I’m going to be a junior this fall, but my sister is going to be a high school senior, which means we’ve spent a lot of time this summer researching and visiting colleges, with me tagging along on the slew of college tours.  I only went on one college tour before applying to college in high school, and only one official tour after being accepted for a transfer– so even though I've gone through the college admissions process twice, this whole college touring thing was still new to me. Here are my takeaways:

1. These tour guides know more about their school than I will ever know about any university.

Like, seriously. How do they know all this? How do they remember all these facts? Where did they even learn all these things? 

2. Your tour guide makes a difference.

If your tour guide is funny, honest and lively, you’re much more likely to have a good time, and stay engaged, and (if you are a prospective student) maybe even apply there. Also, if you’re not planning on applying to college anymore like me, they at least keep you entertained.

3. You still may look like a high school student.

Yes, you may be mistaken for a high school student, despite having graduated a while ago. While younger siblings get dragged along to college tours all the time, it’s rarer to see older siblings there. And I guess I haven’t aged much in the last two years.

4. They give you more information than you need, much less than you will be able to remember.

I mean, some of it is useful, but some doesn’t really have an influence on your decision to go there or your experience while you’re there. Also, you’re not going to remember any of this if and when you get here.

5. People think of a school of nearly 4,000 as small.

My old school of 1,300 is small. Top liberal arts colleges such as Swarthmore, Amherst and Williams have around 2,000 students. A school of 4,000 is big for me, and huge for a liberal arts college. But it’s tiny compared to most research universities. Size is relative, but size matters.

6. They don’t spend as much time as they should outlining things like health or psychological support centers or student support resources for when you need help.

Unfortunately, only one of the tours covered anything about a health center or hospital, which is pretty important and a concern for both students and their families. It's important to know if and how your school is going to support you when you need help. Which is almost more important than finding a perfect fit.

7. Some schools include questions about music taste in their housing questionnaires.

Seriously, why don’t more schools do this? Besides the fact that it’s great meeting people with the same music tastes as you, if anything it’s just more practical when it comes to housing because you don’t want to end up with a roommate that blasts your least favorite kind of music at all hours.

8. The campus is a huge factor.

We saw Emerson and Northeastern on the same day, and although they’re both located in Boston, they’re completely different. There are huge differences between rural and urban campuses, but urban campuses can vary greatly, even within the same city. Northeastern was definitely much larger and had more of a suburban feel than Emerson, which was in the theater district of Boston, in between shops, restaurants, and, well, theaters. The campus, physical organization of the school and its surroundings definitely have an impact on your experience. I applied to Penn because it has an urban campus and I felt isolated and stifled in my old school’s suburban campus. So it’s important to see the campus in person (or find a virtual tour or map or some really high-quality photos).

9. This all sounds too good to be true.

On a college admissions tour, you get a very one-sided view of the school. You hear all this amazing information that would make anyone want to apply to these schools. It’s a sales pitch, which is why it sounds so incredible, but it’s not the whole story, and it’s not completely honest. The goal of all this research is normally to find a school that is the best fit but the reality is that very rarely do we attend schools that are perfect fits – and even if we love our schools we’re still going to run into some issues from time to time. I feel like these tours set us up for unrealistically high expectations for our college experiences, which eventually disappoint us when our experiences don’t measure up. College isn’t nearly as great as they make it out to be, and although it’s sad to think that this college, which seems so fantastic, may not be the right place for you, it’s a possibility.

10. College tours are incredibly useful.

Yes, you’re not going to know for sure if this school is the right fit for you based on this tour, but it’s the best way to learn more about a university (next to sitting in on classes or staying overnight). If anything, you get to visit actual buildings and meet actual students – which is a resource I would have loved to have used more, both times I was applying. Do they do these for graduate programs?


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