The Importance of College Visits

An American phenomenon that is spreading to other countries – not unlike Levi’s and Coca-Cola in the 80’s and hopefully healthier than the bizarrely ubiquitous KFC – is the concept of touring a university campus before one applies. However, the purposes and procedures for college visits in the US are distinctly different from those in other countries. Let’s explore, shall we?

US College Tours:

  • Offered 2-3 times a day, virtually all year long. Yes, also in the summer! Sadly, Americans don’t take those wonderfully long summer holidays that Europeans do.
  • You must go to the college/university website, go to the Admissions section, and find where to register for the day and time you want to attend a tour. Keep in mind that at popular visit times, like Spring Break, tours may fill up quickly. Most US colleges offer a 1-hour information session and a 1-hour tour. We strongly recommend that you attend both to obtain the most information you can about this important choice and investment. Yes, you will start to hear the same information repeated – you could create a rousing game of BINGO using blue-light security systems, dining dollars cards, laundry phone apps – but the information session and tour are still extremely useful.
  • Registering for the tour is also important because you want the college to know that you have toured. Colleges call this “Demonstrated Interest,” and some colleges will track your efforts to determine your level of interest. The more points of contact, the more seriously interested you might be, and the more likely they may be to accept you. It’s kind of like a twisted dating game where you and the college are wooing each other to try to nab a coveted prom invite.
  • Also, despite the low acceptance rates and increasing numbers of applications at highly selective US colleges, you still deserve to approach this process as a consumer, not like little Oliver Twist begging, “Please suh, will you accept me? And may I have some more gruel?” US colleges and universities are vastly different in their campus facilities, personalities of student body, resources, locations, academic requirements and programming, even climate! And, considering the high cost of attendance at US colleges (especially when compared to the rest of the world), you want to select your possible home for the next four years with the utmost care and consideration. Since US college ranking systems are NOT dependable or even remotely respected by experienced professionals like your McMillan counselor, you must go and see for yourself which environment, which people, which value systems you want to immerse yourself in for four years.
  • You will likely hear all about the application process, academic programming, see inside key buildings and sometimes dormitories, hear about social life, see the students you could be living and learning with, maybe even hear a student panel, and see the surrounding area. Soak it all in, and then record your notes in the College Visit Evaluation Form section of your Owl’s Nest!

UK/Europe/Canada/International University Tours:

  • Universities outside of the US did not traditionally offer tours until recently. Students outside of the US typically select a specific subject to study, then consult fairly dependable ranking publications to determine the best options for their chosen course. Then, they use their predicted or actual exam or diploma scores to determine which universities they might be accepted to. Bada bing, bada boom, you’re done.
  • However, more and more universities outside of the US are starting to offer students opportunities to see the campuses, resources, and surroundings before they consider applying. UK universities have traditionally offered Open Days just a few times a year, which are more like what Americans would call Open Houses. Attending one of those requires careful advance planning.
  • Fortunately, international universities are starting to offer more tour options. Sometimes they offer pamphlets with fairly decent self-guided tours. I’ve experienced pretty great investigations of Imperial and LSE through this method.
  • My colleagues and I were given fabulous guided tours by an American student at University College Dublin recently. You will find that many UK and European universities are happy to provide a perky tour guide to escort you around their campus, but you may need to contact the International Students offices (the nicest and most helpful people out there) to arrange the tour.
  • The non-US tours may not feel like an all-access look inside the lives of the students – you may not see dorms and dining halls since living and eating facilities and resources can be significantly different outside of the US. You may see the Student Union or Junior Common Room (JCR) instead of what Americans call the Student Center, and you may not see a shiny, sparkly fitness center or rock-climbing wall or lazy river. But, you will get a good understanding of what life and learning would be like at an international university.

The details and information that any university chooses to emphasize in its tour automatically tells you what they value, what many of their students value, and why they think you should apply to their institution. If a university showcases their research facilities, then that’s an opportunity that they are proud of and want to share. If a university showcases its American football stadium, then that’s their pride and joy. Most importantly, as you stroll the paths and streets of various university communities, ask yourself, “Is this home?” Then, wait for your heart and mind to answer.

About The Author

Amy Christie, M.A.