7 Tips to Get the Most Out of College Tours

Talk to current students and professors and attend a class.

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It's the college visit season. High school seniors are fanning out across the country to check out colleges for the last time before they make their big decision.

Visiting campuses during spring break is an annual tradition, but some collegiate suitors are trying to make their campus tours for accepted students more meaningful while distinguishing themselves from their competition.

[Learn more about college tours.]

Franklin and Marshall College, for instance, has axed the script on building dates and historical facts, and instead, tour guides are customizing the tours to match the interests of the students in the group. During their time on campus, families are invited to the dining hall for a drink and they sit down with their tour guides to talk about their interests.

The tour guides at Dickinson College and Bucknell University also received marching orders to tailor their tours to prospective students' interests. At Dickinson, professors will sometimes invite families to step inside the classroom to see what's happening. Some visitors also have the opportunity to pick vegetables and herbs on campus.

Regardless of which schools you visit this spring, here are seven ways to make the experience more valuable:

1. Wander off the path and talk to students: You don't want to limit your conversations to the tour guide, who is, after all, being paid to present their schools in a positive light. Steven Syverson, vice president for enrollment at Lawrence University, suggests stopping a few students during your time on a campus and asking them these questions:

• Why did you decide to attend this college?

• What do you like best about this school?

• What do you like least about this school?

• If you could change anything about your college what would it be?

[Read 36 questions to ask on a college visit.]

2. Check out this college visit cheat sheet: You should get a better sense about whether a school is a good fit if you ask intelligent questions. You can find a great list of questions by downloading a brochure from the National Survey of Student Engagement, A Pocket Guide to Choosing a College: Questions to Ask On Your College Visits.

3. Talk with staff and faculty: You can learn a lot if you arrange to speak with a professor in your possible major. It's been my experience when visiting colleges with my son and daughter that professors are usually quite happy to answer questions and give a tour through their departments.

4. Take notes: You might think that you will remember what you saw and heard at a school, but don't count on it, especially if you are visiting more than one campus. It may also be helpful to take photos.

5. Attend a class: Ideally, you'll want to sit in on a class in a subject that interests you or that you hope to major in. This will be another opportunity to ask students what they think about their college.

[Get 7 tips for narrowing your college list.]

6. Consider spending the night: Many colleges will allow accepted students to spend the night in a dorm with a student host if they are given enough advance notice.

7. Take full advantage of your opportunity: The stakes are too high to treat your campus visit as a lark. Too many students end up unhappy with their schools because they made rash decisions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 1 in 5 students transfer from one four-year college to another.

Don't let that happen to you.