College Campus Tour Planning: How Students, Parents, and Professionals Can Work Together

For high school students and parents, one of the best parts of the college search is getting a chance to visit schools. Before hitting the road, though, there's the little matter of college campus tour planning.

College Campus Tour Planning

Sometimes, it's the high school student who handles organizing the trip. Often, though, planning campus visits is a team effort involving students, parents, high school counselors, and independent educational consultants

Their shared goal is to create a valuable and unforgettable experience. Here, Go See Campus offers a strategy for how they can work together to achieve this aim. 

A Role for Students

There are a lot of steps to college campus tour planning, and the most important belong to high school students. They include:

Building a list of colleges: Students should identify a broad group of schools that interest them and then research each option. From reviewing college websites to talking with current students to meeting with counselors or educational consultants, students should take the lead and begin to winnow down the list.

Selecting colleges to visit: Ultimately, a college campus tour should include schools that are the most interesting to students. However, it's important that students who have never visited a college before see a variety of campuses to identify the traits that they like. This may mean different states, student body sizes, and settings (city / town / suburb / rural.)

Analyze the experience: Whether students prefer to take notes during campus visits or record their impressions afterwards, they need time to think through their experience. This personal process is important both for selecting and applying to schools (see our article, Campus Visits and Your College Applications.)

Registering for campus visit activities: When a university requires visitors to register for activities in advance of a college campus tour, such as information sessions, it's a good idea if the student handles this process. Often, registration forms ask questions that help the admissions office learn more about the student and stay in contact throughout the school year.

During and after visits, a student's role includes:

Learning about the campus: Students have a chance to explore the college by meeting students and school representatives on tours, in classroom visits, and during informational interviews. Students should lead the process of asking well-researched questions to determine if the college is right for them.

A Role for Parents

For parents, college campus tour planning is an opportunity to support students in their exploration by:

Providing resources: Parents can refer students to helpful websites and college advice articles. They can also connect students to friends and family members who have experience with the colleges that they are considering.

Advising students on colleges to visit: It's a good idea for parents to encourage students to see a variety of schools. This helps them identify the traits that matter most. Parents can also recommend colleges that the student has not considered yet but might want to add to their list.

Picking the dates: Parents and students can look at their calendars together to find dates that work for college campus tours. Then, they can decide which tour times, open house events, interviews, and other activities are possible for these dates.

Recommending an itinerary: Students who have never planned a trip before—much less a college campus tour—may be unfamiliar with the challenges of a road trip. Parents understand factors such as traffic, checking into hotels, and other potential delays. They can recommend which schools are geographically close enough to visit and how much time to allot for each visit.

Supporting the student while on the road: After seeing a lot of schools, it's easy for stress and exhaustion to set in. Parents can help modify the trip when it is clear that the current plan isn't in line with the student's needs. They can also provide welcome diversions, such as sit-down meals instead of roadside fast-food. Read "Campus Visit, Conquered: See Colleges and Leave Stress at Home" for more ideas.

During and after visits, a parent's role includes:

Asking the "parent" questions: Go See Campus has written several articles on advice from parents for parents. One important duty the parent has is to ask questions that may not occur to students while in the excitement of the college campus tour. Issues such as campus safety and nearby conveniences are important. Parents can teach their high schoolers about these concerns (or ask colleges about them in a way that doesn't interfere with the student's exploration.)  

Serving as a sounding board: In down time, students and parents can talk about the experiences that they have had on campus. Students may want to ask parents about their impressions or just have someone to talk to about their feelings regarding a school. It's an important time to listen and to be supportive.

A Role for Professionals

By "professionals," Go See Campus is referring to both high school college counselors and independent educational consultants. Professionals can support a college campus tour in several ways:

Shaping the student and parent college visit experience: While students and parents may lead the planning, they may also need an expert's advice to accomplish the activities outlined above.

Helping families build a list of colleges: College counseling professionals and educational consultants typically have more exposure to the world of colleges. They can recommend schools that students may have overlooked, and they can offer websites, books, publications, and e-newsletters for learning more about colleges.

Creating or offering feedback on a visit itinerary: While planning college visits is generally the work of students and parents, educational consultants may offer services in this area. Some consultants plan complete itineraries using information from the student or parent. Others review itineraries that families create and recommend changes or additional stops. In either case, ideally, the student remains responsible for researching colleges, selecting schools to visit, choosing activities, and preparing for the trip.

Recommending visit strategies: For students who have never visited a campus, counselors and consultants may suggest seeing a variety of college campuses. For students who have narrowed down the college search, they might advise ways to connect with admissions representatives or to meet up with student organizations.

Suggest campus visit activities: Students and parents may overlook important opportunities when they visit campus, such as overnight stays, meetings with college professors, and open house events. Counselors and consultants can recommend these activities, and they can help shape a visit itinerary that is too ambitious or too limited.

Serving as a sounding board: Sometimes, it is easier for parents and students to share opinions after a college campus tour with a counselor or consultant. As college search professionals, they can offer an outsider's perspective on the questions that families have after their trip.

Creating a Great Trip, Together

Whether you are a student, parent, or professional, understanding the role you can play in college campus tour planning helps reduce stress all around and makes the visit process a more valuable experience. Good luck!

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