Know Before You Go: 5 Tips to Help You Get The Most Out of a College Tour

During high school, you will begin researching several colleges and universities with the goal of finding a good fit that is unique to you.  A smart way to obtain more information about a college is visiting the university in person.  Although a college website or brochure can contain a lot of great information, going on a college tour can help you really get a feel for the college and give you an insider's knowledge to what you can hope to experience in the future.  A tour can also give you the opportunity to talk to students, faculty, and admissions staff, and ask key questions that will be useful when getting ready to decide which college suits you best. 

Here are some helpful tips to get the most out of a college tour:

Tip 1:  Gathering Info before you “Tour”
You will want to start gathering some basic information about the school you are interested in. What is the cost of tuition? What kind of fees might you anticipate? These are all important questions that could play into college. Prepare a snapshot of the following costs like: Tuition, Housing, On-Campus Housing, Meal Plan, and Parking (if applicable).  To gather this information beforehand, visit the college's website and research items under the Admissions tab.  

Tip 2: Questions to Ask "On the “Tour”
Finding the right college is not only important for the college, but it is important for you. The previous tip highlighted information you should gather before you visit your college/university. Here are some key questions to ask your representative during the tour:

  • What are the SAT/ACT scores that I should try to have to be considered for your college?
  • What kinds of classes should I try to schedule my junior and senior year to be accepted?
  • What are some of the acceptance criteria for incoming freshman to campus?
  • What is it like being a commuter at your school?
  • What does your college look for in its first year students?

All of these questions will help you get an idea of what the college is looking for, as well as help you pinpoint unique offerings only available at that school.  Keep a notebook to write down answers to these questions as well as general observations.  Before your tour is scheduled, you can also contact your High School Counselor to help you prepare a series of questions you might want to ask. 

Tip 3:  Talk to Students on Campus

Another great way to get a feel for the type of college is to actually have the opportunity to speak with students who attend there.  If you are lucky, the tour guide might also be a student who works there on campus under a federal work-study program.  Although other representatives can answer your academic questions, students may give you a unique perspective into the social aspects of the campus and provide their personal perspectives on what they've experienced so far as students.  Some questions to ask could include:

  • What was the determining factor in choosing this college?
  • What do you like best and least about this school?
  • What advice would you give me as a prospective student? 

Again, it's a good idea to see what actual students say since they have first-hand knowledge into what you will be experiencing as a student.

Tip 4: Explore Academic Departments

If you have the chance to explore academic departments during your visit, definitely make the time.  Students who already have decided on a major or are thinking of a major will benefit by asking academic-related questions to professors, as well as academic advisors.  If you are lucky, you may even get a chance to sit in a lecture or talk to a professor who teaches the field of student you're interested in.  Experts in the field will provide you with a sense of what courses to expect during study, as well as knowledge on specific careers you could pursue after obtaining your diploma.  They also may have opportunities to share that are right on the campus and available to students.

Tip 5: Try Before You Buy

If you have the opportunity before deciding on what college to attend, try to spend a weekend in a residence hall, attend a couple introductory lectures, and eat in the campus dining hall.  Immerse yourself in your surroundings and take it all in.  All of these experiences will provide you with a good sense of what it's like to be a student, as well as see what school fits best. 

Many students also take advantage of attending college earlier while still in high school at a percentage off the cost of tuition.  If this is something of interest to you, talk to your High School Counselor to help determine if you are ready for college instruction.  As with accelerated courses (like AP and Honors classes), students who may be ready for college-level work are already excelling in a particular subject or in all classes overall.  All in all, taking college classes in High School shows that you are motivated and serious in your academic journey.

If you need more information on what to expect on a college tour or have specific questions about preparing for college, contact your student's School Counselor.  They are there to help you every step of the way in supporting you on your academic and post-secondary journey.

Whitney Patterson, M.Ed, NCC of Pittsburgh, Pa., has been a professional high school counselor since September 2009. She has been instrumental in developing and implementing innovative virtual communication tools to effectively communicate and build rapport with students across the state of PA. She holds a Master of Education in Counselor Education and a Bachelor of Science in Communications Media from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her certifications include Secondary School Counselor, National Certified Counselor, Mental Health First Aid, ASCA College Admissions Specialist, ASCA School Leadership Development Specialist, ASCA Legal and Ethical Specialist, ASCA Bullying Prevention Specialist and ASCA School Counseling Data Specialist. Just recently, she has appeared on KDKA Pittsburgh Today Live for her segment on “Expert Tips on Getting the Most out of a College Visit” and she has also received national recognition from the American School Counseling Association in July of 2015 for the commitment, contribution, and dedication to the profession of school counseling. The title of her breakout session was called ‘The School Counselor in the Cyber World, and the main goal of the session was to educate the professionals on how a school counselor educates and connects with students within the cyber world. She previously served as a counselor at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and as a therapeutic specialist for Wesley Spectrum Services of Pittsburgh. She grew up in the Pittsburgh area and graduated from the Penn Hills School District in Allegheny Coun