What It’s Like Going to a College Info Session and Tour

Rob has CHOSEN HIS COLLEGE. He’ll be going to one that’s about a 7-hour drive away, which is a nice distance: far enough to feel Nice and Far for him, but close enough that if something were to go wrong I wouldn’t have to try to book a flight; close enough that we can drive him with all his stuff, rather than trying to ship it or fit it on an airplane.

Well. That whole college-selection process was an…invigorating time. And now there is a brief lull before we start all the freshman-prep stuff, so this seems like a good chance to talk about what it was like to go on all those college info sessions and tours. Those were on my list of anxieties before starting the college-search process with Rob, so I want to tell you how much easier they are than I’d thought. Here are the notes I have from the last session/tour, which was when I decided to write this post:

• don’t wear loud shoes
• it’s so boring seriously
• shows you how old you are when you look around at other parents
• so many stairs

So basically that sums it up, but I’ll fill in a few sparse places.

To start with, colleges WANT you to do these. I don’t know why I imagined I was somehow inconveniencing them by visiting: they do info sessions and tours ALL THE TIME. Some of the more popular colleges do them again and again all day, every day of the week. Usually they have a schedule posted online; usually you need to register ahead of time with information such as the child’s name, address, phone number, email, date of birth, high school graduation year, areas of interest—things like that. (This will then get you on that college’s mail/email list if you weren’t already.)

Times that are convenient for you to go (Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, spring break, weekends, etc.) will either be unavailable or will fill up early. I was worried that if we went during the summer we would miss getting the Real Feel of the student-occupied campus, but I didn’t see a huge difference except that it was less comfortable weather-wise.

It is common for the students to be accompanied by family members. I felt awkward about this when registering the first time but it’s so totally normal. Many kids had one or two parents AND a sibling or two; Rob was accompanied by one parent plus William (since William is two years behind Rob and could get an early start on his own college search). It would not, however, be a good place to bring MUCH younger children—like, anyone in the run-around-in-the-aisles/cry-interruptively stage of life.

It is a little alarming, by the way, to look around at all the other parents and realize that’s how old you are too. It is especially alarming seeing them/yourself in such sharp contrast to all the young, vigorous students. A person can end up feeling a bit middle-aged and frumpy and done with the meat of life, is what I’m warning you about. I tried with mixed success to turn this into a feeling of solidarity with my peers.

The most common info/tour system we encountered was this: you could sign up for just the info session or just the tour, but usually the info session went right into a tour afterward. So if you see that info sessions are offered at 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., and tours are offered at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., you can feel confident that the 9:00 a.m. info session is followed by the 10:00 a.m. tour, and the 1:00 p.m. info session is followed by the 2:00 p.m. tour. (On our first couple of college visits, I was worried that the info session would take, say, 1.5 hours—so then we couldn’t sign up for the 10:00 a.m. tour. But no: the college realizes you will probably want to do both, and they don’t make you hang out for several hours in between.)

Or you might end up doing them separately. For example, some colleges have traveling info sessions: the child’s high school might host one, or in our case we attended one at a local hotel conference room. The school was far enough away that we wouldn’t have visited just on a whim, but after we went to the info session we were interested enough to book a tour and make the drive. We could have re-attended the info session once we were on campus—but since the college had Saturday tours but no Saturday info sessions, and since we were available on a Saturday, it all worked out perfectly.

The info sessions and tours are free. About half the time, they included free coffee and water, maybe some candies or cookies. Sometimes there are optional expenses: for example, a couple of tours ended by saying we were welcome to try a meal in the school cafeteria if we wanted to, but there was a cost for that.

I will say this: I found all info sessions and tours to be IMMENSELY BORING. One was kind of cool because it was at a famous college so I was sitting there thinking “I can’t believe I’m sitting here in this well-known place!” But then the person from admissions came in and started talking, and it was just as boring as everywhere else.

Boring but INFORMATIVE—as long as you realize you are sitting through a sales pitch. The information session tells you what the college thinks are its selling points. You will find out which buzzwords the college wishes to push: unique, cooperative, diverse, opportunity, innovative, excellence, hands-on, interdisciplinary, passion, real-life experience, selective, progressive, driven, research. You can recognize which words the college decided on because they will say them comically often until you are thinking “OKAY WE GET IT YOU WANT US TO KNOW YOU’RE TRYING TO SHAKE THE PRIVILEGED WHITE KID IMAGE” or “YES YES EVERYONE IS A GENIUS AND STUDIES CONSTANTLY, GOT IT.”

The info session usually takes place in a largish room with dozens or hundreds of people (though we went to one that was just five students and their families) and lasts about an hour. They will cover things such as: which majors are most common; what their acceptance rates are; a little about the application process; what they look for in a candidate; the student-teacher ratio; opportunities to study abroad or at other local institutions; a little about how they help graduates find jobs; cost of tuition, room and board, fees. Most will give you written materials as well, with pretty much the same info.

