIP experience. You are guided through much of your time on campus and you get to do a number of things all in one day. On the other hand, you may not get the best feel for the campus because of the entire curated experience.
When I actually toured my alma mater, it was on an Information Day, so I definitely don't knock it. My college years were some of the best years of my life (so far)!
Above all else, I say choose the experience that fits in best with your schedule. Touring a college campus in some capacity is better than not touring it at all.
What To Bring On College Tour Days
Here is a small list of things you may want to bring on your college tour day:
- Campus map: You may even be able to get this on your phone, but bring it however you can. You don't want to get lost on campus!
- Parking Pass: Usually you are sent a free parking pass for your campus tour date. Print that out and be sure to bring it with you. Campus officers love to give out tickets and you don't want your first experience with a campus to be getting a ticket from a campus officer!
- Comfortable shoes: Chances are, you will be walking, especially if college students are giving your tour (because they won't be able to drive golf carts probably, it's a liability!)
- Water bottle: They may have some on site, but if you get dehydrated easily, I wouldn't count on it. Bring you own that way you are prepared.
- Umbrella: Again, they may have some on site, but you never know how many they will have. If you think it might rain, bring an umbrella.
- Rain boots/jacket: Again, if it's raining or snowing, dress for the part. They DEFINITELY won't have rain boots and a rain jacket for you to borrow.
- Hair Tie: Put one around your wrist before you leave the house. It may get hot after a while of walking, so you may want to put your hair up in a ponytail.
- Information you need to apply: Sometimes during information days and regular tours you can apply on site. If you think it's a possibility that you may want to apply, bring your information along.
- Phone: In case you get lost and need to call someone or you want to take pictures of the campus while you are on tour.
- A purse or bag: All that stuff will be annoying to carry around, so bring a small drawstring bag or crossbody. You may be able to leave somethings in the Admissions office, but don't count on that.
What To Do On Your College Tour
Here are a few things that I think will help you get the most out of your college campus tour.
Do: Ask Questions
As I stated earlier, I even wrote an entire list of tour appropriate questions you can ask. College tour guides want to hear your questions! It helps you get the most out of your tour, and it helps them get out of the mundane tour script. Your tour mates may get frustrated with your questions, but at the end of the day, this is your time to ask questions! You took the time to be here today, so don't let someone else's issues stop you from getting the most out of your tour date.
Do: Take Mental notes
Get in the moment with your campus tour and take mental notes of how the campus makes you feel. Do you think you could fit in at this university? Tours are a lot to process, but be sure to take notes in your head about how you feel or let the people on the tour with you know your feelings as you go along.
Do: Go Exploring After Your Tour
When your tour is done, your exploring shouldn't be over. Check out the student center or cafeteria for lunch, meet with housing or financial aid, chat with a professor. You can even check out what's happening in the neighborhood around your college campus. Schedule as much ahead of time so you are not scrambling for things to do on the day of your campus tour. You want to make the most of any days you take off for campus tours.
What Not To Do On Your Campus Tour
On the flip side, here are a few things you should not do on your campus tour.
Don't: Get Overwhelmed
College tour guides practice a huge script. We have a lot to talk about, but we know that it would be impossible for you to remember everything. Don't get stressed out if you can't remember every detail of your campus tour. Remember what sticks out, and if it doesn't stick out, it's not as important as it seems.
Don't: Waste A Tour Date Just To Get Out Of Class
I saw this so much when I was in college. We were in a town with a pretty big school system so often around the end of the year students from that school would get tour dates and really just come to tours because it was a way to get out of class. They lived in the town so they really had no reason to tour the school they had seen their entire lives. Don't do that. Spend your college tour days getting to know schools you have never seen or schools you truly want to see more of. That's the best way to get the most of your college tour dates.
Don't: Loudly Compare The University You Are Seeing To Past Universities
This has happened to me once or twice and it's just really frustrating. I chose my alma mater for a reason, and I am sure your college tour guide chose their school for a reason. It's disheartening when students do that on tour, and this is really not the place for that behavior. If you don't like the school, a tour doesn't force you to attend that school. I was literally a volunteer campus tour guide, so I didn't get paid enough to put up with that behavior, and even if I did that's not acceptable behavior. Keep those kinds of opinions within your family outside of the campus tour environment.
What You Should Do After You Leave Campus
Okay, so you have successfully made it through your day on campus. What should you do next?
Write As Much As Possible About Your Experience
In the car before you drive off campus (or on the way home if you aren't driving) take some time to write down your thoughts or use the voice recorder on your phone to speak your initial thoughts. Be sure to take as much time as you need to write down:
- What the culture felt like on campus?
- How did you feel while walking the campus?
- Did you learn any interesting facts while there?
- Were there any cool things happening on campus that day?
- What questions did you ask, and how were they handled?
Your goal should be to write down all the things that would help you make a good decision about which college to choose. Be as detailed as possible because these will be your best notes for comparing and contrasting universities later.
Get More Information About The University
I know what you are thinking, you just went on a tour, how much information could you need? Well, you may need a little more. I would consider picking up brochures from different departments while you are on campus because that may be easier. If that's not possible though, check out the website when you get home for different brochures on processes like:
- Your potential major/department
- Disability Support Services and other campus resources
Chances are, you may not even need to request hard copies of these. Often brochures like this are loaded into the university website. Just take your time and scroll the website to learn as much as you can, especially in the places where you didn't get as much information as you wanted during your tour.
Schedule Follow-Up Calls/Visits If Necessary
You may not have been able to do everything you wanted on your first campus visit. Maybe you went to an Information Day and you want a more in-depth campus tour so your schedule a visit during normal business hours. Or, maybe you had a normal visit, but you want more of the pomp and circumstance of an information day. This may not be necessary, but don't be afraid to visit the campus more.
You could also schedule calls with people in different departments. Maybe you would like to get some of your questions answered about your potential major, playing sports at the collegiate level, or anything else. Take some time to think about who you may want to have a conversation with, then schedule that, and make it happen.
Start Your APplication Process
Last but not least, if you love the school, start the application process! That is the most important thing you can do, if you haven't done so already because touring a school is only the first step. To get into any school, you have to apply!
The days when I gave college tours were some of my favorite days. I look back at those memories now and I am so happy that I was able to be a part of so many student's college search process stories. I hope that this guide is beneficial for you as you start to search or continue to search for the college of your dreams.
Let me know if you learned anything about college tours today!
Related Reading: 3 Things House Hunters Taught Me About The College Search Process