There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. You get to pick one.
We get it. It’s intimidating finding the perfect destination to spend the next four (or five) years of your life. And much of the college search process can be daunting.
But there’s one piece of that process that can be fun: visiting campuses.
“You don’t have to do any writing, you don’t have to think about finances, you get to see beautiful spaces and visualize what that could look like for you,” says Erin Satterwhite, Ohio State’s campus visits program coordinator.
But let’s not relax too much. You still need to get all the juice out of that visit.
So with the help of Satterwhite and Ebony Smith, Ohio State’s associate director of admissions visits and events, we’ve constructed your guide to getting the most out of your college campus tour.
The perfect time to visit campus is…
It’s best to visit when school is in session to get that “day in the life” feel. That doesn’t mean you can’t visit in the summer, during spring break or on the weekends — you just won’t get a typical view of campus life.
It’s also important to consider what time of year to visit.
For instance, Satterwhite says many students from warmer areas such as Florida or California try to visit during the winter months to experience Ohio’s cold and snow.
(P.S. It’s beautiful.)
Let the campus tour guide do the work
Make it easier on yourself. Sign up for a guided campus tour.
You’ll see student unions, popular green spaces, academic buildings, a classroom, dining and residence halls. Plus, you can chat up your tour guide with all your witty questions (and yes, tour guides want your questions and they’ve heard just about anything you can imagine).
Tour guides often share personal campus experiences as part of the tour. Satterwhite and Smith both say storytelling is a main ingredient of Ohio State tours and resonates with visitors as much as information on buildings. Once you register for a tour, most institutions, including Ohio State, send a confirmation email with advice on everything from parking to what to wear and what the day will be like.
But do your homework. Find out if you have to register for a tour, and don’t wait. Tours fill up fast.
On average, Ohio State hosts 40,000 visitors per year and limits each tour to 15 people, so register early and plan your travel after registering.
But don’t stop there…
Your tour might serve only as a jumping-off point.
If it didn’t cover a certain college or site you had your heart set on, go find it. Tour guides can also suggest other places to visit and explore on and off campus.
Ohio State even offers a guide for all the sites to hit while on your visit.
Ask some experts
Sure, it can be hard to be chatty when you’re a high school kid traveling with your parents (yes, your parents should escort you) surrounded by college students. But this is no time to be shy.
Warm up by picking the brain of your tour guide.
Also, if you haven’t met with an admissions counselor – most universities give an admissions overview with each tour – visit with one to find out the regional counselor for your home area. This way you can follow up with questions at a later time.
And while you’re on campus, talk to current students. Good or bad, you’ll get honest insight.
“It might be one of the only times you’ll have to ask students questions,” Satterwhite says. “Talk to as many as possible.”
But what exactly should you ask?
The more you ask, the more you’ll learn about university life
Sure, you want to know about eating, sleeping and going to class. But don’t stop there. Find out what the student experience is like.
Ask how to make friends, how to get internships and join organizations, how to deal with difficult roommates, how to find your community … don’t hold back.
These questions reveal red flags or ease concerns.
For instance, Smith and Satterwhite say a common worry about Ohio State is the size of campus. However, tour guides make it a point to show a map of campus and how organized it is, making it feel smaller and manageable.
Seriously, get the full campus view
Part of your preparation must be giving yourself time.
Plenty of time.
After all, these visits are a way to get the full picture of your future home. Smith says sometimes students will leave an Ohio State tour early to get to another Ohio campus. But that strategy could mean missing out on meaningful aspects of a university.
“Students are in the driver’s seat when it comes to their visit experience,” Smith says. “Don’t rush through it. Don’t sacrifice your chance to see everything the university has to offer.”