After the info session there is time for people to ask questions. Every single session-leader handled this beautifully so that it didn’t go on and on and on, but there were usually a few parents asking really specific-to-their-own-child questions that were a little tiresome for the rest of us; for example, one mother asked if the session leader could please list all the classes needed for a marketing major. (Beautiful handling by session leader: “Oh, great question! I don’t have that information with me, but if you stop at the Admissions office on your way out we can certainly get that for you!”) One father wanted to tell everyone that he had been quite the soccer star when he attended there, and to ask how had the team been doing since then because his son wanted to play soccer too.

After the Q&A, the group is divided into tour groups, usually of about twenty people in each (or of course fewer if the whole info group was fewer than that). (Usually there was no pee-break between session and tour, so find a bathroom before the info session if you can. You could also sneak out during the last 15 minutes of the session to pee.) One time we got to choose our tour guide: five of them introduced themselves and said their majors, and then we could pick which one to go with; this was nice because we got someone with the same major Rob is considering, so she knew about and emphasized stuff he was interested in. But most of the time we were counted off and then assigned. The tour guide is a current student doing a memorized routine. They walk backward while the group follows them and listens; typically you can ask questions as you go and the tour guide generally made it easy/comfortable to do so.

The tour lasts an hour or so, and typically includes a lot of walking and a lot of stairs; I recommend wearing comfortable shoes and bringing a water bottle. The tour usually includes some academic buildings, a dorm (but only once the inside of a dorm room—sometimes the college offered a separate housing tour), a cafeteria, the library, a social hang-out area, the gym, a big open grassy area, a sculpture, and anything else the college wanted to draw special attention to (a self-sustaining green area, an on-campus museum filled with student art, a fountain donated by someone famous, a concert hall, a 3D-modeling lab where students built a working car, etc.). Note: many campuses have multiple Pokéstops.

After the tour, you are dismissed. The tour guide usually invited anyone with additional questions to stay after and ask them. We almost always had to use that opportunity to ask the tour guide how to get from where we were back to our car. Fortunately the info session usually includes a map, too.

Oh, and I highly recommend bringing a snack: it seemed like we were always starting the process in the late morning and then going through to early afternoon, so afterward we were hot, tired, cranky, hungry, and in a strange city. Having a sneaky granola bar on the tour made things so much more pleasant.

Which reminds me of another issue: parking. This mystified me. The college would have online info about attending tours, and would instruct us to park in Lot A. And then Lot A would have ten parking spaces. And it would be full, because dozens or hundreds of people were attending the session/tour, and there would be no back-up instructions. So! Print out a campus map to bring with you, and investigate alternate visitor lots ahead of time if possible—or just be prepared that you might need to do so on the spot. I liked to allow quite a bit of padding so that we could (1) find parking without me feeling like screaming, and (2) walk from that far-off lot to Admissions, and (3) FIND Admissions, and (4) find a bathroom.


To sum up:

• investigate parking and allow extra time for it
• pee right before the session
• comfy shoes, water bottle, snack
• it’s pretty much always an info session followed by a tour
• take notes and save the paperwork, because they all start to blend together

21 thoughts on “What It’s Like Going to a College Info Session and Tour

  1. Ruby

    Congratulations to Rob for choosing a college! That is excellent news!

    I’m going back to school to get my master’s next year, and I am not kidding when I say I almost put it off for another year because I hate the process of researching schools so much. The idea of doing college tours as an adult was so off-putting that I was inclined to just skip the whole thing. Luckily (?), I only got into one of my top-choice schools, so that made things easier!

  2. ESL

    Congratulations to Rob! So curious where he is going but understand why you’re not saying.
    I have been on college campuses my whole adult life. 4 years for bachelors. 2 year full time job. 6 years for phd. And 19 years as a professor (on 2 different campuses). I have seen these tour groups walking by all the time. It was interesting to read about the process from the outside prospective. So thank you.

  3. kim

    We have just recently started the college tours and your info/advice is spot-on! In fact, last weekend we gave up on attending the tour because of parking and thunderstorm. We got there 45 min early – drove to the admissions office where they claimed was some “first-come, first serve” parking that turned out to be an area for the dumpster and 2 PARKING SPOTS THAT WERE OF COURSE PROBABLY TAKEN BY ADMISSION STAFF. All the street parking had parking meters and signs that said “towing zone!” but only M-F on the signs except ON the parking meters were red covers that also said “YOU WILL BE TOWED” so that was out. They suggested using the parking garage behind a local Barnes & Nobles – that we had passed on our way in and between one way streets and general confusion driving in a strange place in a thunderstorm, took 20 minutes to get back to – only to find THE PARKING GARAGE WAS CLOSED. NOT FULL, JUST CLOSED! I finally decided to just chance the street parking when lightning and thunder roared outside and my daughter said, “I don’t want to do the tour, let’s just go home.” So we left.

    We went to William and Mary over spring break and they had emailed us a parking pass and gave several detailed instructions about where to park – and we had no issues there at all. It was awesome.

