By: Allison B. - A High School Senior who knows!
            High School is the time in a girl’s life when you figure out your identity: who you are, who your friends are, and, possibly most importantly, who you want to be. Even through all the drama, the homework, the self-esteem issues, and the daily stresses of school life, we’re all frantically trying to figure out our lives and prepare for one main thing – college! By the time Senior year rolls around, there are so many students who desperately fill out the college applications, hope for the best, hopefully get excepted somewhere, and then a few months later head out to college. But when they get to college, it’s not what they expected. Maybe the people aren’t friendly, or the campus is humongous, or the professors don’t provide much-needed office hours for help. There’s probably something all these first-year students had in common before they filled out applications that caused them to end up at a school they don’t really want to be at: they didn’t tour the college first.

            It cannot be stressed enough, by parents, by teachers, by counselors, and by peers: college tours are extremely important in the college decision process! It’s really hard to know you’ll love living somewhere for 100 plus days a year just by looking at pictures online or in brochures, or even by hearing from your neighbor’s, friend’s, sister’s, boyfriend how “amazing” and “fun” college life is at that particular school. You have your own expectations, so you can’t go by everyone else’s. You’ve got to go see it and experience it for yourself.  Experts say picking a college is kind of like buying a house. You don’t just buy a house because of what it looks like in the photos. You actually go and see it yourself because you get such a different feel from actually being there. The same thing goes for college, and there are so many reasons why college tours are extremely helpful and useful.
            On a college tour, you get to experience everything, from sitting in on classes to talking to professors to getting a feel of the campus and much more. This is why college recruiters and admissions directors recommend them so much. The many emails you might receive each month from different colleges aren’t just meant to go into your deleted folder; they’re meant to remind you of the incredible opportunity being offered to you as they tell you about upcoming events and college tour dates. Gail Polizzi, an Atlanta recruiter for Purdue University as well as a former Girl Scout leader, confirms this as she tells interested students considering Purdue and other colleges the importance of touring them all the time. “College tours are probably one of the most important factors if not the most important for a student in making his or her college decision” Ms Polizzi explained.  “While students can talk with Admissions Counselors, review the college websites or look through viewbooks, the actual visit to campus helps the student to imagine what it would be like to be there.  For the student, it’s usually the most effective way to determine if it’s the right fit for them.” But before you jump right in, there are some important things to know and do first.
Timing is everything, especially when it comes to college tours. So many students want to tour colleges during the summer, but there are quite a few reasons why touring during the school year is best. When it comes to scheduling college tours, Ms. Polizzi says that “When you’re touring a college, you should do so at a time when students and faculty are on campus so that you can get a sense of what the energy is like there.  While summer seems to be an opportune time to visit-when students and parents can take time off to do so, it’s not going to give the student the sense of what that campus really feels like as it would during the year when students are changing classes and faculty are teaching.” This brings us back to what a college tour gives you: the opportunity to get a sense of what life is like for students there.
You also need to keep in mind that the weather won’t always be nice. It might get really cold in the winter touring northern colleges and really hot in the summer touring southern ones. This means that you need to dress accordingly. Ms. Polizzi reminds us that, “When touring college campuses, it’s important to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking and to dress appropriately for the weather; hot, cold, rainy.” And for those nice, sunny days, don’t forget to bring a camera or phone to take your own pictures to help remind you of what you saw when you were there.
Once you’ve scheduled a college tour, which can usually be done on the college’s website or through an email, there are some things to make sure you do while you’re there. Remember to be VERY observant. Take note of what the students are doing, what they are wearing, and if it seems like they truly enjoy it there. Look around the campus and try to figure out if it’s too big, too small or the right size for you. But one of the best things you can do to make your college tour the most meaningful is to ask lots and LOTS of questions. Ms. Polizzi made a list of some of the basic and very important questions you might want to ask professors, students, and recruiters on the tour:
·      How does your Career Planning and Placement Office help students find jobs? What services do they provide?  Do they have corporate or job fairs on campus?  How many per year do they do?  What are some of the companies who interview here and hire students?
·      What are the work opportunities on campus?  What are the internship or Coop Opportunities for my major?
·      What’s the retention rate or the rate students staying at the college?  What’s the retention rate to graduation?
·      Is the college a suitcase college on the weekends or do students stay on campus?  What do students do on the weekends?  How many clubs and organizations do you have on campus?  What is student life like?
·      What is the student to faculty ratio?  What percentage of your faculty are professors?  Graduate Teaching Assistants?
·      Do you have a study abroad program?  What is it like? 
These are just a few questions you might want to ask on a tour, but make sure you aren’t afraid to ask about anything that comes to mind that’s important to you regarding the possibility of going to the particular college. And Ms. Polizzi recommends bringing “a note pad and pen with you to take notes about the college, how they answer the questions above, and any first impressions you have of the college or campus. It’s easy to visit multiple colleges and get confused on what you saw or heard about each one.”
            When it comes to college tours, you always are told they’re important because they allow you to “truly experience” that college. Many students don’t quite know what this means or how to make a college tour especially meaningful besides the scheduled tour of campus. You really want to experience life at that college, be sure to tour the dorms and eat in the dining halls. And don’t be shy! Stop and ask a student what he or she likes about the school. I remember one my of my recent tours while I ate in the dining hall, my parents got me to ask two girls sitting at a nearby table about their experience. The students were so friendly; as they had me sit with them and told me everything they could, from general college advice to life on that particular campus, for 15 minutes. They proved just how nice college students are and how willing they are to help you. So don’t be afraid to reach out while you’re there and feel free to treat a friend, a friend of a friend, or a distant cousin who attends that school to a meal off-campus. You’ll get quality time with a current student and someone you know, and they’ll also appreciate a free meal!
            Deciding where you’ll go to college is definitely one of the biggest life-decisions you’ll make, so you want to make sure to get to see all aspects of a college to help you decide correctly. The importance of college tours cannot be overstated. No one wants to be that student that ends up where he or she didn’t really want to be simply because he or she didn’t take the time to see and experience the college firsthand. Touring colleges is extremely easy and, more than that, extremely meaningful. So whether you’re in 7th grade or a Junior getting ready to prepare for the application process, don’t forget to tour those colleges that interest you. Don’t make the college-decision process your enemy. Make it a fun, easy experience by doing one of the best things you possibly can: touring college campuses.

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