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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 06/24/2010

Advice from a student campus tour guide

By Valerie Strauss

Here’s some advice on how to make your visit to a college campus successful -- from Josh Johnson, who as a student served as a tour guide and worked at the St. Lawrence University admissions office.

By Josh Johnson

A visit to campus can truly make or break your college decision. Take it from me, I have seen a tour or two in my days. I went through the college admissions process myself, served as a tour guide for several years and interned at the St. Lawrence University admissions office.

I have seen the best of tours and I have seen the worst of tours. To make the most of your college visit I have compiled a list of my recommendations for when you visit any campus. The advice is my own, so take it for what you will, but in my experience these tips can help any campus visit to go smoothly:

* Do some research before visiting a school and schedule as much as you can for your visit.

* Of course plan for a tour, if the school offers it sign up for an interview or info session, and if you have a specific interest see if the admissions office will schedule a visit with a coach or professor for you.

* Dress nicely. I’m not saying to rent a tux, but first impressions are important. Use your best judgment and pick an outfit that is appropriate for your itinerary.

* Be yourself. In your interviews, meetings and tours, just be you. Don’t try to act like what you think the college wants to see, be professional and act appropriately, but don’t play a role. This is a place where you will spend the next four years of your life and you want to feel comfortable and not have to be somebody you are not.

* Speak with random students around campus. Even if it is just asking directions, a question about the food, or what dorm is the best, this will give you a sense of the overall student attitude and atmosphere at the school. Of course the school representatives (tour guides, counselors, coaches, etc.) will portray the school in the best light, but see what someone else thinks for some added insight.

* Eat at the dining hall. It seems trivial, but you want to know what the food will taste like for your future. You don’t want to have to order pizza every night and you don’t want the “freshman fifteen” to sneak up on you.

* Ask everything! I cannot stress this point enough. Getting informed about the school is the overall goal of your visit to campus, it is important to not be passive. When you leave the campus at the end of the day you shouldn’t have any questions left about the school. If you do, make sure you still ask them. Look up your tour guide’s email, call admissions again, or contact a professor in your desired academic area.

* Let parents ask questions. Your parents are NOT as embarrassing as you think. I led many tours and parents are always excited to be involved in this process. Students often hush their parents or turn red when parents bring up certain topics. Let me assure you that most tour guides have already heard every embarrassing story and joke, so don’t stress. Your parents are either doing this for the first time or reliving their college dreams. Remember that the day is about you, but your parents have an important say in the decision as well, so let them ask their questions.

* Have fun! This is college, of course academics come first, but make sure you check out all the extracurricular activities and fun stuff to do. Learning does not just happen in the classroom and you want to enjoy yourself during your college experience. Ask your tour guide what he or she did last weekend. If you have time, walk around campus after your tour, in the evening, or on a weekend to see what typical students are up to and make sure to check out the student center.

* Keep it all straight. When you are visiting many campuses and traveling across the country, everything begins to blend together. Bring a camera with you and take pictures of the different schools you visit. Also, before you fall asleep in the hotel room after a visit make a quick pro and con list; thinking about what you loved and what you didn’t. When it comes down to decision-making time this will help keep you organized and streamline the process.

* I encourage you to visit every school you even just think you may be interested in and when you are admitted to a school, take advantage of visit days for admitted students, it is probably the best way to confirm or deny if a school is right for you.

* My final tidbit of advice is to trust your gut. Many people visit a campus and can tell right away if it is not right or if they will fit right in, so use your intuition as a tool. Have fun and happy travels!

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 24, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  advice on visiting a campus, campus visits, college admissions, college campus visits, planning a college visit, scheduling college visits  
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As a educational consultant and college planner, I think you have provided some great advice for students visiting colleges. I have been on hundreds of tours and know how important the tour guide can be. Students need to be as objective as possible about the guide, especially if it is one who is not great. Try very hard not to judge the school by the guide. When the tour is over and you have had a chance to look around and talk with some students, walk to a spot on the campus and ask yourself whether this looks like a school where you would like to spend the next four years. Your response can be very revealing and will lead you to a school that is the right fit.

Susie Watts
Denver, Colorado

Posted by: collegedirection | June 25, 2010 1:07 AM | Report abuse

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