Visiting the University of Wisconsin-Madison wasn’t Molly Anderson’s idea; her grandfather “dragged” her to the college and insisted she give the school a chance.
“I felt like I had heard a lot of myths about the university and I didn’t think it was my perfect fit,” says Anderson, 21, an elementary education major from Milwaukee.
Anderson wasn’t interested in the school, and the weather was terrible on the day of her college tour. It was rainy, cold and “miserable” when she toured the campus. But that miserable day changed everything. Anderson still remembers her tour guide’s name and says the student “put an end” to her misconceptions about the university.
“It’s amazing how much a campus tour can impact your decision to come to the university,” Anderson says.
Now a senior at UW, Anderson is a tour guide herself and says she loves introducing prospective students to her university. “Sometimes I feel like a proud mom when I am telling stories and the history of my future alma mater,” Anderson says. “Even in the winter with minus-13 wind chill, I still can muster up the excitement to take a group out and instill my passion for the university in them.”
The college tour can be about passion...and confusion. The Princeton Review encourages students to apply to a minimum of five schools. Visit all five, and that is a lot of campus touring. So how are you supposed to handle all these spins around the campus?
Jerry Granata, a tour guide at Binghamton University in New York, says students should consider what they want from a college. The tour may include an information session where students can ask about general school statistics and application questions.
“On your tour, ask the questions you want to know the answers to. Don’t worry about what your parents and the tour guide will think of you. If it’s on your mind, it’s a good question and it’s definitely worth asking,” says Granata, 21, a senior from Long Island who is majoring in English and history.
Granata says students often ask about a school’s social side while parents stick to questions about security and meal plans. Ask anything—Anderson says tour guides love to answer questions because it helps them understand what students and their parents want to learn.
Dig for the personal stories
Asking for a tour guide’s personal opinion can also be helpful. Anderson says a current student’s perspective can be insightful.
“I have found that tour guides can be very frank. It is not in their best interest to sell you something that is not a good match for you,” she says.
Anderson recommends you pay close attention to the aspects about student life.
“Many dates and historical facts may be thrown out during the average college tour, which are quite interesting, but will most likely not be retained long after the tour,” she says. “However, when a tour guide tells experiences and what life is like for a college student at the university, this is where ears should perk up. It is important for the prospective student to listen to the tour guide’s experiences and stories to see if they can see themselves fitting in at the university.”
Do more than a virtual tour
Many schools now offer virtual tours online. But Jeffery Gates, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Binghamton University, recommends seeing the school in person.
“In response to students using only virtual tours, I often say, ‘Would you purchase a car without test driving it?’” Gates says.
Give it your full attention
That campus test drive involves a bit of etiquette. Tour guides don’t want prospective students chatting on their cell phones or talking loudly when others are trying to listen. Don’t ask statistical questions—especially questions you know your tour guide won’t know the answers to. And don’t ditch the tour without telling the guide you’re leaving, Granata says.
Negativity is another tour don’t. Granata says students might see long computer lab lines and assume the school has problems. “Find out if that particular computer lab is the only one, or if there are other options. There’s a good chance that the lab you see is just central on campus and therefore the most popular,” he says.
Get the digits
As the tour ends, Granata recommends asking the tour guides for their e-mail addresses or screen names. “Inevitably, you’ll get in your car and head home and remember a question you wanted to ask,” he says. “This way you have someone you can contact directly and have those questions answered.”
What to ask
A campus tour is sort of like a job interview—and you’re the one deciding if the school is up for the job. Jeffery Gates, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Binghamton University, recommends asking these questions on a campus tour.
How many undergraduate students are there?
How many freshmen return for their sophomore year?
What percentage of students graduate in four years?
What percentage of seniors have a job before they leave campus?
Do students stay on campus during the weekend?
How much is the total cost to attend?
What is the average class size?
Is there a core curriculum?
What should I do if I am undecided?
How safe is your campus? Tell me about the security features.
What accreditation do you hold?
What is the profile of a typical student who is admitted?
What is your acceptance rate?