Campus Tour Time? Four Tips to Help an Uncertain Student Have an Incredible Experience

Campus Tour Time?

At Go See Campus, we see every side of the campus tour experience. Many of the high school students who are planning college trips with their parents are triple-exclamation-point excited about seeing schools.

This isn't always the case, though. Take this recent comment (paraphrased) from a student:

"It really freaks me out that my parents say I need to start picking colleges to visit."

We hear this often enough—whether in social media posts or casual conversation—that it seems like a part of the campus tour that parents should consider.

College Visits are a Big Deal

Here are a few factors that could cause this type of reaction to a campus tour…

1. "Paralysis by analysis." When it comes time to pick a handful of colleges to visit, students may suddenly realize the huge number of options available to them. Trying to evaluate each can be stressful.

2. A campus tour makes the college process very real. Students may not be prepared for the tremendous change that going to college represents, like leaving behind friends and family or building a new life in a new city. When everyone else seems comfortable with this change and they aren't, it's easy for a student to feel a little freaked out.

3. The idea of taking the time to go on a bunch of campus tours may be challenging. Students are super-busy with school, sports, extra-curriculars, and friends, and planning a college trip is a big, time-consuming undertaking (Go See Campus' College Trip Planner helps make it faster and easier, though!)

4. Students might feel overwhelmed with all of the looming deadlines that a campus tour represents. College visits become one more challenge among many others, from admissions applications to finding scholarships.

So, what should students and parents do?

1. Start Early (but Simply)

A campus tour shouldn't be something that parents spring on their student. It should be a natural progression from other steps they have been taking along the way.

"Starting early" means different things to different families. Many begin visiting colleges as high school juniors. Others get serious about the process with university tours during the summer before senior year, while still others begin looking at colleges as freshmen. There's no perfect time to start thinking about college selection and going on a campus tour because every student and family has their own needs and resources.

However, you can take small steps to get your student to think about colleges sooner than the senior year. Carve out time to talk about life after high school, and come up with some ways that he or she can feel more prepared for what's coming next.

It might be getting together with your college counselor or educational consultant. You might both sit with a college guide and have a frank discussion about what things might or might not be important in a college. Little discussions like this early on can help students begin to create the criteria that matter, and that's the first important step to choosing colleges to visit.

2. Take Smaller Trips

When some parents think of college visits, they envision a mammoth, week-long excursion with campus tour after campus tour. We love those, too. Still, your student may get a lot more out of an experience like that if he or she had a chance to see a few schools beforehand.

The first few visits for many students are a chance to get to know what college life is like (see our article, "College Trips as Part of Your Search.") These students aren't able to compare one campus against another because they don't know yet what's "standard" at most universities versus what makes a college unique.

Think about starting with a campus tour at a nearby college. It's okay if it's not the student's highest target. He or she might be interested in seeing what goes on at a school without the pressure of trying to decide if it's the right place for the next four years. These visits can also help students get a feel for campus size and setting (city versus suburban versus rural.)

When students make these smaller visits, they'll be that much more prepared for a longer series of campus tours.

3. Don't Just Take a Trip. Plan Your Trip.

We've written plenty about why it's important to tour college campuses with a plan, from prepping questions for college students to letting your college map be your guide to organizing college visits in New York City (seriously, there are a ton of them. Check out our College Advice section.)

It all boils down to a simple idea: planning your trip will let you focus on the college instead of the logistics.

One obvious reason for this: having the dates for your trip on the calendar gives you time to get ahead on work, extra-curriculars, and other commitments. That way, you can set aside these activities when you hit the road.

Another reason: planning visits beforehand keeps you from running late to your campus tour, from being confused about what to do at each college, and from being too tired because you tried to do too much.

Organizing your trip doesn't mean pinpointing what you will do each minute of each day. It just means having the logistics and most important activities scheduled so that you have the freedom to explore, improvise, and most importantly…

4. Make It about the Experience.

People celebrate achievement because it's a clear way to evaluate the things we've done. In high school, students are often evaluated by their GPA. The admissions office often measures a student's qualifications in part based upon standardized tests. The acceptance letters a student receives may be more or less admired based on the rankings of a college.

Achievement is absolutely important, but it should never be the only factor that matters. It's all too easy for college applications—and even college visits—to become an expectation, a challenge, or a burden.

If you're a student, try to keep in mind that this whole process is about finding the right college for you: a place that supports your academic, personal, and extracurricular interests. If you're a parent, help your student keep this perspective on the college search.

In short, whether you're on a campus tour or on your way to orientation at your new college, make it about the experience, and get the most from every moment possible.

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