Heather Knobel, Colgate University Class of 2022

College tours provide a glimpse into the next chapter of your life. If thinking about the next part of your life isn’t stressful enough, taking one college tour after another can make your head spin and leave you feeling overwhelmed. You may run the risk of forgetting which school has an acapella group for people who can’t sing or which school was willing to give you a cookie sandwich after your tour. I highly recommend you follow these quick tips to help you stay organized and help you make the best decision for YOU.

1)   Remember your first impression and write everything down

Especially if you’re visiting more than a couple of schools, after listening to a few admission representatives tell you about the only state not represented (hint: it’s usually North Dakota), things may start to sound the same.  When it comes time to completing your applications, notes and photos will help jog your memory and maybe even save you time when finding the answer to a burning question. But don’t worry if you miss a few stats or forget to take a photo of the dining hall as most of the data may be found with a quick Google search.

When it comes to notetaking, there are two types of people: those who insist on handwriting and those who insist on typing. A small notebook and a pen helps to keep your thoughts about a school in one place and makes you look like you are paying attention even if you really aren’t. As you walk around a campus, be sure to snap photos and file them by school. Trust me, after a couple of campus visits, you will thank me!

2)   Listen to the people on campus and YOURSELF

This is not the time in your life when you should sit in silence. Don’t be shy. Ask questions! Be prepared with a few key questions that you ask at each school to help you compare the difference between each place you visit.

Your parents will tell you, if they haven’t already, how great their school was, or your neighbor will tell you why they chose their school. At the end of the day, you are the one heading off to college, and it has to be a decision that is right for YOU. The best way to learn if a school is the right fit is to listen to the tour guide, students on campus, the person serving food in the dining hall, the professor in the classroom and most of all - your inner voice.

3)   Remember that your time is valuable

It happens to the best of us. We get to a school (and maybe traveled thousands of miles) and we are in the middle of the tour and we know in our gut that this is not a good fit. It’s okay. It is also okay to politely leave the tour no matter how badly your parents may want to stay.

4)   Visit the town during the day and night

You are about to choose a place to live for the next 2-4 years. While the campus is the central focus of your visit, you may be surprised to know that life off campus, or lack thereof, can have a major impact on your final decision. There were several schools that I had seen at night that made my heart pound. Find out if a big city with lots of noise or a small village with lots of corn is better for you.

5)    Look but don’t buy

When visiting the bookstore, don’t fall into the trap of buying it all or even any of it until you commit. Do you really want to parade around your high school with your dream school written across your shirt? What happens to all that merchandise if you don’t end up at the school? Just some questions to consider before you hand over your credit card to the cashier.

6)   Visualize with an imaginary backpack

Imagine yourself walking to class with a backpack on. Really! Picture yourself getting ready for class, heading out of your dorm, entering an academic building, sitting in a class, talking to a professor, heading out of the academic building, and meeting your new friends for lunch. This little exercise will help you determine if the school feels like home. If I couldn’t feel the backpack hanging on my shoulders, I knew I didn’t belong.

I won’t deny it, college visits may be stressful and tiresome, but if you follow my advice then tours and information sessions can make one of the hardest parts of the college process become the easiest and quite frankly the most enjoyable.