College Tour Checklist: 10 Ways to Maximize Your Trip
The college tour process can be daunting. Whether you’re a parent or a student you probably have a million questions flooding your brain. When should you start? How many schools are too many? How far are you comfortable traveling? Despite all the stress, seeing a school first-hand is an invaluable experience to help you navigate the next step of your or your child’s life. To give you a leg up on the search, we sought the advice of the Director of College Counseling at The Episcopal Academy, Cynthia Crum. Here, she breaks down the do’s and don’ts to make the most of your campus visits:
Visit an array of schools.
In order to make an informed decision about where they want to apply, high school students should visit all types of schools, says Crum. “Visit someplace big like Rutgers and Penn State; someplace urban like Drexel or Temple; someplace midsize and suburban like Villanova; and someplace smaller and rural like Dickinson College,” she suggests. “You need to think not only about size, but also location.”
Don’t visit more than 2 schools a day.
“More than two is way too overwhelming,” says Crum. “Things start to blur together and it’s exhausting.” Instead she suggests mixing up your college tours with something fun—a family outing. “This process can be a gift of time with your child who’s getting ready to leave,” she says. “In a year or so they’ll be gone, enjoy this time together now.”
Pack the essentials.
There are three essential items you must take on all college tours according to Crum—an umbrella, a bottle of water, and comfortable shoes. “You’ll want to be as comfortable as possible,” she says. “Your view of a school can be totally skewed if you’re grumpy, hot, thirsty or wet.”
Trying to gauge whether it’s a good fit or not? Take a few minutes (10 to 15 will do!) to stop and people watch. “Work on gathering as much information as you can,” says Crum. Take note of—who’s walking by? What are they talking about? Do they look happy? Are they busy? “These are all huge insights into what life is like there.”
Immerse yourself in school culture.
That means pick up a newspaper, scan the bulletin board, eat in the dining hall. “Read as much on campus as you can to see what students are talking about, what they’re worked up about, what they care about,” Crum says. “Maybe even offer to buy a current student a cup of coffee or lunch to pick their brain some more.”
Ask the right questions.
Tour guides cover a lot of information throughout the day but there are some things that often go left unsaid. “I would ask a tour guide how they spent their last several weekends,” Crum suggests. “Each campus has an entirely different social life, depending on their location and you won’t find those things out without asking.” Another important Q— “When does the weekend begin?” says Crum. “Sometimes it’s Friday, sometimes it’s Wednesday. This is a good indicator about school culture as well.”
Parents—this one’s for you! Crum’s biggest piece of advice— “your job is to be quiet.” This is your child’s first big step into adulthood and a decision they need to make on their own. “Just listen carefully, take all of the information in and let the kids ask the questions,” she says. You’ve gotten them to this point—trust that they know what’s best for themselves and support them the best you can.
Take the bookstore test.
“I always tell parents—ask their kids if they want a t-shirt, sweatshirt or hat from the school bookstore,” says Crum. “If they say no—you can probably scratch that college off the list.” Who doesn’t want free swag?
Jot down your thoughts.
Crum suggests staying as present as possible during the duration of the tour. “Cellphones on silent!” she says. However, taking pictures of things you liked are a helpful way of remembering your feelings about the campus after you’ve left. “Once you get in the car jot down notes on your phone,” says Crum. “What did you like, what did you dislike, do you want to continue pursuing this school as an option?”
Ask follow-up questions.
Hey parents—now’s the time for you to talk! But not about your own thoughts on the school. “Your opinion should be kept to yourself,” says Crum. “Depending on the child, your opinion can cause them to have the same opinion or the exact opposite.” Instead, ask them to elaborate on their thoughts. Ask them what they liked, disliked and what caught their attention.
For a school that gives you the jump-start you need on college, visit The Episcopal Academy.
This is a paid partnership between Episcopal Academy and Philadelphia Magazine's City/Studio