10 Things to Know Before Taking a College Tour with Your Teen

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Planning to visit prospective colleges and universities with your junior this year? Prepare for your visit with these helpful tips from a mom of a rising senior.

A student walking down a path in front of a university building.

The time has finally come for my oldest daughter to be exploring her next options for after high school graduation.

Entering her senior year, she’s preparing to apply to several colleges throughout the south east and we have scheduled weekly college tours all summer long.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from our first visit to Virginia Tech but now that we have one college tour under our belt, I wanted to share some helpful tips with you so you can be better prepared than we were!

Register in Advance

The outside of one of the buildings on campus at Virginia Tech.

I knew the summer between junior and senior year was going to fill up quickly, so in early May I decided to book one of our college tour visits.

I was shocked to discover the college in question had only FOUR DAYS LEFT in the entire summer on their calendar for a visit.

I booked our slot and then immediately dropped my plans for the afternoon so I could reserve our tour dates for the remaining colleges on her list.

Summertime is obviously a very busy season for college tours. They often limit spaces for each group so slots can book up far in advance.

If there’s a certain university you absolutely want to see, book it in advance and save your spot!

Arrive Early

Most of the colleges we’ll be visiting are a simple day trip away from our home.

I planned to leave so that we had several hours between when we would arrive in town before our scheduled tour was set to begin. You never know when there will be major traffic, an accident, or construction that could delay your trip.

There is so much to see and do near most colleges, you should have no trouble filling your time with extra adventures to make the day more fun.

Arriving early also helps cushion the time you’ll need to navigate parking and walking to the admissions office or central part of campus where your tour may begin.

Most tours will start with an informational session by the admissions officers, you don’t want to miss or be late for this.

A map of the tour for Virginia Tech.

Do Your Homework First

Before you set foot on campus, make sure that both you and your teen do a little “homework” so you’re prepped and ready for any encounter. You never know who you’ll meet.

Discuss the topics of study your teen is most interested in. It’s ok if they don’t have a major officially selected, but be on the same page as far as what they are looking to study as compared to what the college offers.

I.E.: Avoid telling the university staff that you want to study something they don’t even offer!

Spend some time on the college website before you go, read a few of their recent news articles so you know the latest happenings.

Watch a few videos on YouTube about their athletic teams or student life activities.

Take a peek at their admissions guidelines. Be prepared with any questions you may have about the process.

Dress Appropriately

College tours are an excellent opportunity to discuss first impressions and professional etiquette with your teen.

This could be an opportunity for them to meet admissions officers, future professors, or even fellow students.

Start off on the right foot with an outfit that makes a nice first impression.

You’ll be walking outside, likely in the summer heat or possibly even light rain. You can absolutely dress comfortably and casually for the outdoors, but nice shorts and a shirt or even a casual sundress would be a good idea.

Absolutely wear comfortable walking shoes, you may walk a mile or more during your visit.

Bring LOTS of Water

This was a piece of advice from my best friend and I was SO grateful to have gotten it before we arrived on campus.

It wasn’t that hot during our first college tour and we didn’t have to walk a difficult terrain. Yet, my daughter and I were both terribly dehydrated by the end of the tour despite having brought a water bottle for each of us!

We downed a second bottle of water each that I purchased at the university bookstore, but we could easily have drank a third one by the time we got to our car.

Was it the weather? Was it the walking? Was it all the questions we asked and talking we did? Was it stress?? Who knows. All I know is we were so thirsty.

Next time, I’ll be packing an entire cooler of water bottles for our trunk!

Ask Questions

Your college tour will likely be given by a current student or recent graduate. It is absolutely ok to engage them with general questions that could help the entire group.

I was one of the only parents to ask questions and our guide was visibly relieved to have someone to engage with.

Next time, I’ll be chatting with my daughter before we go about some questions that she could ask during the tour. It is excellent practice for speaking up for herself and highlighting how engaged she is with the information about her prospective school.

Bring a Notebook & Pen

If you’re planning several college tours over the course of the summer, by the end they will all run together in your mind.

Pack a small travel journal or notebook and a pen. BEFORE you even leave campus, take just 10 minutes together to jot down some memories from the visit.

We made a simple Pros/Cons list and added a few details about the campus that we loved so we could remember things about the specific university when it comes time for her apply this fall.

Additionally, we took tons of photos and referenced some of them in our notes since that will help jog her memory when the time comes.

Keep a Folder

Another excellent tip from my friend: You will receive a ton of printed materials from the colleges you visit. Some will be worth keeping and referencing later.

Keep a simple folder or accordion folder in your car for keeping these neat and organized. Then you’ll have record of all the schools you visited in one place.

BONUS: You could keep your travel journal and pen tucked in that accordion folder, too!

Visit the Bookstore

A prospective student visits the VT university book store and stands next to a statue of the Hokie bird mascot.

My daughter would tell you this is the #1 most important part of the college tour. In some ways, she’s not wrong.

A visit to the bookstore will quickly tell you how popular the school is with the students and alumni. Is there a ton of merch? Is there a huge athletic department? A section for Greek organizations? Does it look like an active hub?

We bought a simple tee as a souvenir from the trip. She’ll enjoy wearing it for the next year before she finally selects her school, but then she definitely has something to wear for her decision announcement when the time comes, too.

Don’t Rush

Finally, visiting a college will take some time from your day even if it is right in your own hometown but especially if you have to do a road trip to get there.

Don’t just arrive for your tour and then leave. Plan to spend some additional time before and/or after the tour to explore the campus and surrounding area with your teen.

Let them get to know the fun activities, restaurant and dining options available, and vibe of the city as a whole.

The campus tour will not cover everything. Take the time to explore the corners of campus that are important to your teen. For my daughter, that meant visiting the football stadium where she hopes to play in their marching band. For me, that meant seeking out the Greek housing in case she decides to rush a sorority.

With a little time spent planning before you go, you can have a very simple but very fun itinerary that will make your college visit a day to remember with your child before they graduate and move on to that oh-so-exciting next step.

The photo collage shows a student walking on campus next to a photo of an empty lecture hall.

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