There’s nothing quite like a college tour to give you a sense of a campus, academic buildings, dormitories and beautiful grounds.

The college tour is an extraordinary time for students and their families to set foot on a campus and get a sense of the place, its people and its fit.

The college visit is a powerful opportunity to see the physical space. It’s also an effective way to see how students, faculty and staff engage with you and each other. It’s a wonderful experience that helps students and families make important decisions about where to apply and why.

Even if you do not end up applying to a college you visit, the experience can help you fine-tune where you want to go and the type of campus where you want to spend your college years.

What is a College Tour?

A college visit is a scheduled time when prospective students and family members spend time on campus. A college or university tour can be brief – including a walking tour of the spaces, usually given by a student. Or they can be extended day-long experiences, sometimes with an overnight stay. On a longer visit, you can attend classes, meet with students formally and informally, dine on campus and connect with coaches and faculty.

If you are unable to attend an in-person college tour, many campuses now offer virtual tours. In the COVID-19 pandemic, when many colleges and universities were unable to host visiting students and families, the virtual tour became more common.

Taking a virtual tour is a great way to experience a college campus if you are unable to take the time or incur the expense of visiting in person. But it isn’t a replacement for an in-person visit, so if there’s a school you’re really interested in, you’ll want to experience it in person as soon as you can.

4 Benefits of College Visits

There are many advantages to participating in a college visit. Here are a few:

Get a Sense of the Campus

You’ll likely have piles of pretty flyers and catalogs from various colleges by the time you start touring. But there’s nothing quite like setting foot on the campus and walking the grounds yourself. A campus tour gives you a much more personal sense of the college and how you see yourself (or not) spending years there.

Obtain Answers to Important Questions

A college visit is an ideal time to get answers to important questions. With access to students, financial aid and admissions staff, and faculty members, you can learn more about class sizes, campus life, and details about applying and scholarships.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask lots of questions. It’s an ideal time to get the information you need to make an informed decision. Here are a few questions you may want to ask during university tours:

  • What are your favorite classes and why?
  • What are the options for campus dining? What about off-campus options?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • What activities do you participate in?
  • What is the social life like? Is there a big party scene?
  • What’s it like living in the dorms? How loud are they? How does the housing lottery work?
  • What are the best campus traditions during the year?
  • How accessible are courses for freshmen?
  • What are the student body demographics like? How diverse is the student body (by race, ethnicity, religion, geography and gender)?

Explore Academic Options

When possible, ask to sit in on a class or two while you’re visiting. It’s a great way to see how good the faculty members are … and how engaged students are with their learning. Take a look at different classroom spaces, labs, and, especially, the library. How are students using spaces for their own learning?

Attend an Information Session

Today, a campus tour often starts with an information session. These 45- to 60-minute sessions, often led by an admissions officer, provide detailed information about the school, its history, the application process, and financial aid. In some cases, student panelists are also available to answer questions.

Decide the Kind of College You Want to Apply To

Students have many decisions to make when it comes to applying for college. College campus visits help you fine-tune the type of college you want to attend. Among the considerations a college tour can help with are:

  • How large a college do you want to attend? Colleges come in varying sizes, including their campus and student body. Do you want to attend a small college with a student body that’s also small, a medium-sized university or a large institution, such as a state university?
  • What type of college do you want to attend? There are many different kinds of colleges. You can choose to attend a liberal arts college, which is typically smaller in size and has fewer degree options. You could also choose a private or public university, which can provide more academic offerings.
  • How selective of a college do you want to apply to? Colleges apply different criteria to their admissions selection process. A college tour can help you gauge the academic rigor you want to face while studying. The tour can give you a good feel for how your grades and activities stack up.
  • What is the return on investment of this college? Even though at first, college seems to be about the dorms, friends and which major you’ll choose, your time in college passes quickly. It’s important now to ask: What is the return on investment of each college I’m touring? Is this college focused on helping me launch my career or graduate school plans after I earn my degree here?

How to Schedule a College Tour

Scheduling a college tour is an important task. Luckily, it’s designed to be an easy process. Often, students will plan to schedule multiple college campus tours in the same geographic region to minimize costs and logistics.

Here’s a step-by-step college tour checklist to help you schedule your tour.

1. Complete College Campus Research to Determine Which Colleges to Visit

Take some time to research the kinds of colleges you want to visit. Think about majors you might want to pursue, and the size and location of colleges you may want, and explore. Speaking with your counselor, teachers, family members, and friends can also help you decide where to go for college visits.

Also think about what your daily life at each school will look like. Will you enjoy living in the dorms, eating the food, using the recreation centers and study spaces, and going to campus-wide concerts and events? Is there a health clinic, clubs you want to join or intramural sports teams? What about religious life opportunities or career advisors? Make sure the campus offers what you need to be holistically happy. 

It’s OK if your list is long to start. You can always whittle it down.

2. Determine When You Should Start College Visits

Looking at various times you can visit colleges is an important part of the planning process. Here’s a closer look at three of the most popular times to do a college campus tour and the pros and cons.

Pro Tip: The earlier you begin the college tour process, the better! Why? Colleges have early deadlines for scholarship opportunities and application plans that offer more benefits. Starting the entire process early puts you ahead of the game!

Summer

The summer is one of the most popular times to visit. At big state schools, you’ll likely be a part of large groups of students and families visiting. The biggest advantage of going in the summer is the flexibility you have. You can visit without missing classes or other activities.

However, summertime is not when most students are on campus. The campus will look very different than it does in the fall, winter, or spring. It may also be difficult to visit classes unless the college offers a summer term. Many faculty also do not go to campus during the summer.

Spring or Winter Break

You may need to plan a college visit for when you are not in school. Practically speaking, these times may be the most convenient for you and your family.

