I’ve been fortunate enough to have a unique perspective on the college search process. As a dual-enrolled, second-year college student and high school senior who’s currently actively involved in the search process, I’m trying to find my perfect four-year university. This was one of the reasons that I immediately volunteered when the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) asked its Student Council members to lead a Campus Takeover series—an opportunity to provide an inside view of the college I’m currently attending to help other soon-to-be college students. This Campus Takeover initiative is a chance to show everyone what you don’t really see on official college tours: what classes are really like, if the food is truly as good as it sounds, how much space you really have in the dorms, and more. While academics are important, there’s a lot more to student life than just that. So let’s talk about a few of the things that students like me wish we saw during college tours.
A personal view of campus life
More than anything, students want an up-close-and-personal view of life at college beyond what the websites, brochures, and emails tell. Students often have a hard time truly getting to know a campus from an official, scripted tour (hence why the Campus Takeover initiative is so popular among students looking at colleges!). Campus tours should be an insider taste of what being on that campus is really like—from an actual student’s perspective. It should be a show-and-tell; not a tell, then show-if-there’s-time. Students have already read the statistics on the website, and now we want to feel what it’s like—to sit in a college classroom, to grab a snack at the campus coffee shop, to be a part of campus life. By showing these important things and letting prospective students look around, they’ll get a better feel for the campus and its unique aspects to fall in love with.
A view of the library
For me, at least, a great tour will include time to explore the library. As an English major, the library is my favorite place to hang out—be it for studying, researching, doing group projects, reading, or chatting with friends. As such, I have to see what the library is like on campus tours and what resources it offers to students—tons of databases? Cool study rooms? Helpful librarians? One thing is certain: Every student will have to go to the library at least once or twice a semester for a long research session or, heaven forbid, to print out a paper they just finished writing a few minutes before class. As such a vital resource, it’s important for students to have an opportunity to spend a few minutes exploring the library during their tour, so be sure to seek it out.
The campus store and safety department
The campus store is another vital resource and important part of the tour; it’s the go-to place for any necessity. So many times I have forgotten something or needed a snack between classes, and each time, my campus had exactly what I needed—and so should every good campus store. For some reason, a lot of campus tours don’t spend enough time here, if any at all. Another great place for students to take a walk through and meet some people is the campus safety department. The desire for a safe campus is universal among all students and their families, and while reading or hearing that a campus has 24/7 security, nothing gives a more secure feeling than meeting the guards on campus, learning what policies they have or services they offer, and generally knowing where and how to get help when you need it.
Related: 5 Personal Safety Tips for Students
The cool campus hangouts
Another important thing to see on a college tour is some of the cool, fun places where students hang out with friends, study, etc., as well as the places where you can get away from the action. During my NSHSS Campus Takeover—in addition to all of the amazing resources, people, and buildings—I wanted to show some of my personal favorite places to hang out, both with friends and alone, to have fun or to study. I know from personal experience that many of the places I found and now go to every day are out of the way, and many first-years (including myself) don’t find them for a long time. This is one of the reasons why having a student-led tour is so important! A faculty member, while surely versed in many of the campus places, won’t necessarily know all the fun places students go to hang out or study.
Smaller tour groups
One thing I’ve learned recently, as I’ve gone on smaller tours due to COVID-19, is that small group tours are better because they’re more personal. Personally, I think there should never be a campus tour with more than 10 people because no one feels like they can ask questions, the tour guide talks with few details to save time, and students spend more time rushing to catch up to the group rather than actually soaking everything in. A small group tour, with 10 people or fewer, allows students to get personal with their tour guides and get a feel for the community as well as ask the questions that really matter. On large campus tours, you may get an answer to “Can I bring my bike?” but no idea if the campus is big enough to warrant it or where you might park it.
A final note: Tour guides are often a student’s first true taste of the community at a school. Great guides frame their tours from the perspective of a friend (an idea I adopted for my NSHSS Campus Takeover) who shows you around campus while sharing all the cool insider facts, history, clubs, events, and more along the way.
Related: COVID-19 and Virtual Campus Tours
When looking at colleges, the best campus tours are small, intimate ones that show an insider’s view of the campus and all of its spaces, places, and resources—not the scripted, generic tours that only breeze through the carefully curated highlights of a school. If possible, find schools that offer tours that can give you a good feel of what it’s like to live, laugh, and learn on campus. And if you’re interested in viewing my campus takeover on Instagram, check out @NSHSS and look for my highlight reels. Good luck with your college visits!
For more advice to help you get ready for your college tours, check out our Campus Visits section.