How Long Are College Tours?
How long are college tours? It’s a great question when your child is getting started on the path to visiting colleges. However, understanding the answer to “how long is a college tour?” isn’t as simple as it seems.
Why not? 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. Furthermore, the college visit itself depends on what your child wants to do while on campus. Your child could schedule a college visit that lasts two hours or two days — it just depends on the student’s preferences.
It’s easy to see which prospective students and families have had great tours in any admission office. In fact, I vividly remember one very satisfied family coming back from tour. Here’s what happened, all at once:
- Dad high-fived the tour guide.
- Mom looked thrilled (and relieved) and gave the tour guide a hug.
- The prospective student grinned from ear to ear and added the tour guide’s personal cellphone number to his phone. He said, “I’m really excited to be here next year.”
- Dad asked for our current student’s business card.
- The whole happy family disappeared into an admission counselor’s office.
I knew that kid was sold, and that’s what the tour should look like!
You just knew each personality was a perfect fit. The student did a perfect job fielding the parents’ questions, addressed the student’s felt needs
Let’s take a look at the definition of a college tour, the length of a typical college tour and visit, the components of a college tour, the benefits of college visits, how to choose your college tour length and an example. By the time you finish reading, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how long you should plan to visit a particular college or university.
What is a College Tour?
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 a number of 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 counselor
- Chatting with a dietician in the cafeteria
- Listening in on a session
There are other types of meetings you can schedule during a college visit, but as you can see, the college tour represents only a small percentage of the college visit.
Campus tours might start out with an information session that lasts approximately 45 minutes, and an admissions officer usually leads the session. They will offer detailed information about the campus, the application process and the process of getting financial aid. Student panelists may also answer questions.
How Long is a College Tour?
How long does a college tour take?
The college tour typically lasts around one hour. However, if your child requests to see additional buildings or you have a slow-moving group, it might take longer than one hour. However, it’s important to be respectful of 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.
If you think your child may take longer on tour — for whatever reason — you may want to notify the admission office in advance. The admission office may schedule you for a longer tour.
Keep in mind that 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. However, 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.
How Long is a College Visit?
A college visit can last as long as your student and the admission office agree that 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 tour of campus, 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.
Anatomy of a College Visit
So, let’s back up a bit and discuss exactly what happens during a college visit. A college tour is just one component of a college visit. A personal campus visit can involve the following:
- Campus tour
- Information session
- Class visit
- Lunch with a student
- Meeting with a professor
- Coach meeting
- Financial aid meeting
- Meetings with other organizations or people on campus you and your child specifically request (like a dietitian, academic support personnel, etc.)
On the other hand, you and your child can also attend group visits, which are very different from personal campus visits because you do everything in a group setting. You may do the following:
- Campus tour
- Information sessions
- Student panels
- Specific meeting requests after the visit day
Sure, you’ll want to sit down with your child and think through exactly what you’d like to do while you’re on your visit, but notice what I included on the first bullet of each option? Yep — the college tour. It’s typically the highlight of the campus visit experience. And if you have a fun, knowledgeable student tour guide, that can make or break a college decision.
A fantastic tour of campus should include a stop at every one of these locations:
- Residence hall
- Classroom or lecture hall
- Student center or lounge
- Dining hall
These locations could be added — at your request! (The best tour guides veer from the script and go where your child wants to go):
- Student resource center
- Greek life and other organizations
- Campus chapel or other religious center
- Athletic facilities or workout facilities
- Other locations on campus
And add the glue — an amazing tour guide! — and you’ve got yourself the best college tour ever. How do you get that kind of college tour at every college?
Answer: You plan for it.
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. In fact, the campus tour usually takes a circuitous route across campus so that 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 who have been trained to give tours get this job. In most cases, unless it has been arranged in advance, the student you get for your tour guide will happen to be someone who happens to have work-study at that particular time. However, some small colleges may try to arrange a one-on-one campus tour with someone who has the same interests as your student. At large state universities, you’ll likely go on large group campus tours.
As mentioned above, your tour guide should show you some combination of the following areas of campus.
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 on campus or the oldest building on campus unless it’s a national treasure. (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 that they use for showing to prospective students.)
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, diversity of the student body, extracurricular activities, professor/student interactions and other opportunities. 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 really 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.
How to Choose Your College Tour Length
Do you know that you and your child can choose your college tour length? You can! You’re not completely powerless by letting the college do all the scheduling. Let’s take a 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 think very 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 through your student’s interests before you go to the next step.
Step 2: Contact the admission office.
Call up the admission office of the school your child wants to visit. Even better, require your student to call the admission office for the visit. Try not to sign up online like this because you may not be able to work in the intricacies of your child’s visit. For example, let’s say you plan to bring your child’s grandparents on campus and they need a wheelchair accessible tour. (This happened before at the college I last worked at.) 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 ahead of time.
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.
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 bit of down time.
If the campus visit coordinator at the admission office says that it will take four hours to complete the tour and other things your student wants but you only have three hours available, it gives you a good starting point to start to figure out how to build out the best visit under certain 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.
Step 5: Ask good questions while on tour.
- How large a college do you want to attend? Colleges come in varying sizes, including their campus and student body. Do you want to attend a small college with a student body that’s also small, a medium-sized university or a large institution, such as a state university?
