Your child has been researching college after college and now it’s time to start scheduling campus visits – exciting!

Deciding where to spend the next four years of life is a big deal, and campus visits are like a backstage pass because glossy brochures and college website photos of smiling, happy students only show highlights and not the whole picture.

When you and your teen visit a campus, you can get a sense of the school spirit, the stuff off-camera, and the general vibe of the place.

These visits also show “serious intent” to colleges by demonstrating interest in the schools your child is applying to. 

To get the most out of your college tours, here are seven tips to help your family maximize these visits. 

Let’s dive in!

7 Tips to Maximize Your Child’s College Visit

1.  Geek Out Before You Go

Before stepping foot on campus, have your child spend some time researching the school’s official website and college ranking sites.

Make a list of questions for both staff and students and a checklist of places on the campus that your teen would like to see. Try to include things on the checklist that may be outside the typical college tour.

Here are examples of questions to ask a school rep:

  • What makes your school unique? 
  • Do all first-year students live on campus?
  • What percentage of students live on campus?
  • What percentage of students are part of the Greek system?
  • What are some popular extracurricular activities?
  • Do all students have access to an academic adviser?
  • Do you have a robust honors program?
  • What measures does campus security take to enforce safety precautions? Do security personnel or members of local police have a presence on campus/regularly patrol campus? 

Print out the list of questions or keep them on a note app.

What are college tours like, and what can you do if your child isn’t engaged on the tour? Check out this short video to get the answers to these questions.

2.  Schedule the Full Campus Experience

Most colleges and universities hold daily tours hosted by the admissions office. Schedule a tour in advance, and be sure to ask how long the whole visit will take so that you can be prepared.

Be kind to yourself and don’t try to fit in too many campus visits or even too much of one campus on a single day.

Campus visits will usually include the following:

  • An information session, during which an admissions representative talks to you or your group about the college before the campus tour.
  • A campus tour: These are usually led by college students. You’ll see the main parts of the campus and have a chance to ask questions.
  • A stop inside a student dorm is typically included on most official campus tours.

The tour may not cover everything that interests your child, so don’t be afraid to ask your guide for a visit to one of your must-see sites (on your checklist!), like the sports field or the music building.

At many colleges, you can also arrange to:

  • Attend a class
  • Meet with a professor
  • Meet with an admissions officer
  • Meet with a financial aid officer
  • Attend a club meeting or sports practice session
  • Eat in a dining hall
  • Spend the night in a dorm to experience student life
  • Visit other departments of special interest – athletic departments or student clubs

When classes are in full swing, visiting campuses during the school year is ideal – but family schedules can often cause scheduling curveballs.

Here are our thoughts on visiting during the summer months or other times when school is not in session.

3.  Crash a Class or Event if You Can

If your child is interested in sitting in on a class session, many colleges can arrange this. Just be sure to mention this when you are booking the official tour.

Some questions your child can ask themselves when sitting in on a class: 

  • Do students seem engaged?
  • Do the facilities seem up-to-date and well taken care of?

Also, see if there are events you can attend while on campus – whether sporting or other. This can help get a feel of the school spirit and student engagement.

4.  Chat Up the Unofficial Tour Guides (Students!)

Take the official tour…then carve out time for an unofficial one. 

Taking time to explore on your own is an excellent opportunity to soak up the school’s energy, do a bit of people watching, and allow your child to imagine themself on the campus.

Here are examples of questions that you and your teen can ask currently enrolled students:

  • What do you wish you knew about this campus before coming here? 
  • Does the college work to prepare its students for a career post-graduation? 
  • Do the professors seem happy here? 
  • What’s the on-campus food like?
  • Where do students go to relax outside of class?
  • What is there to do and eat outside of campus?
  • How do locals feel about the students here? 
  • Do all students on campus generally feel safe, even when walking to and from evening classes? Does the campus offer a student shuttle service? 

5.  Investigate Housing Options – Visit a Dorm or Two

Most official campus tours will give you a glimpse of student housing. Some colleges even let prospective students spend the night in a dorm room. Again, be sure to arrange this ahead of time.

If a dormitory tour isn’t included or you’d like to see more housing options, don’t be afraid to ask, as dorm options can vary from freshmen to upperclassmen.

Some questions to ask about housing and meals:

  • Are dorms co-ed? 
  • Are bathrooms private or shared?
  • What meal options are available on campus? 
  • Are there only cafeterias or are there food courts?
  • Is there housing with kitchens?
  • Do many students live off-campus?

6.  Be a Tourist in the Surrounding Area

When your child enrolls in a school, they also step into a broader community – whether a bustling city or a quiet town.

Take some time to play tourist and explore the surrounding area. Ask current students about their favorite local haunts.

Try to peek into local cafes, dive into bookstores, and check out the local transport.

7.  Be Sure to Take Notes

Your child should start taking notes as soon as the college research process begins. With kids applying to more colleges than ever today, college information can easily blend together, and memories can overlap.

Be sure to take pictures (and selfies!) and jot down notes to keep track of all the details – likes and dislikes.

Download our fun printable – “Campus Visit Bingo” – to make college fact-finding more interesting. Click here to get your free copy.

Remember, don’t rely on memory alone to recall all the different college details and individual impressions.

After the College Tour

After the tour, take time to debrief with your teen. Chat about it over a bite or on the drive or flight home. If your kid needs more time to process, return to the conversation when the time is right. 

Within a week of a campus visit, your child should send a quick thank-you email to the admissions office. Mention something specific from the tour to make it personal.

Above all, have fun together and enjoy the tour. While choosing a college is a big decision — it’s also a very exciting time. Soak it up, embrace it, and be excited about the process!