Behind-the-Scenes Tips for the College Tour

Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Oct   2015



Let’s just pull out the honesty right away: when I went on my college tours, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I mean, who does? Sure, it’s an important part in life, picking a college—but just how do you go about it? As school tours are just as exciting as they are overwhelming, there’s naturally a lot to think about. Here’s a list of things I wish I’d have known to seek out when I went on my tours. 

1. The living situation

If your guide doesn’t take a turn into a dormitory, take matters into your own hands. Sometimes schools let you go on your own private tour of a dorm, which lets you see exactly the conditions you’ll endure for the next few years. Make sure you get all the essential information: How’s the WiFi? Is there air conditioning? (If not, prepare to buy a fan.) Also, how do you like your bathrooms? Some colleges I’ve toured have switched to co-ed. And the floor plan; some colleges have men and women separated by wing or by floor—or even by building—and sometimes the opposite sex is right next door. Figure out your preference and then find out if it jives with the schools you have in mind.

2. The dining scene

You gotta check out your future four-year diet. You just have to. Look at the options (especially if there is more than one dining hall—sometimes certain eateries specialize in different things) and ask about the university’s options on vegetarian/vegan/gluten free/cannibalistic/lactose free/etc. if needed. Also, ask your guide if you can eat there. Chances are you’ll be able to, and then you can really see just what this place has to offer. Not that I’m saying that food should be your prime deciding factor, but if you’re on the fence between a few places, it can be a deal breaker.

3. The classrooms

If the tour doesn’t take you too extensively into the academic buildings, do some snooping on your own (nothing illegal, remember). Peak into some of the classrooms. Some of the lecture halls may be smaller—or bigger—than you were expecting. 

4. The library

Mull about here. Check out the different sections, both the academic stuff and the fun stuff (do they have music/movies/fiction books?). But more importantly, track down the study spots. Pay attention to the students around and noise levels too. Can you see yourself studying furiously for finals here?

5. The good ol’ gym

I need to tell you something here: when I went to college, I had no intention of ever setting foot in a gym. Well, I don’t know what happened, but I eventually did hit the gym . . . and I had fun too, might I add. So whether you plan on going or not, I’d take a peak inside. Because if you learn one thing in college, it’s that things change—including your exercise habits. 

6. The long (or surprisingly short—you lucky devil, you) walk

Take the journey: a dorm to a dining hall (keep in mind you’ll be starving as a college student); a dorm to an academic building (keep in mind you’ll be carrying your loaded backpack); one end of campus to the other (keep in mind you’ll be running and completely stressed out). Then, ask yourself: can I do all that 10 times a day? Also keep in mind the weather, unless you go somewhere amazing where it’s just perfect—again, you lucky devil.

7. Advisors

See if you can set up a meeting with a professor/advisor in your potential field of study. This way, you’ll get an idea of your study load—and if you like what they’re trying to sell you. If you can do this with multiple schools, you can compare the curriculums and decide for yourself what would benefit you more. 

8. Convenience stores

Chances are, you, a college student, will wake up in the middle of the night and realize that you’re plum out of staples/printer paper/ink/gummy bears/etc. Or you’ll mysteriously wreck (seriously ruin) all of your socks. On your school tour, look for a store nearby that deals out these essentials, especially groceries. It doesn’t matter if it’s on or off campus; as long as it’s close, you’re good. Because, believe me, no one wants to trudge 50 miles in the snow, uphill both ways, to Dollar General just to buy a folder that matches your picky professor’s requirements. 

9. An escape route

Chances are you’ll need a space to unwind from the everyday chaos that college brings. Whether you’re into nature or the city, try to find one on or near the campus. It could be a café, a park—anywhere you feel comfortable. It’s natural for college to seem like a different world at first, but no one wants to feel like they’re trapped with absolutely nowhere to go.

10. A place to pop a squat

Take a seat. I mean, seriously, you’ll be feeling just about ready to after that tour. Sit somewhere on campus, maybe even outside, and just look around. (College kids make the best people-watching subjects, trust me.) Try and picture yourself on this campus. And you know what? It’s okay if you can’t see yourself there. Just because you tour a campus doesn’t mean you’re stuck there. 

In the end, just remember to keep an open mind. Your perspective will change in college, I promise you that. Choose a university where you feel comfortable and where you feel like you could grow as a person. Tour small colleges and big ones, even if you feel inclined toward one or the other. You might surprise yourself. And remember this: college tours are just one big sales pitch. You’re the one with the power here. Read between the lines, go exploring, and you’ll find your own place. I’m sure of it.

Any other little-known things you should look for on a college tour? Tell us on Twitter!

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

About Savanna Buehlman-Barbeau

Savanna Buehlman-Barbeau is a student at the University of WisconsinMadison, where she is pursuing a major in anthropology with a certificate in archaeology. She has survived AP exams, the ACT, college applications—and most important, her first year of college.