A great question when your child plans to start the college search process: How long are college tours?
Most college tours take between 60 and 90 minutes, but some may be longer or shorter. Generally, most colleges shoot for 60-minute tours and have a tour route prescribed for student work-study personnel that lasts that long. As you can see, understanding the answer to “how long is a college tour?” isn’t as simple as it seems!
Why not? Some prospective students may require a more personalized tour. For example, if your child is interested in engineering, they may request a tour of the engineering facility, which may last longer than a traditional 60-to-90-minute tour.
Let’s look at the definition of a college tour, the length of a typical college tour and visit, the components of a college tour, how to choose your college tour length and some tips. By the time you finish reading, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the right tour length for your child.
What is a College Tour?
First, it’s important to understand the difference between “college tour” and “college visit” — the tour portion of a college visit is a much smaller part of the campus visit.
The tour is a part of a college campus visit. During a college visit, prospective students and their family members schedule a time in which they can take a look at a college or university. They may do several things on a college visit, but the tour in particular, shows off certain components of a campus, possibly including, but not limited to, the following:
- Residence halls (also called dorm rooms)
- Academic buildings
- Athletic facilities
- Student center or student union
- Other areas of the campus
In contrast, the college visit involves a much larger, more comprehensive picture of the college. It could involve the following:
- Talking to an admission counselor
- Conferencing with the financial aid office
- Meeting with a coach
- Chatting with someone from an extracurricular activity
- Talking with an academic advisor
- Chatting with a dietician in the cafeteria (or another professional you want to talk to)
- Listening in on an academic session
How Long is a College Tour?
How long does a college tour take? As mentioned above, it takes between 60 and 90 minutes to take a college tour, with many colleges shooting for a one-hour tour.
How Long is a College Visit?
Let’s go beyond the question of “How long are campus tours?”
A college visit can last as long as your student and the admission office agree it can last.
For example, if your student wants it to last for two days because she wants to spend the night on campus to get to know the campus better, she can. However, college visits typically last a few hours.
During those few hours, you may fit in a campus tour, a talk with a professor, a conversation with a coach, eating lunch on campus, an academic session, etc. If you want the quick version, you may be in and out in an hour and a half, with just a tour of campus and a chat with an admission professional.
You can schedule other types of meetings during a college visit, but as you can see, the college tour represents only a small percentage of the college visit. A full schedule might look something like this:
9 a.m. – 10 a.m. Tour Kaitlin Clark (tour guide)
10 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Meeting Melissa Brock (admission counselor)
10:30 – 11 a.m. Meeting Rachel Williams (professor)
11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Meeting Danny Brand (coach)
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Lunch Sarah Henken (student)
As you can see, the tour lasts one hour in this made-up scenario.Components of a College Tour
A campus tour gives your child (and you!) a much more up close and personal understanding of a college. A campus tour almost always starts from the admission office at a college or university. The campus tour usually takes a circuitous route across campus, so you end up back in the admission office after the tour.
Students employed by the admission office usually give the tours on campus. Typically, upper-class students trained to give tours get this job. In most cases, unless arranged in advance, the student you get for your tour guide will be someone who has a work-study at that particular time. However, some small liberal arts colleges may try to arrange a one-on-one campus tour with someone with the same interests as your student. You’ll likely go on large group campus tours at large state universities.
When I worked in admissions, the students we hired to give tours worked in one-hour increments. For example, one of our students, Kaitlin, worked from ten to noon daily. Therefore, whenever prospective students and parents visited in the morning, she would give tours between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. or 11 a.m. to noon.
If a student requested to see additional buildings or we knew we’d have a slow-moving group, we’d schedule the tour for 10 a.m. — just in case she wouldn’t get back in time for her noon class.
Keep in mind that it’s likely that the tour guide will show you the very best the school has to offer. They likely won’t show you the dingiest dorm room or the oldest building on campus unless it’s a national treasure.
Getting your questions answered is one of the most important parts of the college tour. The student tour guide can give you insight on life on campus, class sizes, the food on campus, dorm living, campus traditions, course availability for first-year students, student body diversity, extracurricular activities, professor/student interactions and other features. You and your student can and should ask as many questions as you and your student can think of.
If there is an area of campus that you can’t get to on your tour but your student wants to see, ask whether it’s possible to see it later on your visit. An accommodating admission office should make it happen before you leave.
