I’m not sure why I couldn’t lie about the violent crime problem.
As an undergraduate student in New Orleans, I served as one of those college campus visit tour guides for high schoolers considering enrolling in Tulane—the kind that narrates into a bullhorn and walks backward alongside a throng of parents and prospective students and siblings in tow. New Orleans ranked as the murder capital of the country at the time, and the minders of tour guides like me sternly handed out talking points to redirect questions about public safety. On the tours, the crime question always arrived, usually near the end, and I chose to be frank (but not overly dramatic).
Now, entering my twentieth year as a college professor at Virginia Tech where I teach architecture, I have again served as the tour guide more than one hundred times to groups of students considering enrolling in our program.
I take them through our architecture design studios, explain our study-abroad programs, walk through our wood and metal shop, and answer questions from students, and more often, their parents.
Patterns emerge, and there are things I wish I could have told the students before they came, and things I’d like to remind them of after they leave. In that spirit, below I list six things you should know about your college campus visit.
6 Things to Know on Your Next College Campus Visit
1. Feel and fit matter.
Just because you experience difficulty describing or putting a number to your experience, doesn’t mean you should ignore fuzzy intuition. If the campus or the people just feel right—if you think you would fit into this place—trust your gut. Were you deciding which college to choose based on facts and figures alone, you would have stayed home and read the brochure instead of visiting.
If the campus or the people just feel right—if you think you would fit into this place—trust your gut.
2. Time your visit when you will see the most, instead of when it is most convenient for you.
Arriving on a Sunday morning in early August? You won’t measure feel and fit when the university is out of session. Remember that your weekends and summer/winter breaks coincide with breaks in the college calendar too. And don’t visit during high school spring break if you don’t have to: the sizes of the campus tours balloon to 10x the week before and after Easter.
3. Try to account for the weather.
Either postpone visits when storms are predicted, or adjust your expectations to match the weather outside. In high school, I dismissed a prospective college after I visited and no one seemed to be out—it was if the campus had no life. In hindsight, I visited on a miserable day and no one would have been outside on any campus in that weather.
In high school, I dismissed a prospective college after I visited and no one seemed to be out—it was if the campus had no life. In hindsight, I visited on a miserable day and no one would have been outside on any campus in that weather.
Likewise, I almost enrolled in another college because when I visited the entire student body seemed to be outside on the quad enjoying themselves. In hindsight, it was the first nice day in spring after a long snowy winter in far-upstate New York. Of course everyone was throwing a frisbee. I know this reads as absurd, but I suspect that for most people, the weather on the day of the campus visit is the single largest contributor to “feel and fit,” so try not to let it be so for you.
4. Shed your shyness.
Your best sense of the campus and the academic programs come from conversing with students (other than the volunteer campus guide). Go up to a random student, explain to them that you are in high school and considering attending school here, and ask them if they would have gone here if they had to do it all over again.
The students you approach will not feel put out, nor will they judge you for asking. It’s probably best to shed your parents for a bit before approaching the college students so that your conversation with them can be more natural.
Many campuses now offer both bus tours and walking tours as options. Don’t take the bus! No one ever got a feel for a place from inside a moving vehicle.
6. Attend a class.
Most admissions offices can set you up to attend a class while you are on campus. It’ll give you an accurate sense of the place, allow you to more naturally interact with students, and familiarize you with a university-level class experience before you head off to college.