Playing the Field: How to Make the Most of College Tours

1 universe,
8 planets, 
204 countries,

809 islands,
7 seas,
6 billion people…
and my heart still told me it’s you.

Sitting in bed with my favorite NYU t-shirt (pictured above), I realized that no matter how many groans and “ews” might follow after hearing something like this, there’s always a sense of satisfaction when someone finds their match. After nearly two years of searching, I finally found my soulmate – my college soulmate. My soulmate that is also a college!

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 19.9 million students were projected to attend American colleges and universities in 2018, also participating in the matchmaking process. Every year, students essentially ‘speed date’  to find their college soulmate, ranging from 4-year liberal arts universities to 2-year community colleges. Some are located in an urban metropolis (Boston University, George Washington University), some have less than 1000 students (Agnes Scott College, Wofford College), and some have nationally-renowned athletic programs (University of Alabama, Clemson University), and some surprisingly have a tree as their mascot (looking at you, Stanford University).

Like people, no two universities are alike; each with own quirks and qualities that make them unique, and your choice evermore important.

 

The Search
Picking a college is much like picking a soulmate! You’ll spend the majority of your time with them, they’ll significantly impact your life, and you’ll share a lot of the same core values. Without a doubt, the college matchmaking process mirrors the personal one! When I started my college journey, there were about ten schools that I felt encompassed what I wanted in a college experience: an open campus in the city, numerous leadership opportunities, and a diverse student body. And from all appearances, these were all traits that my ten options had based on some light internet sleuthing on their .edu websites. It was time to visit them with my own eyes.

The First Date
That being said, in all honesty, visiting ten college campuses even in the span of two years was overwhelming. Let’s face it:  many of us are HOBY alumni. We’re involved in SO. MANY. THINGS! I had to balance extracurriculars, community service, and standardized tests, and somewhere in there, I had to squeeze in time to fit a college tour, often having to travel by plane, taking off numerous days from school. However, had it not been for these tours, I wouldn’t have been able to find the place I now call home.

Campus visits allow you to see the university through your own eyes that you wouldn’t have experienced through any pamphlet or website link. While it may seem like a daunting endeavor, it should be fun! Each tour is an experience that allows you to not only see how the college aligns with your values but also to determine which qualities in a university you prioritize over others (and just like dating, this only gets clearer and clearer with more experience!)  

So, no matter where you are in the continuing education process, which can include 4-year universities, trade schools or community college, I have compiled a couple tips on how to make the most out of your tours, in order for you to find that One True Pair.

 

Before You Go…

  • Plan out your trip schedule. If you plan to miss school, you may have to check with your teachers so that you aren’t missing important assignments. Bring any homework/makeup assignments with you while you travel so that you don’t get behind!
    • PRO TIP:  I’ve found that the best times to visit colleges were Thursday through Sunday during school breaks, especially Thanksgiving Break in September, Winter Break (and President’s Day Weekend), and Spring Break in March/April.
  • Verify that there is a tour happening when you plan to take your trip! Colleges schedule information and tour sessions differently, and it’s always helpful to double check and sign up online, as opposed to just showing up. If you plan to visit over break, be sure that the campus will be open! You won’t be able to get the true experience if all the faculty and students are not on campus.  
    • PRO TIP: Most schools offer self-guided tours or even virtual tours if travel becomes costly. It never hurts to call and ask! The people over the phone are undergraduate students just like me, and they’re always willing to lend an ear if you have any questions.

 

While You’re There…

  • Ask tough questions about the university (especially ones that you couldn’t find on their website). Following the “Honeymoon” stage of any relationship, make sure you’re satisfied with your decision three days, three semesters, and even three years after you’ve made a commitment.
  • If you plan on majoring in a particular subject, reach out to people who work in that department! Some schools even have special tours designed for prospective STEM, humanities, and art applicants – it may just take some research. Tour guides are a great source to start with!
  • Find things to do around campus. This one takes a bit of research and initiative, but these memories always made my trip a little bit more memorable. Have a friend who goes to the university/lives near the area? Reach out to them! What a perfect opportunity to reach out to HOBY alumni across the globe. While I was in Boston, I met up with a 2015 alumna who currently attends Emerson College – even though Emerson College wasn’t on my list, she took me out to a spot in the city that many locals dine at!
    • PRO TIP: Keep on the lookout for university bulletin boards! It’s a very telling way to see what the student body is like. Most of them will have flyers of club meetings, events and special guests on campus, and performance schedules.
  • Have a general scope of what the area is like. Some colleges are located in a “college town,” while some are in the center of major cities. Most undergraduates go off campus every once in a while so it wouldn’t hurt to know what transportation and the weather look like wherever you visit.
  • Reflect on how the campus makes you feel. Regardless of location, prestige, or quality of dining halls, documenting your first impressions of the campus’ atmosphere is just as important.

 

After You Leave…

  • Keep the contact info of the admissions administrators and the tour guides. It’s a kind gesture to say “Thank you for the tour/info!” in an email (or a handwritten note, if you’re feeling extra fancy!) More often than not, the faces you saw during your college visit will be the ones reviewing your application.
  • Keep a spreadsheet or a log after visiting. The more colleges you visit, the more things will blend together.  Even things like pamphlets or packets of information start to get overwhelming, so designate somewhere in your workspace to be all college-related (here’s a useful template!). I kept a cork board in my room with pictures that I took, along with deadlines for applications and scholarships. It also makes it easier to share with your parents and curious relatives!

Universities that offer scholarship priority to HOBY alumni (all gathered from the HOBY website):

The college process is by no means a linear one. If it was, there would be no need for a blog post like this! Always reach out to your family and especially your friends (who are bound to be going through similar situations) if you start feeling overwhelmed – having a supportive community throughout the college process makes it tremendously more manageable.

Once you’ve finished playing the field, it’ll soon be time to settle down and commit – the second (and final) part to finding your college soulmate! Stay tuned!


Sean Nesmith is a current first-year student at New York University studying International Relations, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Arabic. As a former resident of Marietta, Georgia, he attended HOBY Georgia Northwest and WLC back in 2016 and now volunteers for both as a member of Junior Staff. When Sean’s not cheering his heart out to the Factory Worker cheer, he indulges himself in watching Shonda Rhimes, eating out with friends, and keeping up with the latest pop-culture trends. In the spring, Sean will be working as an admissions ambassador, so if you see him wearing a violet track-jacket, be sure to say hello!