After spending eight days on the road in New England with two teenage daughters, I’ve become smarter about how to do and not do campus tours, and while I’m certainly not an expert, I’d like to pass along some of what the three of us learned from our experience:
--Schedule more than two (preferably only one) college tours/information sessions per day. You'll soon begin to confuse the different opportunities and programs at all the different schools anyway. Spacing visits with time in between will help keep your impressions more distinct.
--If you are parent, refrain from asking questions during campus tours or information sessions. See Do’s below.
--Forget to have fun along the way. Take a break from colleges to go out and do something else—watch a movie, visit a museum, or just take a walk outside a college campus.
--Research the websites of the colleges you plan to visit before you go. You’ll find helpful, detailed information about academic programs and extra-curricular opportunities as well as admission requirements and statistics.
--Map out your route and place to park ahead of your visit. Arrive a half an hour early to allow for getting lost or difficulties parking. School holidays (spring break) are very busy times on campuses and you need to be prepared for the crowds of other families also visiting colleges.
--If you are a student, come prepared to information sessions or tours with a few specific questions that you can’t answer through perusing college literature. Ask about programs or majors you are interested in, extra-curricular activities, study abroad, something specific, but not so specific it wouldn’t be relevant to anyone else.
--Observe as much as you can about typical campus life. Eat in a campus dining hall if possible or attend a class. Watch students interacting with one another, notice what they wear, how happy or energetic they appear to be; walk into the college library and see who is studying and how.
--Contact a current student for a private tour or conversation. You may have relatives or colleagues who know students at different schools or the college counselor at your son or daughter’s school may know high school alumni who attend a particular college.
--Record your impressions of each college while they are still fresh in your mind. Taking notes on a tour isn’t “nerdy”—it will help you decide which schools you really want to put on your short list.
--Keep the whole college search process in perspective. There are many great colleges out there where you can get a fantastic education and enjoy a rich social life at the same time.