Going to campus during either spring or winter high school break has several advantages. Like in the summer, you will not miss any school or activities. You’ll also be able to visit campuses when students and faculty are around.

Keep in mind, though, that most colleges have a winter break themselves in early January and a spring break in March. Be sure to schedule around these times to fully experience the campus.

Academic Year

During the academic year, you will see the “true” authentic campus in full bloom. Students and faculty will be bustling from class to class, rehearsing music and drama productions, and playing games. It’s a great time to see and feel the campus fully.

It’s also the best time to eat in the dining hall or schedule an overnight visit if offered.

The biggest downside to visiting during the academic year is the frenetic pace of the campus. If you are not used to a college environment, it can be an overwhelming experience. That’s why many students choose a summer visit instead.

3. Schedule Your Visits Through the University Website

You can schedule your campus visit through a college or university website. You’ll be able to select a date and time you want to visit. You’ll also select whether you’re a high school or college student and when you intend to enroll. Some colleges ask if you have a preferred major – don’t worry if you do not! It’s common nationally for new students to not know what they want to major in or to change their major. Programs like this one can help.

You’ll enter basic biographical information, such as name, address, gender identity, and birthdate. You’ll also submit contact information and whether you have needed accommodations. Some even ask for your T-shirt size!

The college will send a confirmation email.

4. Plan Your Campus Visit

Before you visit the campus, think about what you really want to know and the questions you want to ask. This visit is such an ideal time to learn all you need to know about a college.

Look into what the scheduled tour will and won’t cover

Often, college websites detail what locations and information are included on the campus tour. If not, feel free to call or email the admissions office to learn the specifics.

Determine the other areas of campus you would like to see

You may be interested in certain aspects of a college campus that are not a part of the basic tour. Be sure to make a list of the things that are important to you. These may include dormitories, classrooms, performance spaces, athletic facilities, Greek houses or dining halls. You can always ask about how to access these facilities if they are typically closed to visitors.

Download and print a college campus map

A college map is a great resource before, during and after your tour. The map will help you find parking lots available to visitors, determine walking distances and show where everything on campus is located.

Figure out where you want to stay

Many admissions offices provide a list of nearby accommodations. Some even have arranged for discounted rates for visiting students and families. And some universities even have their own hotels on campus with discounted rates for prospective families.

7 Tips for an Effective College Visit Season

How can you get the most out of your college tour? Here are a few tips.

1. Plan your college visits from your least favorite college to the most

A lot can change from the time you build your list of potential colleges to actually seeing them. One way to sort through your list is to start with those that are not on the top of your list and work upward.

2. Establish a budget for your visits

There are expenses associated with a college visit. You should make sure you have a budget that includes travel, hotel, meals, and souvenirs.

3. Determine beforehand what questions to ask during your college tour

No one will grade you on the questions you ask on your college tour. However, it’s important to have a list of questions you want to have answered during the visit.

4. Plan what you are going to wear for each campus visit

There are no requirements on what to wear to a college visit. You do not have to dress formally. However, you do want to be presentable and avoid inappropriate or offensive clothing.

5. Research the local communities near each campus

You will venture off campus during your time in college. Be sure to plan some time to explore the neighborhood around the campus and in the surrounding community. Ask about restaurants, museums, green spaces, and recreational options. Also, find out the availability of public transportation or whether the college offers a shuttle to reach community stores and spaces.

6. Talk to students about student life

Want to get the real story about a college campus? Talk to the students. Students are generally happy to talk about their experiences, what they like and what they don’t like. Don’t be shy about approaching students and asking about their experiences. Consider talking with students in majors you’re considering and activities you may want to pursue.

7. Take diligent notes

It can be very effective to take notes about what you like, don’t like, or learned on a campus tour. That’s especially true if you are going to see many different campuses in a short period of time.

College Tour Frequently Asked Questions

What questions should I ask on a college tour?

The kinds of questions you ask on a college tour depend on your interests and curiosity. Here are a few subjects you may want to consider for tour questions:

  • What’s your favorite class and why?
  • What do you participate in outside the classroom?
  • How easy is it to find a campus job if I want or need one?
  • Do students stay on campus or commute home on the weekend?
  • How many students have cars on campus?
  • What’s the social life like on campus?
  • Do you like the campus food?
  • What do students do for fun?
  • What are three things you recommend a first-year student does?

When should I start college visits?

It’s never too early to start looking at colleges. Most people start their search and visits in their junior year. However, starting in your sophomore year can help you whittle down a long list if your colleges are spread out geographically.

How long are college tours?

Most college tours will take between 60 and 90 minutes, but some are longer, especially personalized tours. The more time you spend on campus, the more you can experience the “vibe” and discover if it’s right for you.

What is an unofficial college visit?

Students seeking to compete in college athletics need to understand the difference between official and unofficial college visits. An official college visit pays for a student and their parents to visit the school. For NCAA Division I and II schools, students are limited to five official visits. There is no limit for Division III schools but a student may only have one official visit per college.

An unofficial college visit is paid for by the student or their parents. You may have unlimited unofficial visits.

Do college tours cost money?

Colleges do not charge for you to take a tour.

What to wear to a college visit?

There are no hard and fast rules about what to wear to a college visit. While you do not need to dress formally, and shorts, T-shirts, and jeans are acceptable, you do not want to wear inappropriate clothing.

Why are college tours important?

College tours are your opportunity and an extraordinary way to learn about a campus. Remember, choosing a college is one of the most important decisions you will make. You will spend several years discovering yourself, studying and learning, and meeting people who will be lifelong friends.

A college tour gives you insights that you cannot find in a brochure or on a website. They are living, breathing advertisements for the school and can deeply shape whether you decide to apply.

By understanding what happens on a college tour and making the most of the experience, you’ll gain much more information and learn a great deal about the place.