College Campus Tours: Why You Should Visit Schools Before Applying

By Marcy Black

college campus tourIn this day of streaming video, YouTube clips, and phone apps, it may seem quaint to pack up a prospective student and physically visit college campuses. Many schools offer virtual tours on their websites. But there are some things you cannot get from a video on your computer.


College visits can open a teenager’s eyes to the possibilities of life after high school.

Think back to when your identity was defined by where you sat in the cafeteria, the classes you were tracked into, whether you earned a varsity letter, or got stuffed in your locker. Rigid cliques determined social standing. Your high school friends were the most important people outside your family, and life without them was unimaginable.

Whether your student is basking in the sun at the top of the social heap, or struggling to find a comfortable niche, some high- schoolers can’t imagine anything beyond these four years. One parent described her daughter’s immersion: “It was all about the dynamics of high school, fitting in and finding her place in a social system that she thought lasted forever. So I showed her there is an alternate universe outside of high school.” Campus visits give teens a peek at life after 12th grade. A visit will show your student that high school is just a stepping stone to their future.

Campus tours help teens get to know schools more intimately.

By immersing themselves in campus life, kids can better judge whether or not a school has those indefinable qualities that would make it a “good fit” for them. It’s easy enough to research a student’s checklist for school size, location, majors offered, student/ teacher ratio, etc. But so much more goes into finding a college match in which a student will feel comfortable and thrive.

In fact, a 2004 student poll by educational consultants The Art & Science Group found that the campus visit is the single largest influence on student application decisions. As carefully as they try, a parent cannot pick up on the subtle clues that scream at a teen, “This place is full of snobs,” or “I’ll fit in here, easy.”  High school counselor Scott White describes watching with fascination as his daughter drank in the scene at several schools. He says, “She could pick up, by the pocketbooks the girls carried or the brand of jeans the kids wore, some things I was blind to. She could interpret subtle differences in the language that I could never hear. She is in a culture that, as much as I try, I will never truly understand.”

A campus visit may improve a student’s chance of admission.

A college visit cuts both ways. Not only do students get to see the school, but the school gets to see the student. Every contact between the two is charted in their enrollment management plan. Some schools say that a campus visit is not a factor in the admission decision; others say demonstrated interest by an applicant does affect the admissions committee’s deliberations.

After several years of rising campus visits, editor Sally Reed says the annual survey of colleges found fewer students visiting campus in 2009, possibly as a result of the recession. Still, schools with more applicants than space for enrollment or with more applicants for financial aid than their budgets can provide, must pick and choose. So they may be likely to look with more favor on a student who demonstrates serious interest in the school by taking the time and making the effort to visit the campus.


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