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College Tours: A Short Guide For Parents

Check out our companion post “College Tours: Tips for Teens” !

During school breaks, families get busy planning on how to spend the precious time together. If you have a teen in high-school a trip to visit colleges might be just the thing and it is never too early. College tours offer both you and your child an opportunity to start thinking about and planning for college application time –  which will show up sooner than you think! Your child will learn about what to look for when deciding where to apply, and it might guide her activities and choices in school. Meanwhile, you will learn about the admissions process, the financial impact and how to figure out the best fit for your child and your family. When I was counseling high school students, I found that a visit invariably had a huge impact. When asked why visiting a college is important, college junior Alyssa said, “There is a totally different feeling when you go from campus to campus. And I had the best feeling at Baldwin Wallace. You just sort of know.” Plus, it can be a lot of fun exploring new places together. So, pack up and hit the road! Here’s how to get started.

Talk it out.

The purpose of college visits is to help your child figure out which school is the best match, so plan together. Arranging to visit your dream colleges may seem like a great idea, but ultimately, it’s important for your child to have some say in the process. Your trip will be a lot more successful if you are able to approach it in a positive, collaborative way. Do this by starting a dialogue, asking questions, and keeping an open mind.

Create a budget.

Your budget will determine what you can do. Are you able to fly across the country, or does a road trip seem more feasible? Can you get away for a week, or just a few days? Campus tours are free, but you need to account for meals, lodging, and transportation. (Don’t forget to add in the extra cost of buying a souvenir shirt or key chain!) Check out this article for some money saving tips.



 Choose a region.

You probably won’t be able to visit campuses in both California and New York, so discuss which state is most appealing, then narrow it down to a region with several possibilities. Choose schools that offer different experiences: large and small campuses, a school in the city, and one in a rural town. If you are limited, consider visiting local universities, including community colleges. The goal is to get a feel for the type of school that is most suitable. Often, you won’t know what’s right until you get there.

Consider the type of visit.

Guided Tour

This is the most common type of tour and is typically led by a student admissions officer. You will see the main parts of campus, hear about the school’s history, and learn about academics and activities.

Self-Guided Tour

If you prefer to venture out on your own, the self-guided tour provides a lot of freedom. You can access information on your mobile device, listen to an audio tour on your cell phone, or wander around with a detailed map. Take a look at all these options at University of California, Berkeley!

Overnight Visit

Not all universities offer overnight stays, but if you can find a way for your child to participate in one, take advantage. Seeing a campus at all times of day, meeting a variety of college students, and sleeping in a dorm is a fantastic experience.

Reserve your spot.

You’d be surprised how quickly tour spots fill up, so make your reservations about four weeks in advance. Call the Admissions Office to see what’s available. You can also book a reservation through the school’s website. If you are unable to schedule a formal tour, plan to visit the campus anyway and do a self-guided tour. Check the school’s calendar to make sure classes are in session. You will want to see students milling about campus and have access to staff members who can answer questions.

Make a plan.

Visit two schools per day, spending about three hours at each. Factor in drive time and meal stops, and you have a full agenda! Even touring a small campus can be exhausting, so don’t overwhelm yourselves. Also, save time and frustration by calling ahead to find out where to park. You don’t want to waste time running to feed a meter every hour or risk getting a ticket because you don’t have the proper permit.

Alternative option.

Can’t get away? No problem! You can visit almost anywhere from the comforts of your home. And for free, too!

Take a virtual tour.

Most colleges post videos on their websites. They won’t provide a comprehensive view, but it’s a great starting place. Some schools also have their own YouTube channel with additional videos. Another resource is CollegeWeekLive, which is a virtual college fair. Create a free account to watch presentations and chat live with admissions officers and students.

Talk to students.

Call the admissions office and request a time to chat on the phone with a student representative. After watching videos and researching all the fun facts about the school, it’s still helpful to talk to students who attend the school and can address specific concerns. The admissions office is eager to help and should be happy to set this up for you.

Final thoughts.

Prepare in advance, don’t feel pressure to see every college on the list, and do your research. Most importantly, remember this trip is about your child, not about you – so share  your opinions, but let him form his own. For more tips on how to make the most of your college visit, read this parent’s post. And of course, have fun – college trips are often unforgettable, so make sure the memories are good ones!


What advice do you have for parents who are planning a college visit? We’d love to hear from you.



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