Self-Guided Campus Tours VS College-organized Activities

It’s a common question when high school students and parents plan college trips: should you sign up for admissions office activities like campus tours and information sessions? Or, should you walk around and experience the campus on your own? 

We went straight to the source for answers. In this article from Go See Campus, we interviewed four colleges—Bowdoin College, Carleton College, Tulane University, and University of California, Irvine—and asked, “What are the best reasons for participating in campus visit activities organized by the school?” 

In addition to the great information the colleges shared, they also talked about the role of self-guided campus tours, and they recommended activities a student should consider when they are at the beginning, middle, and end of their college search. Read on to find out what they had to say. 

Get Accurate Information 

It happens all the time. A student decides not to apply to a college because she heard that she wouldn’t like the school’s culture. Or, a high schooler takes a campus tour and encourages a friend to submit an application because he had a great time there. 

Ignoring a great school based on one person’s opinion or choosing a college without knowing all of the facts can be a big mistake. Attending activities organized by the college helps you eliminate factors like “hearsay and rumor," according to Katy Hargis, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Carleton College. 

Going to an information session or meeting with an admissions staff member gives you the opportunity to ask questions about the issues that concern you. It can also let you confirm what you already think about a college. Admissions offices are often aware of the questions that students have and try to answer them during campus visit activities. For example, one common concern is whether a college will be too big or too small. Bryan Jue, Assistant Director of Visitor Services at University of California, Irvine, says that its campus tours demonstrate how the layout of the school allows students to see one another when traveling between classes and residence halls. This helps emphasize that UCI has “the resources of a large university but a small school atmosphere.” 

Meet College Students 

As Go See Campus has discussed in other college advice articles, many high schoolers find it valuable to meet current students during visits. This can be tricky to accomplish when taking self-guided campus tours. A lot of college students are on their way to classes or club meetings during the day and may not have the time to talk about their experiences. 

Scott Meiklejohn, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Bowdoin College, says that the point of visits is to go beyond just looking at buildings. “If you are trying to connect with the school, organized campus tours and information sessions give you a chance to meet people and get their opinions.” 

Many colleges offer special programs that connect students one-on-one or give them an introduction to life on campus. Jeff Schiffman, Senior Associate Director of Admission at Tulane University, says that visitors can attend classes or share a meal with a current Tulane student. Similarly, Carleton College offers an overnight stay program in which visitors are matched with a host student. These types of opportunities offer visitors a chance to meet college students and ask questions that matter most to them. 

Support Your Application 

Each of the benefits above is about helping the student choose a college. The opposite may also be true: visiting campus can benefit a student in the admissions process. Tulane’s Schiffman notes that “many schools keep records of when students interact with the college campus.” Some colleges consider this factor—called “demonstrated interest”—along with other important criteria when assessing a student’s application. 

Both Tulane and Carleton College emphasize that students do not have to participate in admissions activities like campus tours to demonstrate interest. 

Most colleges recognize that distance and cost can be a factor in whether a student visits, and so they value other types of interactions with high schoolers. 

For example, students can: 

  • Attend a college reception locally. 
  • Meet with admissions representatives who visit their high school. 
  • Email or speak by telephone with an admissions representative. 
  • Complete an optional admissions essay to explain why the student wants to attend the college. 

Note that each college follows its own process. Some do not consider demonstrated interest as a factor in admissions while others track activities like those above, including campus tours. 

Matching Visit Activities to the College Search

The colleges that Go See Campus interviewed welcome visits from students at almost any point in their search, whether the high schooler is in the beginning stages of selecting a college or he / she has already been admitted. 

For example, universities like UCI encourage students to attend campus tours and information sessions as early in their search as possible. These events help students “get to know what to expect in higher education and see what programs we have to offer,” says Jue. In addition, sessions like these provide sophomores and juniors with advice on how to build a competitive application by the time they become seniors. 

Other activities make sense later in the college search, according to colleges like Carleton and Bowdoin. Schools tend not to interview students before their junior or senior year because most students have not yet had the high school experiences that will prepare them for admissions. At other colleges, activities such as overnight stays, class visits, or meetings with current students are similarly tailored to juniors or seniors. 

The Value of Self-Guided Campus Tours 

In addition to the activities the colleges offer, each school also recommends that students explore campus on their own. 

  • Tulane’s Schiffman suggests that visitors take part in both types of activities if they have the time. They can join campus tours and information sessions in the morning and then spending the rest of their visit meeting students and asking questions in more informal settings. 
  • Bryan Jue at UCI suggests that visitors see centers of student life on their own, such as a university quad or student union. They can also dine on campus, check out the surrounding community, and explore options for housing. 

Seeing campus gives visitors the opportunity to decide whether a school is a good fit. By doing research on a college, attending admissions-organized activities, and creating their own campus tours, students can get a well-rounded perspective on each college. 

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