2 Major College Tour Mistakes to Avoid

For some high school juniors and seniors, fall is the ideal time to visit college campuses. For juniors, college tours are the perfect way to begin identifying the types of schools that interest them, while high school seniors can use these campus visits to narrow their short list of colleges and inform their applications.

But not all college tour experiences are equally useful. Here are two mistakes you should avoid making, based on advice from two current college students who have been in your shoes.

[Read: 10 Key Places to See on College Tours.]

Failing to choose in-depth experiences. The fall months — September through early December — can be extremely busy for high school juniors and seniors. There’s managing Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and honors classes, studying for standardized exams and participating in extracurricular activities.

In light of this scheduling load, it might make sense to zip through college tours. Madeline Dyke, a sophomore at Williams College, urges students to do the opposite. She toured several schools in the fall of her senior year, and wrote in an email that students “should try to have the most in-depth experience possible.”

Dyke says that this can include staying in a dorm overnight and sitting in on several classes. While a single professor “can’t be taken to represent the entire faculty,” attending one or more class sessions, with permission, can inform your understanding of teaching styles at the college or university. Similarly, an “overnight visit will give students a good idea of the campus culture and social life,” she says.

If these options are not initially made available to you, remember: There is no harm in asking. A “yes” from the admissions office or from the professor in question could transform your eventual college decision.

[Read: Gauge How College Tour Groups Shape Campus Visits.]

Thinking in the short term. This mistake applies to both the college tour itself and your mentality when visiting colleges and universities.

Alexis Miller, a junior at Indiana University–Bloomington, toured four schools in the fall, including her current collegiate home. She says that it is critical for current high school students to assess colleges with an eye toward the long term.

“I think it’s important to be realistic with yourself about what you are going to want in a school long term, and not just what you would find exciting for a few weeks,” Miller wrote in an email.

[Read: 6 Financial Aid Questions to Ask on a College Visit.]

For example, it may be tempting to select the university that houses freshmen in new dorm rooms with semiprivate bathrooms. However, will this ultimately be more valuable than a strong program in your major of interest or access to robust internship offerings?

Before you embark on your first college tour, carefully weigh what resources are most important to your academic and career goals. Then, primarily focus on these during campus visits.

Miller also observed that this long-term thinking can be achieved on a smaller, tour-specific scale with one simple step: “Ask your tour guide for their contact information so you can ask questions later, when you’ve had a chance to take a step back and process your experience,” she says.

Avoiding mistakes like the two described above can “help you get a better idea of what is a good fit and what is not” when it comes to choosing your undergraduate home, Miller says. As you visit campuses, be sure to keep the advice of these current college students close at hand.

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