Your Guide to Planning College Tours

Planning on visiting colleges over spring break or at some point this semester? Check out some tips below!

Make a list of the colleges you’re visiting in the area and have your dates ready. Go to each of the college’s websites and search for their visit or campus tours page to see what is available and begin structuring your timing at each campus.

You’ll most likely find a few tour/presentation options like these:

  • General campus walking tour
    • Typically 45 minutes to an hour, they’ll tell you about the college, walk you through the campus and share facts about the college as you go, usually see academic buildings, gym facilities, dining, housing, classroom spaces, etc.
  • Admissions presentation
    • Good if you don’t have as much time, but need more info on the school and can just walk around on your own after
  • Admissions presentation/general info session + campus tour
    • Good to get more in-depth information on majors, academic programs, financial aid, and the admission process in addition to touring campus, typically 90 minutes to 2 hours
  • Self-guided campus tour
    • You download a map on your phone or take a physical map and walk yourself around campus reading through the prompts as you go. If you don’t have time, or the official tours are full, you can go on your own time and get a sense of campus.
Example of University of Puget Sound’s tour booking options

Oftentimes there are tour times in the morning as well as afternoon. If you’re planning on seeing two colleges in a day that are relatively close to each other, you could schedule a morning tour, grab lunch and then hit up an afternoon tour at the next spot. Tours can fill up so go to the websites and play around with the times so see what’s available and what you might need to switch around.

PRO TIP: Ask your counselor if they can connect you with any alumni from your HS attending the university you’re visiting. Especially if you want the behind the curtain student perspective!

If you can’t get a tour, call the day before or day of and see if there were any openings, and if you still cannot get on a tour, take the self-guided tour and walk around. It’s worth still seeing the campus! You can always talk to a student walking around, or sit in a cafeteria and get a sense of the student body and campus.

PRO TIP: Go on Google maps and input your route so you can estimate traffic times and find the best mode of transportation. Print parking passes, research which lots to park in so you’re not late and trying to find a spot that’s all reserved for faculty.

So you have a location planned and a few colleges in mind to see. I’d encourage you also so go on Google maps and zoom out to see what universities are nearby. Don’t be afraid to take a self-guided tour or stop by another campus nearby that wasn’t on your original list. You can always walk into the student union, grab a soda or a snack, and people watch for a little bit. Check the bulletin boards and flyers posted around campus. See if there’s an events calendar you can read, take note of the campus itself and what’s surrounding it. Are there any perks for students?

Example: University of Washington’s Self-Guided Tour

You might be on spring break at your aunt’s lake house, and happen to be near a university. But you swore you’d never go to school in a remote area so you don’t check it out. WRONG!! Just wrong! Remember, all you’re doing is gathering information about your college preferences. Seeing something you don’t like can help reassure what you DO like. And besides, you’re not committing to a university if you step foot on the campus. You might actually like it!

Touring is always beneficial. Take a look at an example if you were to check out colleges in Washington:

Example: Washington

9:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. University of Washington campus tour – booked (allow for parking!)

10:45 a.m. Drive to Seattle University (9 min away) – self-guided tour + get lunch somewhere close in the city (or check out the original Starbucks??!)

12:15 p.m. leave for University of Puget Sound (40 min away) – booked for 1:30 p.m. info session and tour

You can tour at home! YouVisit college tours is an incredible resource where you can virtually tour a college AND have a virtual student tour guide walk and present to you as you navigate each building. Check directly on the college’s websites for virtual tours as well as YouVisit. It’s likely that you’ll find more specific tours as well, such as housing/dining, sports and rec facilities, in addition to specific academic departments.

YouVisit College Search

Keep track of what you liked/didn’t like on your tour, and use some sort of organization system to write down your notes and research. This can literally be the notes app on your phone or a more in-depth excel organization sheet like this one:

Looking for tours through California? Here’s a few more samples!!

Do you need to make sure the admission office knows you’re there?

Demonstrated interest is a term in the college world that simply means a college is able to track your interest in the university by looking at things like, if you opened an email from them, if you took a tour (in person or online) if you attended an admissions presentation, or even signed up for a newsletter. Not all colleges use demonstrated interests as a part of their admissions review, but the ones that do, are looking to get a better estimation of whether or not you’d actually come if they admitted you.

If you’re on a campus tour, you’ve likely registered or inputted your name and email in their system online or in person. Ensure you as the student puts your name and email. This is your tour! So don’t have your parents/guardians sign up on your behalf.

Ask the admissions counselors (or call if you’re nervous to ask in person) and ask if demonstrated interest is a part of the admission process. Even if it is not a part of the review process, getting tailored information from the university and connecting with your admission counselor can still help you decipher if it’s a good college fit for you or not!

Don’t bake cookies or stalk an admission counselor, just ensure you’ve put your name and contact information somewhere, and if you end up applying to the university later on, reconnect with the admissions counselors either at your high school or at a local visit.

Lastly, touring colleges should be FUN!!!

Know your limits and know what’s going to cause any tension. Perhaps you get a couple friends together, do a self-guided tour at a local university and get some ice cream after. Or, if you’re a student who knows you want the full information session and tour, plan in advance and prep yourself before you get there. Either way, remind yourself you’re not applying or making a decision about where you’re attending college TODAY. Allow yourself to view your options and ultimately make the best decision for YOU.

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