“So You Don’t Have To”: Notes From Visits to Colleges


Despite the date above, this post is continuously updated to include links to all of the posts in my series “So You Don’t Have To”. Thanks for reading!

In my role as a college counselor I have visited many colleges and universities all over America. For the past couple of years, I have written detailed blog posts about these visits here on the blog. I call the series “So You Don’t Have To”, because I try to describe the experience of attending the information session and taking the standard campus tour.  That said, if you find these colleges interesting I strongly encourage you to visit them in person, if at all possible.

The following is a list of the colleges and universities in this series, as well as some brief information about each. Please note that information about deadlines and costs were accurate as of the date I wrote the post, but have undoubtedly changed–to be sure you should check on the institution’s official website. I hope you enjoy reading these articles!



  • Duke University-A medium sized highly selective public university in Durham, North Carolina.



  • Guilford College-A small, somewhat selective private college in Greensboro, North Carolina.




  • Rollins College– A small, selective private college in Winter Park, Florida



  • Lycoming College– A small, selective private liberal arts college in Williamsport, Pennsylvania




  • University of Richmond-A small, very selective private college (with its own law school) in Richmond, Virginia.


  • Hood College-A small, less selective private college in Frederick, Maryland.



  • Elmira College-A small, less selective liberal arts college in Elmira, New York.


  • Oberlin College-A small, very selective liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio.




  • DePaul University-A large (on the small side of large), somewhat selective university in Chicago, Illinois.

I cannot stress enough the importance of visiting colleges. Students and their families who are engaged in the college search process are contemplating making one of the most expensive purchases of their lives.Just like you wouldn’t buy a house or a car based only on a marketing website, choosing a college without setting foot on campus is not recommended. That said, sometimes visits are difficult (or impossible) to schedule due to distance from home, cost or other factors.  This is one reason why an experienced veteran college counselor is a valuable asset.

For those of you who have never gone on a college visit they typically include an hour-long “information session” in the admissions building, and depending on the size of the school may be held in anything from a small conference room to a large auditorium.  Nearly all info sessions include a PowerPoint presentations, and many now include professionally shot videos describing the college.  During the info session the presenter (usually an assistant or associate director of admission) will discuss the size of the school, the fields of study available, activities and other fun things to do on campus, as well as something about the admission timetable and requirements (such as standardized tests).  There is often time allotted for questions, and since these sessions are designed to appeal to students and parents alike, don’t be surprised if most of the questions are asked by someone’s mom instead of by prospective students.

Either before or after the info session you will have the chance to take a tour of the campus on foot, led by a current student who works for the admissions office. This tour is very important, and can often “make or break” a family’s decision. During the tour the guide will walk backwards while pointing out important campus locations, sharing personal anecdotes and giving her perspective about why you should choose her college.  This backwards walking trick is cool, and you can always tell the people who are taking their first tour, because they usually gush their admiration of the tour guide’s ability to walk backwards and talk at the same time. Perhaps I am jaded, but it takes a lot to impress me.  

The bar was set by my tour guide at George Washington University, who was BLIND!  He walked backward with his white cane, and counted his steps while talking. He always knew where he was while leading us over several city blocks in downtown Washington, D.C. After that, even the best tour guide will be fighting for second place.

Remember that in nearly every case the route of the tour is established by the admissions office.  It is typical to see the gym, a “typical” freshman dorm room, the library, a “typical” classroom (especially if there is an awesome, expensive, high-tech new academic building to show off) and a dining hall.  It is also likely that campus security features will be highlighted to assuage the fears of the parents. You should feel free to ask questions about what you are shown, and also about what you are NOT shown.  I always get suspicious of colleges that do not take tours into dorms or the library. Similarly, ask the admissions office for a voucher to eat at the dining hall–tasting the food in advance can be very helpful at decision time. Also, the tour assumes the physical ability to walk long distances, climb hills and stairs, and keep up with a fast-moving group.  If you or a member of your party has a disability that will impede the ability to take the normal tour, call ahead and schedule a special tour; the admissions office will almost always be able to accomodate you. Finally, I encourage you to take photos during the tour; especially if you plan to visit multiple schools, as they will help you keep track of important features.

At my school,  each of the counselors visits multiple colleges every year to be able to expand our “college knowledge” and to be able to give good advice to students who may not be able to travel.  I have usually written detailed summaries of my visits in memos to my colleagues, but from now on I will publish them on this blog for everyone to see. I will avoid trying to make judgements about the schools and will instead focus on summarizing what was presented during a typical tour and information session.

I hope you like this series, and encourage you to leave comments.  And remember, that despite the tongue in cheek title of the series, this should not serve as a substitute for a physical visit if you have the chance to make one.  Colleges place great weight on “demonstrated interest”; if you take the time to visit their school, it will mean a lot to them and may redound to your benefit come decision time!

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