by Julia Moss
During April vacation, while freshmen and sophomores are going on family vacations, taking drivers’ education courses or just relaxing at home, many upperclassmen visit colleges. Juniors generally tour colleges that they are considering applying to. Seniors visit colleges which they have already been accepted to. Actually seeing the campus, meeting students and professors and even tasting the food in the cafeteria will help students decide where to apply, and ultimately, where to attend.
College and career counselor Sarah Hoffman said that college tours give students “the important opportunity to see a college in action.”
Hoffman explained that college websites and brochures are created by the admission office and can be a bit skewed. “Websites and brochures make everything about a school look glossy and perfect,” Hoffman said. “You need to get your own perspective of the colleges, and visiting is the best way to do that. Students will often visit a college and just feel if it’s right. They can see if it’s an environment that fits.”
According to Hoffman, college tours include an admission counselor information session; a tour by students of the dorms, cafeteria, student center, gym, classrooms and other facilities; and usually, an interview.
She also explained that college tours can actually help students get into colleges. “The schools have so many more applicants these days and are more selective than they used to be. They want to see students demonstrate an interest in a school. If a college knows that you took the time to come in and do an interview and a tour, they will like that a lot.”
While college tours are beneficial for juniors and seniors alike, Hoffman said, juniors and seniors tour colleges for very different reasons.
“Seniors, who are visiting schools to help them actually choose a college, can make connections with admission staff; students; and specific important adults like coaches, professors, and financial aid counselors. They can decide if they can imagine themselves as students on campus,” she said.
Senior Tereza Pinkhasova toured colleges for a second time during April vacation. Last year as a junior, she looked at many schools. However, this time around, she visited only one school, UMass Amherst, where she has been accepted, she said. “I visited dorms and just walked around campus, and I might also take a tour for accepted students another time,” she said. “I don’t remember that much about visiting colleges last year, but it was a really good experience as a senior.”
Like Pinkhasova, senior Ben Kaufman also visited colleges during both his junior and senior years. “I spent my February and April breaks, as well as some of my weekends, of my junior year touring schools,” he said.
However, unlike Pinkasova, this year Kaufman visited multiple schools, all out-of-state. He traveled to Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“I got into several colleges, but I was able to cut out some of them because I knew I preferred other schools I got into,” Kaufman added. “So, of the six I was originally accepted into, I only visited four.”
Kaufman said that college tours are very helpful in deciding where to apply and where to attend. “College tours are a good chance to get a feel of the campus. There’s a difference between reading about a school online or in a college book and thinking it’s cool, and being on campus and realizing that you hate the architecture or love the food in the dining hall,” he said. “There are many other things that impact your decision that aren’t available unless you go to the campus.”
Kaufman said he has had positive experiences participating in the organized tours that colleges offer to prospective students.
“The tours are very useful because the college students who are giving them can sometimes be more knowledgeable about the reality of the school than the admissions office may be,” Kaufman said. “It is fun to hear about an actual student’s opinions about the school. They also answer questions that aren’t on the school’s websites or other resources. It is definitely worth visiting a school if you are serious about it, or are trying to choose whether to go there.”
Hoffman also explained the benefits of going on college tours as a junior.
“For juniors, college tours provide exposure to a wide variety of schools, even ones they may not know about,” Hoffman said. “They can get information first-hand and look at all kinds of schools—large, small, urban, rural, public and private—with a range of selectivity.”
Junior Kira Liu visited colleges with her family over vacation to “get a sense of what she wants in a college.” She said, “I don’t know where I’m going to apply yet. I want to visit a variety of schools to see whether I want big or small.”
Liu added that continuing to visit colleges will help her decide where in the country she would like to go to school. Liu traveled as far as Pennsylvania and the Midwest to see colleges. She said, “I didn’t know whether I wanted to go far away or stay closer to home. I wanted to get a feel for what college life is like in different places.”
Junior Ross Stanley also left the state to tour colleges during April vacation. “I had time over the break to visit colleges that were farther away from home,” he said. “So, I decided to visit the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which is in New York. It’s about three and a half hours away from Boston by car.”
Stanley said that visiting schools gave him a sense of where he would like to apply. “I learned that I prefer city schools to big campus schools,” he said.
Next year as a senior, Stanley may visit colleges again. “It depends on where I get in, but if I am accepted to a school that is very far away, I will definitely visit before I decide,” he said. “Overall, touring colleges was a positive experience, and I recommend it to others.”
Whether you’re a junior deciding where to apply or a senior choosing where to enroll, college tours certainly have a lot to offer. Hoffman said, “On these tours, the campus comes to life.”