You've finally narrowed down a few of your favorite colleges, and after stacking your desk high with college brochures, you're ready to take the next step. It's time to take a college tour! You have done everything right so far, from juggling extracurriculars to acing your SATs, so why risk your reputation at your future alma mater by committing a faux pas on your next visit? Here are a few pitfalls to avoid when you tour the college of your choice.
1. Ask how much the college costs
All the tuition information you need about a college can be found on its website or in one of those nifty free pamphlets. It's no secret that higher education can be expensive, but there's no need for you to bring up the college's price tag in the middle of a tour.
Elizabeth Schmitt, a freshman at Mount Holyoke, went on over 15 college tours and remembers hearing this question often.
“In almost every one, some person just had to ask,” she said. “The reaction was always very awkward.”
Instead of focusing on the cost of attendance, try considering the fun, free aspects of a school. Many universities offer benefits to their students such as free entrance to athletic events, free tutoring and counseling, and social events. Ask your guide about those!
As for specific cost questions, direct those to the financial aid office. College websites and brochures can only give rough estimates of tuition, room and board, and fees. The ultimate cost will depend on your family's finances and financial need, so even if a guide wanted to give you an accurate number, they couldn't. Set up a meeting with the financial aid office to go over all the details.
2. Take your girlfriends with you
As tempting as it can be to visit an intimidating college campus with your three best girlfriends in tow for moral support, college is all about becoming your most fabulous, independent self. You won't get the most out of your tour if you're spending it catching up on gossip with your girls or making plans for next weekend.
“If you're having a good time with your friends, it may sway your view as to how you really feel toward the college,” said Kristen Pye, a sophomore at McGill University. “It's best to just take a parent or two.”
Also, input from friends could end up affecting your decision. If they all hate the school but you're loving it, you could be tempted to cross it off your list of potentials. Make sure you choose your school for you, not for your friends.
3. Rely solely on the tour guide
Tour guides are trained to know everything there is to know about the school they're promoting, but there's one part of the college visit that's all on you — getting the most out of your visit. You only have a small window to get an impression of the school you're interested in, so be sure to take advantage of your time there.
If possible, go to the dining hall and have a meal there. Check out the campus fitness center and get a guest pass so you can see what the facility has to offer. There's nothing like a soak in the hot tub or a walk around the track to take the edge off a long day of driving to and from campus.
Walk through the library and try out a computer in the lab at the student union. Grab a coffee at a nearby cafe and talk to students about their experiences. Get everything out of your next trip to campus by witnessing a day in the life firsthand.
4. Let your parents run the tour
You love good old Mom and Dad, but if that one time you were late for curfew taught you anything, you know they have a tendency to ask way too many questions. As much as you want their support on your next campus visit, you have to remember that you will be the one attending classes and making memories there for the next four years.
“Talk to them beforehand and discuss what they would like to know about a school,” Zowie Hayes, a sophomore and tour guide at the University of Maine, said. “It's completely okay for parents to ask questions, but it's nice to see students who are willing to take charge of their future.”
5. Forget to do your research
Just as you wouldn't go to an interview knowing nothing about the company you want to work at, you wouldn't visit a college knowing nothing about what they have to offer. Do your homework. University websites are always a good bet for information, but don't be afraid to talk to your prospective school's recruiting center or residence hall association for a more personal approach.
Hayes suggests learning about the school you're about to visit and writing down a list of questions you have. Bring the list with you just in case you forget them when your guide leaves space for questions at the end of the tour.
“Look around at what they have to offer for the programs that you're interested in, look and see what their dining plans look like and look at a sample menu, and maybe see what other things they have going on that interest you,” says Hayes.
6. Trash-talk on the tour
Maybe you've been dragged along by a girlfriend (who didn't read tip two) or maybe you've discovered that after all the effort to get there, you don't like the college you find yourself visiting. That's no excuse to talk trash about a school that other pre-collegiettes™ are dying to attend. Don't ruin the tour for everyone else by being negative.
Katie Deegan has been a tour guide at the University of Maine for three years, and urges students and parents alike to park preconceived notions in the visitor lot.
“Keep an open mind and try to keep your parents' minds open, too,” she said. “Definitely avoid going in thinking you know everything about the college.”
7. Lose focus
With bucketfuls of information being thrown at you in a short amount of time, it's easy to let your mind wander a bit. Remember that this may be the only chance you have to experience a school firsthand before taking the leap into freshman year, so pay attention!
“When I have to answer a question I just answered, it tells me that my tour isn't listening,” Katie said. “It's like they aren't really interested in my school and they are just going through the motions.”
While it's only human to miss hearing a fact or two, if you get confused during a tour and think you might have missed something, Katie suggests waiting for a lull to ask the guide to repeat the information to keep the tour moving.
“Keep your active listening on for the entire tour and you will get more information and a better idea if this school is right for you,” she said.
Consider taking notes along the way and remember that the tour is your best chance to get a preview of the school before you take the leap into freshman year.
8. Be afraid of asking 'stupid' questions
Teachers have told us since middle school that there is no such thing as a stupid question. This holds true for college visits, too. It's likely that your campus tour guide has heard every question in the proverbial book, but that doesn't mean it's any less important. Their job is to answer your questions, big or small, to the best of their ability. It's better to ask the 'stupid' questions now than to wait until you're a semester in and have no idea where the best dining hall is.
“If you're wondering something you should ask about it, it's probably important on some level,” Hayes says. “Tour guides aren't there to judge, they're there to provide whatever information that you need.”
9. Ask about the party scene
With all you've heard about crazy college parties and the excitement of living somewhere other than under your parents' roof, it's no wonder you're curious about the party scene. However, your college tour is not the appropriate time or place to get to the bottom of this essential question.
Just like attending college parties, asking about them can wait until you're enrolled. There is much more to a college than its party scene. During the tour, ask about the organizations and activities offered on campus instead of dwelling on how much cheap beer you'll be able to find. Tour guides are hired by the college to give a positive impression of the school that even parents will approve of, so they aren't likely to rave about the nightlife even if it's fantastic.
If you want to know what the party scene at your future school is like and how to find the best bash on campus, check out HC's Pre-Collegiette™ Guide or head over to Unigo, a free site that lets you search thousands of colleges and read reviews on the social life from students themselves!
10. Bring your boyfriend
Similar to the no-friends rule, bringing your boyfriend along, as cute as he may be, can influence your decision about which college is right for you. Also, having him there could distract you from the whole reason you're there ? to learn about the school!
Chelsea Evans, Manager of Operations at Her Campus, accompanied her younger sister on a visit to the University of Miami this year. She witnessed an obnoxious pair of lovebirds who clearly weren't taking in much information. “It seemed like some girl brought her boyfriend along on the school tour and they were holding hands and kissing the entire time,” she said. “I'd say excessive PDA on a tour is definitely a no-no!”
Leave your main squeeze at home and be the independent pre-collegiette™ we know you are. Chances are you'll have more fun if you experience this adventure on your own, without anyone else's opinions — or roamin' hands — affecting your choices.
How are your campus visits going? What other don'ts have you seen in your travels? Sound off below.