By Guest Blogger Tammy Darden

College tours invoke all kinds of emotions for students and parents alike. For our family it’s been an adventure of discovery. When I was in high school in the 80’s most kids didn’t go on college tours. You considered at schools based mostly on the experiences of your parents. I looked at one school and it was the only one I applied.

The last job I had before having kids and becoming a stay at home mom was as a college planner/recruiter for Middle Georgia Technical Institute in Warner Robins Georgia. I spent my days driving around the lower half of Georgia visiting high schools and helping adults and students alike decide a course of study. So when it was time for my kids to start looking, I was excited.

In July 2013, it was time for my oldest to start tours of colleges she thought she would be interested in attending. Since I have three kids I have toured a lot of schools since then – some multiple times. There are thousands of kids who never step foot on a campus before applying. Alex applied (and was accepted) to Clemson on a recommendation and never saw the campus.

When Covid-19 started impacting college life, in-person campus tours were shut down. The schools started more virtual tours, but there are even other options available. Just because a school may not have organized in-person tours doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to visit.

The first thing to do is create an account with the school.  If you show that you are interested in a school (what is now referred to as “demonstrated interest”) they will reach out to you. If you have a child who will be applying to colleges, learn this term. Demonstrated interest is simply making sure the school knows you are interested in them by creating an account to tour or to list them as a school for your SAT or ACT scores sent. With the thousands of applications they receive, demonstrated interest gives your child a boost in recognition.

If you live close enough to visit the campus but they aren’t conducting tours, ask them for a self-guided tour guide. If that’s not an option, ask them to set you up with a virtual tour and see if they can put you in contact with a current student. Showing the school that you are interested can help them when going through the admissions process.  If you do a virtual tour and really like the campus, you can then contact their admissions department to set up a self-guided or (if offered) in-person guided. If you can visit the campus, make sure you take the time to contact the admissions department following the tour and let them know how you enjoyed the campus.

I will say my favorite aspect of visiting colleges is not necessarily to hear about the wonderful academics or athletics, but to see and experience the campus.  While walking around the green spaces, can I see my kids hanging out there, the student center or even the rec center?  Another aspect to look for is their campus security. Most schools have blue light poles with a direct link to the campus police. A meal in a campus cafeteria is strongly recommended since your child would likely be eating there at least freshman year.

One thing everyone wants to see on the tour is the dorms. In the past four years, I have noticed that less schools are doing dorm tours, and I imagine with Covid-19 they will soon stop all dorm tours.  Also, check out things around the campus – fun restaurants, parks (not on campus), concert venues, means of transportation (more for those who don’t take a car to school), grocery stores, boutiques for fun shopping, etc.  When we do tours we make sure to try a locally owned restaurant or bakery.  This gives you a feel for the area.

College tours are a way for students and parents alike to get to know the school and surrounding community.  Take the time to have your child reach out to the schools they are interested in attending.

What schools would you recommend touring? Share with us some of your favorite campuses in the comments below!

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