One of the best ways to find out if a college is the right fit for you is actually visiting it in-person. But once you’re there, it’s easy to get lost and look around at a gorgeous campus and think, Now what?
You’ll better understand the school and the campus if you sign up for a campus tour led by an actual student. However, these tours don’t always tell the whole story. Your guide will cover the history of the school, some of their traditions, what various buildings around campus are home to and other pamphlet-worthy fun facts.
“I usually just cover a few major areas: academics, social life and opportunities,” says Margaret Meserve, a junior and a tour guide at the University of Notre Dame. “I talk for pretty much an hour and a half straight, so I cover a lot of ground. I’ll throw a few jokes and stories in there to spice things up.”
Yet a guided tour sponsored by the university might not explain the social scene or what it’s really like to endure your first finals week in college. While campus tours are a great way to get familiar with the school and its culture, even tour guides wish they could share more realistic information with prospective students.
For instance, Alexis O’Neil, a sophomore and a tour guide at Villanova University, says the tour highlights a lot of the basic academic facilities, residence halls and student hot stops. She also explains the respective colleges within Villanova.
“In each building we talk about the four respective colleges we have here at Villanova – Liberal Arts and Science, Nursing, Engineering and Business,” she says. “Between walking to buildings we talk about things that are unique to Villanova like Special Olympics, orientation and Greek life.”
But what parts of the collegiette experience do schools leave out on their tours?
1. College is fun
Villanova, like many other schools, doesn’t discuss the social aspect of college during tours unless someone specifically asks.
“It is a touchy subject that many schools tend not to talk about on campus tours because often the goal is to showcase the academic aspect of the university,” Alexis explains.
Most tour guides aren’t about to tell you which frats throw the best parties, which bars underclassmen can get into or the best way to make friends.
To find out a little bit more about the school’s campus culture, asking questions like “What does a typical Wednesday look like and what does a typical Saturday look like?” will give you some idea of what students do for fun. For example, do people tend to stay on campus for social events or do they venture into the surrounding area? Is there a lot to do off-campus? You’ll be able to get an accurate picture of what day to day life is like and what to look forward to as a student.
2. In the end, college is still school
In addition to the social scene shift from high school to college, there is also a significant change in workload. Many high school students fail to recognize this abrupt transition. For one thing, there are fewer assignments, so tests and papers carry a lot more weight on your final grade. Making prospective students aware of the work ahead would allow them to better adjust their expectations for college and study appropriately when the time comes.
“I personally struggled with the change of workload from high school [because] you have many more grades and assignments that ultimately make up your final grade,” Alexis says. “In college it is often [just] a midterm, a final and a few papers. This gives more weight to each assignment and less opportunities to bring your grade up. I wish I knew this before my first semester so I could have studied accordingly.”
And while you may be excited at the idea of going out, making friends and tailgating on Saturdays, you have to remember you’re going to need time to study during the week, too. Going into freshman year with this balanced mindset will save you stress, sleep and studying by cramming when your first exam rolls around. Tour guides will also be able to elaborate on the specific academic culture at their school, so you can see if the college’s focus on school matches your own.
3. Tour guides are just regular students
While they might come across as perfectly put together college students, the people leading your tours are just that–people. They’re normal college students, and there’s a chance you or someone you know might be one of them someday.
“When we introduce ourselves, we all highlight the coolest things we’ve done,” explains Margaret. “It makes it seem like we’re super cool and accomplished, but really it’s the one time a week I feel like I can brag a little.”
One of the goals of highlighting the tour guides’ accomplishments is to show you everything you can get involved with as a student at that particular school; it’s not supposed to be intimidating. If one of the students giving a tour is involved with something that sparks your interest, make sure to ask them about it! Chances are they’ll be glad you did, and they’ll be happy to talk about something they’re passionate about.
4. College isn’t perfect
Sure the brochures, gorgeous tours and social media posts from older friends might make college seem like the time of your life, but it has its challenges as well. There’s school work to be done, friends to be made and a healthy lifestyle to maintain, none of which are a walk in the park.
“I wish I could be more honest about some of the cons that I usually gloss over,” Margaret says. “Like how late I really have to stay at the library and how I haven’t seen a strawberry in three months. College is confusing. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll do academically and the transition is always a little awkward. But it’s also one of the best things you’ll ever experience.”
You’ll get homesick, you’ll get actually sick and you’ll face a lot of ups and downs, especially freshman year. College isn’t all partying and socializing, but it’s not all studying either. It’s a never-ending balancing act where you learn the simple everyday moments, like random dance parties with your roommates or actually enjoying a class you’re in, are what make your college experience worthwhile.
5. Everything will work out in the end
High school is a stressful time between standardized tests, extracurricular activities and regular schoolwork, not to mention social opportunities. Then there’s the college application process, where it seems like everyone is asking the same question: Where are you going to school next year? And you still don’t have an exact answer.
“I often tell high school students on my tours that everything works out in the end,” Alexis explains. “Junior and senior year of high school are extremely stressful times for students and parents between [the] SAT/ACT and college tours then ultimately making a decision.”
Additionally, Alexis ends her tour by telling members of her group to take the college process one step at a time and why she loves her school. Both she and Margaret end every tour with their “Why this school” story.
Every tour guide wants you to love their school just as much as they do, but they also have your best interests at heart. They want you to end up where you belong, and hopefully that happens to be their school.