Over spring break, my mom and I traveled to California with the goal of seeing nine colleges and universities in five days. Little did we know how overwhelming, but fun, our experience would be. Although not everyone might want to visit California or be on the west coast (it is the best coast), read below for my story and for all my tips on making the most out of your college tours.
First, I’m going to share a quick version of my touring story. We flew into San Diego on a Sunday and out of San Luis Obispo on a Saturday, but unfortunately, we were not able to visit Northern California. Our schedule was as follows: Monday-University of San Diego and UCSD; Tuesday-Chapman University; Wednesday-University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University; Thursday-Pepperdine University and UCLA; Friday-UCSB and California Polytechnic University. My favorites were definitely USC and USD because their campuses are gorgeous, and I just felt like I belonged as soon as I stepped onto the campus. I felt immediate connections to my favorite schools, but you may not and that’s totally fine. This process is super unique for everyone.
I cannot stress this enough. I signed up for my tours at the beginning of February for dates at the end of March and there were a lot that were already filled up. Also, we went when some schools were on spring break so be aware that some dates might not be available due to breaks, finals, holidays, etc. If you don’t get an official school tour, it’s completely fine and you’ll still have a great experience. My suggestion is to check back often to see if a spot opened up, reach out to someone you know who attends that school and meet up with them, or just do a self-guided tour. We weren’t able to do official tours at any of the UCs, but I still fell in love with them and enjoyed walking around the campuses.
This is important so you know what to expect. It’s always good to go into a tour with at least some background, including their most popular majors, amount of students, size of the campus, etc. Take notice of what you like or don’t like on their website and make a note to ask about it on the tour. Research their majors and different programs, including career services and study abroad. However, don’t focus too much on their statistics-these are not a good indicator of what the school is actually like.
Make. A. List. Of. Must-Haves. I will say it twenty million times if I need to. This is super important so you can make sure to ask about it on your tour, and to see if they even have it in the first place. For me, I wanted some sort of Jewish club/community/Hillel, a communications or public relations program, and study abroad. Know your criteria and if it changes along the way, that’s totally fine. This will just give you a way to focus on specific aspects of colleges, and you won’t feel as overwhelmed when searching for various schools.
This isn’t super important, but I suggest doing it so you have an idea of what you want to make sure you hear about during the tour. I just googled “What to ask on a college tour” and got some great results. Although I didn’t end up using my list on the tour because I wanted to focus on the guide, it still gave me a good view of what’s important to know. Also, make sure to ask specific questions. Asking specific questions, such as ones about your major, housing, clubs, Greek life, etc. will help you to cater your tour to your curiosities, and make the most of your experience. I know what I want to major in so it was very helpful for me to ask specific questions about their programs, classes, and career opportunities for that major. This step is very specific to you and it’s ok if you’re not sure what you want from a school, or don’t have any certain questions you want to be answered yet.
I highly recommend walking around the campus before or after your scheduled tour. My favorite experience during my visit to USC was when my mom and I were super early for our tour, so we sat on a bench near the center of campus and just watched as students walked, biked, skateboarded, and ran to class. It was so cool to see everyone doing their normal thing and it gave us a great view into what it’s like on a regular day at that school. You’ll also be able to see parts of the campus that the tour won't be able to get to, and maybe you’ll even find some hidden study spots. It’ll also give you a feel for what being on campus is like, and what a normal day at that school would be like.
My mom and I had so much fun just walking around the various areas that the colleges are in. Our favorite was definitely San Luis Obispo, which is a cute town in central California. This will give you a great idea of what it’s like to go to school there and the different places you can go on the weekends. Definitely ask your tour guide for recommendations on what to do, especially if you’re in a college town. Doing this can give you an insight into what the students actually do and enjoy on their time off.
Tour guides, admission counselors, and basically, anyone on campus LOVE when you speak up, advocate for yourself, and ask or answer questions. Good tour guides will involve their audience and ask participants questions, but even if they don’t still make a point to go up to them and introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if no one else is. This is not the time to be embarrassed or to hide behind a tree. This is the time to discover what you want out of your next four years and what environment will best fit you. Don’t worry too much about people judging you or anything like that. Besides, you’re probably never going to see these people ever again anyways. I know this is much easier said than done, but it will add a lot to your experience.
I had planned to take notes during the tours but ended up just being present, and taking notes afterward. Even if you’re a note-taking person, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing it during the walking tour so you don’t miss anything. However, they’ll usually have an information session before or after the tour so definitely take notes then. Make sure to write down all your thoughts about the school right after you’ve left, including specific things about what you did and didn’t like. This way, your experiences are fresh in your mind and you’ll have something to look back on when application time rolls around.
In my opinion, the most important question to ask when visiting a college is, “What is your least favorite part of this school?”. I highly recommend pulling your tour guide aside after the tour to ask so they won’t feel like you’re putting them on the spot and you’re more likely to get a genuine answer that is not crafted to make the school look perfect. This question is important because every school, no matter what, has negative parts and it’s good to recognize this. Asking what a student’s least favorite part isn’t about learning about why the school is rated the way it is or talking badly about it, it’s about understanding the college’s strengths and weaknesses, and getting the full view of the school.
If you don’t keep an open mind, or dismiss things too quickly, you probably won’t enjoy your experience. In addition, the school is probably not going to look exactly like how it does on the website and that’s ok. Keeping an open mind on college tours is important because it gives you a chance to really get to know the school, and honestly yourself too. I discovered a lot about what I did and didn’t like, and never would’ve gotten that if I let my judgments cloud my experience. If you get to the tour and find that you just don’t like the school, stick with it. This will help you find what you do not want, which is just as important as knowing what you do want.
College tours are a lot and they can be very tiring as it’s a lot of walking, socializing, and outside time. Remember to take time for yourself, and overall, just have fun! You’re there for you. I felt myself getting very overwhelmed with everyone talking about college applications, acceptance rates, and tuition prices, so taking a moment to center myself and remind myself that college is not everything is very helpful. Reminder: the college you attend does not determine who you are or who you’re going to be. Just because someone goes to a school with a smaller acceptance rate doesn't mean they’re better or worse than you. You can do this and you have so many people that are rooting for you.
I hope these tips and tricks help you to have the best experience possible when preparing to tour colleges. If you’d like to hear about my specific experiences or want more suggestions feel free to DM me (@ruthie.zeidman). Best of luck!
Ruthie Zeidman is a BBG from Evergreen Region, and her passions include inclusivity, Judaism, writing, volunteering, listening to music, and laughing (and BBYO of course).
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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