Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

Ah, the college tour – so often undertaken by the naïve prospective student, and so often underutilized due to poor planning, stress, and general pre-application angst. But not by you, noble prospie! Using the following tips and tricks, you’ll slay your upcoming tours and information sessions and have a blast doing it – I promise.


The first thing you need to sort out before slaying your college tour is, unfortunately, the most tedious part of the touring process: scheduling. This means you and your parents sitting in front of a computer for hours on end with a pad of paper at the ready for note taking. Forewarning: it’s not going to be fun time.

You’ll need to compare your parents’ work schedules, your high school schedule, and the schedule of the college you’re looking to tour in order to find a good date. You’ll probably be attending the college’s information session beforehand, so keep that mind when making your travel plans. The tour might only be an hour, but add in a forty-five minute information session and maybe stopping for lunch and you’ve blocked off nearly an entire afternoon. Try to avoid touring on any of the college’s major weekends – Homecoming, a big football or basketball game day, an alumni reunion, a concert or major speaker, etc. – all of which can usually be found on the college’s website. It’s imperative that you really take in the college’s vibe and personality when you’re on your tour, and you won’t be able to do that if the campus is crowded with way more people than usual.

If you can, schedule your tour sometime during the fall or spring. Touring in the summer is super convenient for travel purposes, obviously, but you won’t get a real sense of what the college is like under normal conditions. It’s going to be creepy-quiet inside the buildings since all the students and professors have gone home, and as for the great outdoors, well, most schools like to undertake as much construction as possible during the summer months. So unless you’re game for listening to your tour guide shout over a chorus of jackhammers, take a pass on a summer tour. I’ve also found it nearly impossible to enjoy even the most beautiful of campuses when the thermostat hits 100 degrees, but maybe that’s just me.

Touring in the winter is a good enough prospect, but it’ll be pretty chilly and all the campus’ lovely gardens and greenery will be dead. But most importantly, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the college’s calendar to be sure that you don’t schedule your tour during finals week – I’ve made that mistake before, and it makes you feel like the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse when you’re wandering around a desolate campus. Would not recommend.

Now, make sure you know what your visiting options are, even beyond the standard information session and tour. You might be able to knock out your interview during your visit, which will save you major time and stress down the road. Some colleges have programs where you can have lunch with a current student, sit in on a few classes, or even stay overnight. These are great options for getting to know a campus and student population pretty well; however, be aware of the downsides. If you scheduled an overnight, but realize within seconds of stepping on campus that this is not the school for you, you’re now obligated to spend the next twenty-four hours there. This happened to me, and let me tell you, it’s not fun. I’d say that if you’re on the fence about a school while scheduling, I wouldn’t recommend participating in an overnight. But if you’re thinking that you may have found the school for you, then an additional program might just seal the deal.


Proper college tour attire is an area of endless debate among current prospies, and of prospies from years gone by. I remember feeling kind of weird about how I was supposed to dress for tours that didn’t count towards the “expressed interest” part of my application. I mean, were the tour guides really going to report back to the admissions office that I dared to wear – gasp! – jeans on a tour of their historic, revered campus?

The answer is obviously “no,” but it still pays to make an effort when getting dressed for a college tour. It’s vital to dress comfortably and weather-appropriately, but it’s also important to keep in mind that you never know who you might run into while you’re dashing around campus. You just don’t want to stumble on the head of your future department while wearing a crop top, you know? No matter what kind of interview/tour combination you’re undertaking, Jillian has your back for both the summer and winter months.

The most important aspect of your wardrobe when it comes to touring is most definitely your shoes, especially if you have to traverse a large campus. It’s a fundamental law of college tours that that your estimated amount of walking will at least triple during the actual event. This is definitely not the time to be breaking in your new riding boots from Christmas; however, it is the time to break out your new tote bag. Toss in a sturdy folder or binder (for storing inevitable handouts from the admissions office and a copy of the student newspaper), a few bottles of water, a granola bar, sunglasses, and an umbrella – it pays to be prepared in the college tour game.

The Tour

This part is pretty self-explanatory, and not really in your control. Your tour guide will walk you around campus while mentioning historical tidbits and personal anecdotes about life at the college, and you or your parents can ask questions if you’d like; however, resist the urge to morph into a stage five clinger and stick beside the tour guide obsessively – there’s one in every tour group and it’s always, always uncomfortable. Another uncomfortable behavior to avoid is interrogating the tour guide about admissions requirements. Passive-aggressively asking, “So, do you have to get all As to get in here, or what?” makes everyone in the group feel weird (real quote from a real tour that caused real discomfort here). Particulars about minimum SAT scores, GPA requirements, and the most impactful extracurricular activities are all questions for Google and your guidance counselor – not your tour guide. I promise you, she doesn’t know whether or not you’ll get in. It’s not her job to know, so leave her be. Amanda has some other helpful tour hints here.

Beyond the Tour

After your tour is really where you have the chance to make each school that you visit stick out to you. Do some research beforehand about students’ favorite spots to eat or grab coffee – Yelp is a lifesaver for this – or just ask your tour guide. A bit of forewarning: the tour guides usually only recommend one or two restaurants to everyone who asks, so if you want to get off the beaten track, you’re best bet is to forage on your own. Who knows? You might discover the perfect little café for studying English Lit, or the best Indian restaurant you’ve ever tried. It’s also worthwhile to check out any of the school’s dining hall offshoots – usually establishments connected with the college’s meal plan that accept the meal plan’s “plus dollars”/”flex points” and have substantially better food.

You can explore the campus beyond its culinary offerings as well. If you’re interested in the college’s sports culture, see if you can catch a soccer game or tennis match that evening. Or if the fine arts are more your speed, see if you can get tickets to a drama production. You’ll be able to see those college students in action instead of hearing a tour guide talk about them, and you’ll be able to gauge the campus culture a little better. It’s also worth taking a peek at the shops and businesses near campus – don’t forget the bookstore! – and taking some time to walk around parts of campus that your tour guide might have missed. Grab a copy of the student newspaper if you can find one, and check out the libraries, too. Try to envision yourself as a student wherever you go, looking for possible study nooks, places for a night out with friends, or a perfect first-date spot. Use your imagination, and you can make a humdrum college tour into something truly sparkling.

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the author

Elizabeth Watson (just call her Beth) is a senior at an itty-bitty private Catholic high school in Virginia. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes and performs sketch comedy with her improv troupe, rehearses like mad for school theatre productions, suits up for forensics competitions, and writes poetry for her school’s literary magazine. A brief rundown of Beth’s favorite people and things ever to exist in no particular order: hole-in-the-wall bookshops, sweaters, Jane Eyre, peppermint tea (in a Troy and Abed mug, of course), Broadway musicals, British period dramas, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hugh Jackman. Beth’s long-term goal in life to is to become Julie Andrews, but for now she’s focusing on surviving the final stretch of high school and getting into college–hopefully as an English major

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