What to Know about College Visits

Learn the process for college tours, including how to check in, what will be covered, how many families will be with you, how long the tour will last, what you'll see, who you'll meet, and what you may receive at the end.
Students walking on campus during a college visit

If you have a student with plans to go to college, you'll likely end up touring a campus or two during the college search process. Visiting a college can provide students with helpful information about the academics, activities, and support offered by a school, but it also allows students to get a "feel" for the campus and try to imagine themselves spending four years there. If you haven't yet started your college visits, we have some information below on what to expect.  


The school will want a record that you showed up for the tour, so if you registered beforehand, be sure to let them know that you're there. And if you didn't register beforehand, ask how you can provide the student's contact information. Many schools keep a record of "demonstrated interest," so you'll want them to know that you took the time to visit and learn more about the school.


The tours vary in format, but most involve following a tour guide on a walk through campus as he or she points out key locations and shares information about the school. Some colleges start the tour with a presentation that covers the school's admissions requirements and other notable facts. A recent tour I attended ended with a "trolley tour" (riding an elongated golf cart with two other families) as the student tour guide drove us around parts of campus we didn't see on the walking tour. Every tour will have you walking outside, at least for part of it, so wear the right shoes, be ready for the weather, bring water, and ask beforehand if you need any accessibility accommodations, like ramps.


At larger schools where more families are visiting, you might have a tour group of 30 or 40 people. Smaller schools that might receive less visitors could have tour groups with just two or three families.


On average, college tours usually last one and a half to two hours. That includes the presentation and the walking tour if both are included.

What You'll See

Smaller colleges are often able to show off every area of campus, while the bigger schools can only highlight certain parts, unless you're on a driving tour. For the bigger schools, it's helpful to bring a map if there's one available, so you can see where you are in relation to the rest of campus as you're walking around.

Who You'll Meet

Your tour will likely be led by a current student, though someone from the admissions office may lead the tour or tag along. Take advantage of being up close and personal with these individuals. Ask questions of the student about his or her experience on campus, in class, meeting friends, etc. And chat with the admissions rep about the application process and requirements.


Some schools hand you a swag bag when you finish a tour. That can include a t-shirt, water bottle, sticker, key chain, or other merchandise with the school's name and logo.

When you finish your tour, be sure to take some time as a family to share your reactions with one another. Talk about what you liked and didn't like, and let the student speak first. It's helpful to take a few notes, especially if you're seeing multiple campuses in a short period of time, so you can remember what you thought. And certainly keep in mind that when the tour ends, you don't have to leave immediately. Stop by the book store, stroll through any parts of campus you didn't get to see, and explore the surrounding businesses and landscape. Enjoy this time of discovery as a family as you help your student plan for the journey ahead. 

View the college visit checklist