During my years in undergrad, I was a college tour guide, and I have helped 100+ students and parents tour my alma mater during my time as a tour guide. I loved being a guide, and it has given me invaluable experience about what makes a great college tour. So many students want to use their college tour days, but they don’t come with an adequate plan of what to do while on a college campus. Hopefully, all of this information will help you out as you plan your college tours throughout the year.
1. Prepare For Your Visit
Going on a college tour is often the first impression you will make on a college campus. You want to make sure that you are prepared for your visit. Before you embark on your journey, I suggest having the following:
- A Campus Map: You don’t want to get lost on your college tour day! That’s a definite no-no! Instead, figure out where you are going, and print off the map if you have to. You don’t want to be late for your tour, so having a map is important.
- Admissions Office Information: This is critical, sometimes college campuses are just confusing. Save yourself a headache by having the Admissions Office information stored on your phone before you even set foot on campus. Also, you never know how crazy traffic is, so you want to be able to contact the school and let them know you are on your way. As a tour guide, I was more than willing to wait on people, but I can’t do that unless you make the call and let the school know that you are running late.
- Parking Permit: Chances are you will have a parking permit provided by the school, use it. You don’t want a parking citation before you even decide to attend a school. University police departments aren’t just security guards, the citations they issue can and will follow you outside of your potential school. University police departments are usually dealing with a ton of parking problems, so make sure you print and display your parking permit according to the rules of the school.
2. Set-Up Extra Meetings For Your Day
The worst thing you can do as a student is using a whole college tour day for a 1-2 hour tour. If you are going to be on campus anyway, you may as well get some other meetings done so you can really get to know the campus. Here are some ideas for other meetings to set-up.
- Are you thinking of living in the residence halls/dorms? Set up a meeting with residence life to tour a residential hall. Setting up dorm tours may happen through Admissions at your school of choice, but at my school, all residence hall tours were done through the housing office because Resident Assistants and their workers new more about the residence halls than Admissions tour guides did. Check with your admissions office on how to set up dorm/residence hall tours.
- Are you an athlete? Set up a meeting with the sport you are interested in being an athlete for. More than likely they have time in their schedule and they are willing and ready to meet with you.
- Do you have a learning or physical disability? Set up a meeting with disability services so you can learn more about the support your university has for students with disabilities. They can often provide a ton of support for things like testing and dorm accommodations. Your college tour guide may not be well versed in accommodations for students with disabilities so don’t be afraid to make a meeting with disability services so they can give you all the details.
- Do you want to study a certain topic? Set up a meeting with that department and get to know a few of the faculty members before you even step foot on campus. If this is a school you are particularly interested in going to this will be a great first impression for those professors you may end up taking a course with.
- Are you interested in a certain organization? Set up a meeting with the faculty advisor or president of that organization. This is vital, if, for example, you know you want to get involved with a particular group like band or even debate team, arrange a meeting to learn more about those organizations on your potential college campus. If these are groups you want to be heavily involved with you need to know more about them so you know they will meet your expectations.
3. Prepare For The Tour (& The Weather)
If you plan to attend a college tour, check the weather and make sure you are prepared to walk. On some campus tours you may be able to get a golf cart, but especially for college tours that are led by students this probably won’t be an option. At my alma mater, students were not allowed to use things like golf carts because it was a huge liability for the school since we were not employed by the school and we were a volunteer organization. You never know how the tour will be given so I would say the following:
- Wear comfortable tennis shoes: You will probably be walking a ton. On the college visits I gave we made a pretty decent sized circle around the entire campus so I estimate that we walked a good few miles on the campus tour. Be prepared for that and wear tennis shoes.
- Dress appropriately: If it’s cold, dress for the cold. If it’s raining, bring an umbrella. My university did provide umbrellas for people on tour, but you never know how many people are visiting with you, and we didn’t have infinite umbrellas so we would often have just enough (and sometimes not even enough.) You want to make sure that you have the right attire so check the weather in the town your college is in before you leave.
- Call in advance if you do need accommodations: Your potential school would love to help you out however they can, but it is harder to make arrangements day of. If you or your parents do need special accommodations call the office giving you your tour to see if they can make those arrangements happen. This way, if they can’t, you can have a backup plan (and if they can, you will be all set!)
4. Use Proper Tour Etiquette
I cannot stress this enough. I was a stressed out college tour guide doing it all basically for free (we did get a lot of love from the Admissions office, free Ambassador swag, and a cool banquet at the end of the year though!) It is important that you use proper tour etiquette on any tour you attend, not so much because tour guides are spiteful human beings, but because they are taking time out of their day that they could be working or studying to provide you with a service. Some college tour guides are paid (but some are not) and either way you want to be a decent human being.
Here are some quick tips on tour etiquette:
- Don’t compare: I know that your time at XYZ school is probably completely different from your time at your current school, but be a nice person and don’t compare (at least not out loud.) All schools have different selling points, and it’s obvious that your current tour guide found their home at the school you are currently touring. It’s okay to make notes in your head but don’t make those vocal.
- Be in the moment: If your tour guide is putting up their phone for the time you all are together (which they should be doing) you can do the same. If you need to keep a watch on the time, use a watch. You can only get the most out of the tour if you are staying in the moment. Otherwise, you just drove to a college campus to look at your phone.
- If you want to stay in the moment, I encourage students to stay toward the front of the tour group. Like sitting in the front of a classroom helps you stay engaged there, so does being in the front of a tour group (plus you can make sure you can hear and get your questions answered.)
- Stay in the group: Depending on the tour you attend your tour group may be massive. Schools may not have the resources to adequately staff huge tours so you need to hold yourself accountable to keeping up with the group. If you are going to a university where you know a lot of people, make arrangements after your tour to say hi to them. Don’t make it too difficult on your tour guide to keep up with you when they should be giving the best campus tour ever.
5. Ask Questions On Your Tour
I gave dozens of tours during my time as an Ambassador, and the best tours were always the ones where I got a lot of questions from the audience. As college tour guides we have a script of sorts, and we memorize all these random facts and pieces of information about buildings and the tour route. That’s cool, but I love to be challenged, give my opinion, and impact someone’s tour past the talking points the university gave me.
A few years ago (when I was still a college tour guide) I wrote a great post on my blog featuring twenty possible questions to ask your college tour guide. I think that most campus tour guides are prepared for questions and want to provide you with everything you need to make your decision. At the end of the day, this tour is your time, and if you leave the campus with questions left unanswered, we are not doing our job correctly. Campus tour guides will prompt you and ask if you have any questions, but you have to be the one to step up. College tour guides are not mind readers; they are just people who love their university and want to represent it.
6. Take Note & Participate In The Scenery
The last advice that I have is actually to participate in what is going on around campus. Here are some ideas on how to best participate in the scenery on campus:
- Eat lunch in the cafeteria or the food court.
- Attend a course if you can set it up beforehand.
- Visit the campus library.
- Visit some campus hotspots and see how the university flows by doing some people watching.
- Pick up a copy and read the campus newspaper.
- Attend a game if one is happening while you are there.
- Look at the campus bulletin boards to see what events are coming up.
By participating and seeing what is happening around campus, you can figure out if you see yourself attending the university you are touring. Campus tours are excellent starting points, but if you put some time and effort into maximizing your tour day you can make it a great ending point for college admissions, too.
I hope that these tips have helped you as you begin to think about college tours (or even as you have already taken a few and want to get better results out of your last tours.) I loved being a tour guide, and I have seen how beneficial they can be for students. If you take these six steps to heart, I know that you can have excellent college tours.