- What type of college do you want to attend? There are many different kinds of colleges. You can choose to attend a liberal arts college, which is typically smaller in size and has fewer degree options. You could also choose a private or public university, which can provide more academic offerings.
- How selective of a college do you want to apply to? Colleges apply different criteria to their admissions selection process. A college tour can help you gauge the academic rigor you want to face while studying. The tour can give you a good feel for how your grades and activities stack up.
- What is the return on investment of this college? Even though at first, college seems to be about the dorms, friends and which major you’ll choose, your time in college passes quickly. It’s important now to ask: What is the return on investment of each college I’m touring? Is this college focused on helping me launch my career or graduate school plans after I earn my degree here?
Example of How to Choose Your College Tour Length
Here’s an example of how to choose your college tour length. 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 do a private tour of the athletic facilities. In that case, during the call to the college admission office, ask for a lengthier tour or to tack on the athletic facility tour with a coach or with another tour guide at the end of the day.
By the way, I wouldn’t recommend trying to cram two campus visits into one day.
When to Do a Tour
Think about the time of
Consider the Weather
This may not really be something you can do anything about, but if you have the flexibility, choose the best weather day to go. Rain puts a damper on a college visit. If you can’t change your visit date and the weather isn’t going to be great, make sure you have the right weather gear: hats, gloves, winter coats, umbrellas, hats.
Visit When Classes Are in Session
Visiting when classes are in session is best. Let’s say you visit during the summer. You can definitely learn about admission and financial aid processes and see campuses but you and your student won’t experience the same hustle and bustle you would when school’s in session.
Choose the Right Time During High School
A popular question is this: “When’s the best year in high school to visit?”
This question is a fun one because there’s no “right” year to visit. Here are a few truths:
- You and your child will have to get started sooner if she has 12 schools on her list. If she only has two, you’ll obviously spend less time on visits.
- A popular time is to visit
springbreak of your child’s junior year.
- A good rule of thumb is to visit one large, one medium
andone small school.
- It’s a good idea to consider your child’s maturity level and excitement about visiting schools. Some freshmen in high school are ready; some juniors aren’t ready at all.
- It’s not a bad thing to get a “taste” at a young age. Some high schools do school trips to
collegesduring freshmen year. Some students tag along on tours with older siblings. It’s a great way to launch the college search!
During Your Tour
Student tour guides have a prescribed tour route for prospective students and families. Make sure you:
- Let your student interact with the tour guide as much as possible. Don’t dominate the conversation!
- Ask to see things. If something looks interesting, ask about it and ask to go
- Focus on people! Buildings aren’t going to connect your student to alumni after college or help you make friends in the residence halls.
- Encourage your student to talk to as many people as possible — everywhere. Students, dining hall workers, tour guides, even faculty sitting in their offices. (Your student may not feel comfortable doing that, but the more people you all talk to, the more robust your visit will be and the better overview of the college you’ll get.)
- Find out what’s going on. Look at bulletin boards, campus events
andpick up a campus newspaper.
- Watch students and get a feel for how they interact with each other. Are they engaged and friendly? Aloof? Do they seem friendly to your student in general?
Think of other details. What are your specific needs and expectations?
Do You Have Concerns About Walking on Campus?
Worried a bit about your ability to get around? It might be hard for you or someone in your family to hoof it around campus with a group. If so, this is the time to speak up! Tell the campus visit coordinator ahead of time if you’ve got some health issues, your child’s broken her foot — whatever it is!
The admission office will make accommodations for you. They might put your whole family on a golf cart or abbreviate the tour to meet your needs. Colleges are used to accommodating families and they do it happily. Don’t be afraid to ask for
Need a Wheelchair-Accessible Tour?
Explain to the admission office that you or a family member are in a wheelchair. Admission staff members will often have a specific wheelchair-accessible tour mapped out ahead of time. They’ll also ensure that your tour guide knows how to give a wheelchair-accessible tour.
Need Other Accommodations?
Think of other accommodations you might need. This could involve:
- English translation
- Sign language interpretation
- Accommodations for a blind family member
- Other accommodations
What if the Tour isn’t Awesome Even After All that Prep Work?
Okay, so everything you do to prepare for a college visit still might not end up jiving. Pinpoint what it was that wasn’t great. Was it the tour guide who kept checking his phone? Did a professor turn you off? Was an admission counselor less than enthused?
Once your child has narrowed the college list, you may want to make return visits to schools. Your child can also do overnight visits. On these visits, plan to go to classes and interact with students. (Some colleges even offer spring programs for juniors and fall programs for seniors. Check online or contact the admission office.)
Keep a list of people’s names you interact with and let the admission office know what turned you off about the visit. If possible, have your child communicate that.
Contact anyone you know who has connections to the college to learn more about it. Maybe it was just a tiny “glitch” and the college deserves a second chance.
You Can Adjust Your College Tour Length (in Most Cases)
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 it’s important to get your child’s boots on campus. Many virtual tours exist, but you want to make sure your child gets on campus for an on-campus university tour.
Colleges and universities may allow you to shorten or lengthen the tour depending on your needs. However, if your child wants something special or something that isn’t necessarily spelled out online, it’s important to ask.
Have your child call up the admissions office and ask about the possibilities.