Pro tip: If you can, ask to see an academic building where you plan to take classes. That will give you an idea of what the academic buildings look like in your area of study — not just the most beautiful, updated ones they use to show prospective students.
Learn more: Are college tours free?
Can You Choose Your College Tour Length?
Do you know that you and your child can choose your college tour length? You can! You’re not entirely powerless — you don’t have to let the college do all the scheduling. Let’s look at how to choose the length of your college tour.
Step 1: Think through an ideal tour.
Think past the entire campus visit and specifically about the tour itself. What does an A+ college tour look like? Does it mean seeing one of the newest residence halls? Does it mean looking at the library to see how students utilize that space?
It may be hard to visualize, particularly if you and your student have just started visiting college campuses for the first time. You simply may not have any idea what to expect. In that case, it’s okay. Think carefully about your students’ interests before you go to the next step.
Step 2: Contact the admission office.
Call the admission office of the school your child wants to visit. Even better, require your student to call the admission office for the visit.
For example, let’s say you plan to bring your child’s grandparents on campus, and they need a wheelchair-accessible tour. Calling the admission office ahead of time allowed us to make an excellent plan for the grandparents and also allowed us to discuss the logistics of the visit with the student tour guide in advance. College admission offices are notoriously flexible, but you still want to be as forthcoming as possible.
Talk about needs and specific requests. If you think your child will want to see more buildings, for example, it’s a good idea to talk about that with someone beforehand.
Make sure you call at least a week in advance. Colleges (particularly those putting together visits by hand, which happens at small private institutions) appreciate the lead time. When in doubt, kindly let the admission office know. The admission office may schedule you for a longer tour.
Step 3: Talk about timing.
Once your student explains what she wants to do while on campus, have her ask the admission office how much time it’ll take. If you’re under time constraints, make those known as well. You want to pack in as much value into the tour (and the visit) as possible without sacrificing quality and a little downtime.
Suppose the campus visit coordinator at the admission office says it will take four hours to complete the tour and other things your student wants, but you only have three hours available.
In that case, it gives you a good starting point to determine how to build out the best visit under specific time constraints. Either that or you could make more time in your schedule for the visit. Keeping everyone on the same page allows for the best situation possible. That way, there are no surprises — for the school, you or your child.
Step 4: Confirm in advance.
The admission office should send your child a confirmation in the mail, via text or through email — or a combination of all three. It’s a good idea to confirm that all the details are correct. If they aren’t, call long before the scheduled visit date so that the admission office can make the necessary corrections.
Example of How to Choose Your College Tour Length
Want an example of how to choose your college tour length. You got it!
Let’s say your child calls the admission office at XYZ University and finds out that it will take one hour to take a general tour of campus. However, your child wants to tour the athletic facilities privately. In that case, during the call to the college admission office, ask for a lengthier tour or tack on the athletic facility tour with a coach or another tour guide at the end of the day.Tips for Adjusting Tour Length While on Campuses
You might have a million questions to ask on a college tour, but keep these tips in mind:
- You may not have much flexibility. In other words, you may not have any control over tour length. Some schools have a very rigid process and schedule for tours. For example, some give large group tours, show two buildings, and that’s it.
- Respect the tour guide’s time. They are usually students and may have to run to a class immediately after the tour. Some students schedule themselves for their work-study jobs tightly between classes because they’re so busy.
- Talk with the admission office about taking more time after the tour. If you go through the tour and don’t feel your tour guide did the best job possible or didn’t get to as much as you had anticipated, consider asking the campus visit coordinator for more time. They may ask another student to take you on a short tour at the end of your day.
You Can Adjust Your College Tour (in Most Cases)
Now that you know the answer to “How long is a campus tour?” remember that most colleges and universities typically want to try to accommodate your child as much as possible and allow you to do as much as your child requests. It never hurts to ask for those “extras,” even though the online schedule looks like it won’t change much.
You’ve probably already heard the term, “You’ll never know until you ask.” It’s completely true in the case of college tours. Note also that getting your child’s boots on campus is important. Many virtual tours like Drake’s exist, but you want to make sure your child gets on campus for an on-campus university tour.
Depending on your needs, colleges and universities may allow you to shorten or lengthen the tour. However, it’s important to ask if your child wants something special or something not necessarily spelled out online.