Media Advisory: Make the most of a college campus visit

Each summer, thousands of high school students and their families across the country hit the road to tour and learn more about colleges and universities that interest them.

With many schools now offering virtual tours, there’s no shortage of information online, but nothing takes the place of the all-important campus visit.

Jennie Harris, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., oversees more than 100 Ambassadors-in-Admissions tour guides who meet more than 16,000 prospective students and their families each year.

Because a two-hour experience on campus can make or break the decision to apply, Harris offers her top 10 Do’s and Don’ts for campus visitors.

What makes a great visit? What can ruin it for everyone? Her tips apply whether your family is planning a college road trip to small liberal arts colleges, large public universities, or anything in between. (Parents, take note: a lot of her advice is directed at you!)


1. Do your homework – Learn the basics about the college before you arrive. No need to waste everyone’s time asking questions about how many students attend the college and if there is a major in English.

2. Make it a family affair – Mom and Dad will likely be writing the checks, but they also have some good experience and insights into the college process. Talk openly about the colleges before you go, while you are there and after the visit.

3. Ask good questions – Campus tour guides love sharing stories, but a one-sided conversation is never much fun. Ask the tour guide about her favorite class, her best professor, the campus culture, new initiatives, and even the latest campus controversy. If all else fails, ask the guide why she chose that university. If she responds, “I don’t know,” take note!

4. Schedule an interview – You want to learn as much as possible about the college, and admissions counselors want to know the real you. Approximately 75% of incoming first-year students at Wake Forest had one-on-one interviews in person or via Skype. Meeting you personally helps the admissions staff advocate for you when making tough decisions. If the college you are visiting offers interviews, take advantage of it!

5. Explore your interests – For example, if chemistry is your passion, stop by the department and check out the labs. It’s always best to call ahead and explore the possibilities for visiting a class, speaking with a faculty member or touring the facilities.

6. Check the weather – Many schools keep extra umbrellas around, but it is always a good idea to plan ahead since tours happen rain or shine. Remember to bring reusable water bottles on extra hot days. Most college campuses are embracing more sustainable options than plastic bottles, so you will likely pass more water fountains than vending machines.

7. Dress comfortably – Admissions officers understand that you are touring. Look respectable but leave the stiletto heels and the three-piece suit at home.

8. Keep your schedule flexible – Stick around after the tour. Eat in the food court. Check out the fitness facilities or the fine arts center. People watch. Then ask yourself, “can I see myself here?”

9. Get a sense for the campus vibe – Pick up campus publications, fliers, and community calendars while you’re there.

10. Trust your gut. Focus on how a school feels rather than its numbers – Test scores and rankings will fade, but how you feel walking around your campus will remain as long as you are there. Finding a good fit is key.


1. Ask a student tour guide, “What are my chances of getting in?” – Sure, a guide can give you median SAT ranges and the number of students in the top 10% of their class, but he’s not part of the decision-making process.

2. Hog the tour guide – If you have developed an extensive list of questions, try to ask them at the end of the tour or give other people a chance to ask them.

3. Sport clothing from another school, especially from a rival institution – This might seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes it happens when students visit multiple schools in one trip.

4. Ask how your tour guide is financing her education – It’s a personal question and not one that everyone is comfortable answering in front of a crowd of strangers. This goes for any sensitive question, including “what was your SAT score?”

5. Hijack the tour if you’re a parent, especially if it’s your alma mater – The student giving the tour is just as much a part of the university as you were, and his time and experience are just as valuable. Chances are, your child has heard your stories. Let her enjoy someone else’s perspective.

6. Forget your guide is a student at the school you’re visiting – Odds are, if she’s willing to go through all of the training and spend time showing you around, she loves it there. So, information that may seem unnecessary to you could be a unique university tradition or her favorite thing about the school.

7. Get intimidated by the overachieving tour guide – Though she may seemingly be involved in every club and honor society available, schools want you to feel free to choose your own path.

8. Ask a student to compare two schools – While that might be the decision you’re facing, it can be difficult for a student to draw conclusions about a school that might not have been in his college search.

9. Be rude – Common courtesies apply on campus visits. Please don’t talk on your cell phone during tour or the information session.

10. Make a final judgment on a college based on one visit – Seeing a campus during exam period, on a fall Friday afternoon or in the midst of a massive rain storm may give you a somewhat distorted view of the place.

Finally, Harris adds, “Don’t cross a school off of your list just because you see a snake in the wooded area around campus. They’re commonly found in most states, and they are usually harmless. However, if that is a deal breaker, do take it as a sign that you’re better suited to an urban campus.”

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