College 101: It’s never too early to tour

July 13, 2008

Hi J.D. “the College Guy” here with words of wisdom from a High Schooler!

College 101: It's never too early to tour

By Betsy Graves | UV class of 2011

When I first started touring colleges, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted. I was looking for a place where I would meet a range of interesting people, have a chance to finally do the things I’d always wanted, take unique classes with prestigious professors and explore a new part of the world.

For a long time, I was sure that this meant finding a small (and preferably out-of-state) school.

Well, I was wrong.

When I toured the University of Virginia for the first time, I had no clue what to expect. In fact, it was more of the obligatory, “I’m going to tour here because it’s an in-state school.”

My mom and I drove to visit the campus during the late spring/early summer of my junior year. We had the traditional touring experience: A walk around grounds, question-and-answer session with an admissions dean, lunch on campus, etc. I liked the feel of the campus, but didn’t get immediately knocked over the head with the “This is where I belong!” sort of feeling. Rather, it was something that grew over time.

On that first trip, I fell in love with the city of Charlottesville and the opportunities that the college had to offer. I returned twice more before I actually enrolled, and saw a different aspect each and every time that I visited the campus. To be honest, I never actually considered going to school at UVa until I received my acceptance letter. Then, the more I thought about it, I realized that it was the option I had been trying to find all along — it had a little piece of everything that I wanted in a school.

There is no doubt about it — touring schools is VERY important. How do you know if you like a place if you don’t see it for yourself? Brochures and Web sites can only tell you so much. Tours are the other dimension that you need in order to complete the overall picture of each individual school.

I have heard horror stories of people who thought they were in love with one school (in most cases, it was out of state), applied there and were accepted. But they didn’t actually tour until they’d received their acceptance letters. Of course, it turned out that they hated the school. This doesn’t happen often, but it happens. So, do your research first!

Another key part of campus touring is the atmosphere. Certain campuses have a certain vibe. It’s more than just the buildings or the topics that are taught inside of them. What are the people like? What are some of the clubs on campus? Is there a diverse student body? Are the professors known for being passionate about their classes? How about the community? Does the school have a good relationship with the residential area around it?

While these questions can be a little out of the ordinary, they’re also very important. Knowing some of these answers will help you narrow down your search when application time rolls around. Sometimes, the atmosphere of a school can be just as important as the things that you’re going to learn there.

In the end, however, I don’t think there’s a way to really know what a place is like until you’re there. When you tour a school, you’re still sort of on the outside looking in, whereas if you were a student there, your experience might be different. My best advice is to try to explore the school in as many ways as possible. Talk to students, staff and alumni (they can be particularly helpful sometimes.) Also, be sure to tour the grounds. Figure out what is most important to you in a school setting, both socially and academically, and figure out whether the school meets your requirements.

Below, I have included a check list for college touring. These were things that really helped me get a feel for different schools and eventually make my decision.

COLLEGE VISIT CHECKLIST:<br />

1.) Visit when students are there (normal school day environment.)
2.) Ask lots of questions (take notes if you can.)
3.) Find a “study spot” on grounds, and try to picture yourself there.
4.) Talk with a professor.
5.) Tour the surrounding town.
6.) Walk the distance from your potential dorm to your classes.
7.) Check out the libraries. Do they have everything that you’ll need, such as media centers?
8.) Learn about area attractions and general transportation (this is key for larger schools.)
9.) Explore!
10.) Check on extracurricular activities and facilities, especially the location and maintenance of sports fields, music halls, stadiums, gyms, etc.

One last note on tours. It’s never too early to start, but don’t do it too late, either. Ideally, it is best to finish all of your college touring in the summer before your senior year. Also, sometimes it can be a good idea to visit more than one place at a time. If there are several schools in the same area that you want to tour, it works best to set a large block of time aside and visit them all. The bottom line: Try to explore a school in as many ways as possible and find what works for you.

— Betsy is a 2007 High School graduate. She is a foreign affairs major with a minor in English.

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