Campus connection

Stanford at sunrise

10 ways to make the most of your college tours

Story by Julie Saetre

Know how meeting someone in person can be an entirely different experience than interacting online? Colleges are like that too. You might think you’ve found the perfect match by pouring over a school’s website, but the vibe is totally different when you step foot on campus. Or the photos of a recommended university look uninspiring, but once you’re there, you can’t believe how at home you feel.

That’s why college tours are a key part of your post-graduation decision-making process. Here’s how to make the most of your visits.

students studying in the library

Avoid Fridays. Yes, it’s convenient, but many college students schedule classes to end early—or skip—this day, so you might not get a true sense of the usual routines. The same goes for holidays, college breaks—even exam weeks.

Collect evidence. Snap photos of dorms, Greek houses, computer labs, libraries—whatever is important to you. Take a few notes too. This will help you remember which school had the state-of-the-art sports-training facility or the advanced biology lab.

Male College Student on Campus

Look beyond your tour guide. This person will be friendly, helpful and knowledgeable, but her job is to show off the school in the best light. Head out on your own afterward. Eavesdrop on the chatter: Are students excited and enthusiastic or disgruntled and complaining? Strike up conversations and ask for honest opinions.

Have a seat. Ask in advance if you can sit in on a class in your field of interest. Is the professor engaging? Are the students actively participating? Is the subject matter new and interesting?

Act like a local. Eat a meal at the student center or sip coffee at the on-campus Starbucks. Absorb the atmosphere and see if you feel comfortable. Can you picture yourself fitting in here?

Fall College Campus. University student dorm with autumn leaves

Consider practicalities. Does the size of the campus feel right? How far will you need to walk between buildings—and in what kind of weather? Will the setting seem as inviting once autumn leaves fall and winter sets in? If you want to get a part-time job, what opportunities are available on and off campus? Day-to-day details matter.

Get the inside scoop. Pick up a copy of the college’s newspaper, past yearbooks and other student-run publications to get a look at the inner workings of campus life.

Plan for fun. There’s more to college than classes. Visit the student activities office to find out what clubs meet regularly. You know you’ll want to continue your commitment to service, so check the list for Circle K!


Don’t overlook safety. What security features does the school offer? Is the campus well lighted? What is the surrounding neighborhood like? What about onsite crime stats? Since 1990, the Clery Act has required every college participating in a federal financial aid program to report on-campus crimes in an Annual Security Report. Look for it on the school’s website. If you don’t see it, request the information during your visit.

Stay awhile. For an even more immersive experience, find out if the school offers overnight visits. Some colleges allow you to bring your sleeping bag and bunk with a current student who will serve as your guide. You’ll need to reserve this option in advance. Check the school’s website for details.

Two friends talking in a dorm room


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