The first college tour I took my kids on was a target of opportunity visit to West Virginia University several years ago. It was the week of Thanksgiving and I picked WVU because we drove past it on our way to Grandma’s house.
Even though it was an impromptu visit, it was a wonderful first step towards thinking about college. The guides were enthusiastic and shared the interesting experiences they’d had as students. The kids had their first significant exposure to the details of college life and realized that it wasn’t just like high school. They also could see that some of the attractive “college experience” amenities were available at a wide range of schools – not just the most expensive.
It was also evident that my fears that they wouldn’t get in anywhere at all were unfounded. There is a range of admissions competitiveness, and a good education can be earned at a wider range of colleges than just what are found at the top of popularity rankings. I was especially impressed by the steps they took to integrate new students into the college community. They recognize that for some, attending college at all is a big jump and the campus may be a larger social setting than is familiar.
WVU wasn’t a final fit for my kids, but the visit was a key step in helping them (and me) understand the transition from high school to college. This type of initial college tour is something I suggest, especially for families of freshmen and sophomores who are still figuring out what they want after graduation.
With that in mind, take a look at your travel plans over the next few months. Do you go past some interesting schools? Is there a school in town that you’ve never formally toured? Is there a college across town from family that would be holding tours while you’re there? Most schools have an online registration for scheduling campus tours. Check ahead of time to make sure one is available. If you can’t take an official campus tour, some college have maps for self-guided tours.
If you’re drawing a blank on possible schools to visit, IPEDS has a map of colleges in the US. I recommend checking “Public” and “Private Non Profit” and then selecting “Bachelors” in Degree and “4 Year” for School Level. I wouldn’t worry about matching for major as this type of college visit is more about setting and campus feel than academic matching. After your tour, take some time to sit and talk about what you noticed. What seemed really cool and what was off putting. What questions do you still have and what does that suggest for future tours?
[NB: This map works best in browsers that support Google Maps, such as Chrome.]