I’m truly blown away when I hear that someone chose a university without first taking at least one tour of the campus. Although I understand for some people it may not be possible, for most people it is possible.
The campus tour is one of the best – and relatively simple – ways to help make an informed choice about perhaps one of the most important (and expensive) decisions we make in our lifetime.
The campus tour has evolved, even in the past 10 years, from a quick trip around a couple of buildings by whatever admissions officer isn’t busy at the time, to a full-scale recruitment tool that is critical to the university’s enrollment success. In addition to taking the actual tour, students and parents can usually attend a class, meet with a professor and/or an admissions officer, eat in the dining hall and, in some cases, stay overnight in one of the residences. If you’re not into this full-meal-deal, you can opt to just take the tour, which usually involves a trained student leading a small group around the campus and discussing points of interest. In and out in about an hour or so.
Just like a test drive gives you a feel for a car you may purchase, the campus tour gives you a feel for the campus you may attend. The tour is one of the most important parts of the “best fit” process. It’s great to see pictures online and even take a virtual tour but, as the saying goes, there is nothing like being there. By strolling around campus, you’ll get an idea of the state of the buildings, the kinds of students who attend, and the general vibe of the place. You will also get to ask the tour guide questions, but be forewarned that he/she may not be able to provide specific admission and degree program information. If you have specific questions, it’s best to book an appointment with an admissions officer.
A note on tour guides: some are great and some are not so great. Although the university should only have top quality tour guides, it’s not always possible to get top quality every single time from every single guide. Try not to let the tour guide influence your decision too much, either way.
Try to focus not only on the things you saw and heard but also on the feeling you got while walking around campus. For example, when I worked in admissions, I talked to a lot to students about how/why they chose this particular institution. The statement I often heard was that they “fell in love” with it. Not all students have that strong of a reaction, but many will glean a lot from the feeling they get while walking around campus.
Even if your student has attended an open house at the university, he/she should still book a separate tour later on. Open house events are usually held in October or November, before students have really put much thought into what specific program they're interested in. These kinds of events are meant to be fun and provide an overview of what the university has to offer, but you'll want to dig deeper into details later on. The best time to take a tour is after you’ve done some research on the schools and the programs, and narrowed your choices down to three or four institutions. This way you'll know what you need and want, and you’ll be in a better position to compare what each one has to offer.
If the university is not in your town or city, have a good look around the area where the university is located. Remember, you are not only choosing a school, you’re choosing a community too. This community could possibly be your new home for the next four years, so choose it well.
Does it feel safe?
Does it have the amenities you want?
Does it have enough culture, sports and other kinds of entertainment to keep you interested? Does it have public transport so you can get around and get back home for holidays (via bus/plane/train)?
What is the town/city’s personality or vibe? Does it fit with yours?
Many universities in Canada offer similar programs so, in that respect, many are similar. But each one will have its own vibe/feel, or personality. And whatever that vibe is, it will play an important part of the way you will feel while studying and living there.
Campus tours can be booked in advance either online or via telephone, usually through the university’s admissions page. It’s a worthwhile investment of time and money to help your student make the best decision on the next big step in their lives.
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