    Glad to know summer tours aren’t useless as we have to do that and I worried it would be lame.

    Thanks for all of this – I am finding it all very stressful!

  4. Madeleine

    I too have been delighted by the quantity of pokestops on college campus visits! Your description of the process is great. A couple things we learned: some schools have special interest tours, like a science tour or an engineering tour. We did these in addition to the general tour when we could. Some schools will let you on the tour even if the info session is full and sometimes they’ll let you into the info session from a wait list or move to a bigger room. So if you are in town anyway, stop by and ask even if you couldn’t sign up.

    One thing that we added where we could is sitting in on a class. The admissions office usually has a list. The rules were: Student only, no parents. Stay the whole time. We would add, pick a medium to big class because you don’t want to stand out too much. This only works if you visit on a day when classes are in session of course, and not during midterms.

    1. Alice

      I found sitting in on classes SUPER helpful when I was a wee baby applying to colleges. It 100% helped me make my final determination on where I wanted to go.

  5. G

    This is fascinating, because some of it is exactly what my current junior experienced and some of it is completely different. I wonder if the school size affects things. (He’s looking at pretty small colleges, 3000-6000 undergrands.) He’s been on 4. 3 of them, the tours and info session were private and the fourth had about 5 students. Also, lunch in the cafeteria was included at no charge at 4 of them.

  6. suburbancorrespondent

    3 kids in or past college, and somehow we have never been on one of those organized tours, thanks be to God. I’m way too cynical to keep my mouth shut during those. Larry would have had to drag me out of a session because I would have either told someone else to shut up or I would have been yelling, “Show me the money!”

    That said, we were at one group thing that was the freshman dorm orientation or something like that. As you mentioned, I was looking around at all the other parents in the group and thinking how old and haggard they looked; and then I realized they LOOKED JUST LIKE ME. That wasn’t fun.

  7. Tessie

    CONGRATS ROB!! The tours seem worth it, but I wonder how often it really influences a student (or parent)’s decision. What were the things he considered? Did you have to veto any schools?

    It seems like an oldest child’s decision could be very influential for the rest of family if he has a good experience?

    Anyway, so exciting!

    1. Swistle Post author

      Rob was looking for a good city; a larger student population; a school that had plenty of students in the majors he’s considering but isn’t utterly dominated by those majors; a campus-y campus (i.e., separate from the surrounding city, not interwoven with it); pianos available for students to play; the right level of campus shenanigans (like when students annually climb a building and put a professor’s desk up there or something).

      We didn’t have to veto any schools, but we were prepared to veto. We were hoping not to have to, so that we could maintain the illusion of it being his choice.

  8. Becky

    I went on college tours with my stepson a few years ago and your experience was exactly the same as ours at the large State University. I don’t know if you toured any smallish schools, but that is quite different. We went to two schools, private, religiously affiliated (not hard core religious though). One was my alma mater where I used to work as a tour guide for my work study. At smaller schools they do gave the big info sessions and group tours a few times a year, but most of the time you get an individual tour. When I worked there, I would get a quick briefing (Ok, Katie is from Small Town, wants to be in choir and major in psychology. Her dad is a pastor.). Then I would know to really hit the psychology building, breeze through the science buildings and talk about choir concerts and optional daily chapel. The next tour (Joe from Rich Suburb, plays hockey and wants to major in business), would whip through the art and music areas, but have a long tour of the athletic center. It was nice as a parent taking the tour because you feel better about asking questions when you don’t have to worry about boring others.

    1. Ruby

      That sounds like a really great way to do things. When I was a high school student touring colleges, we ended up getting a private tour of one school completely by chance. This school was one of the biggest in the state and did multiple tours per day, so we were extremely lucky that no one else had booked a tour during that time slot. It was great! We got to ask lots of questions, and spend a nice long time at the areas that were the most of interest to me. I ended up going there, and while the private tour isn’t the *only* reason I chose that school, it certainly didn’t hurt!

  9. hope t.

    Middle-aged, frumpy, and done with the meat of life. Yes, yes, yes……it’s hard not to feel this, even though my youngest is only nine. The other parents of prospective students could very well be much older than you, though, right? It is your first child heading to college and perhaps it is their last child that they are ushering into adulthood. What really made me feel terribly old recently was looking up people in the same graduating class I was in. Same age, give or take a few months, and….oh my, how did my peer group become old so quickly? It’s head-spinning.

  10. Suzanne

    Yay Rob!!!! Congratulations!!! I remember beig so excited and anxious at all those tours, and finding Every Word fascinating. So it is fun to hear how boring it becomes once it’s not YOU cataloging every detail to make (what feels like) The Biggest Decision of Your Life.

    The chosen college really does sound like the perfect distance from home, too. Excellent all around!

  11. Shawna

    My best friend’s daughter is heading off to university this fall and it really freaked me out to realize that she’s now the age that her mother and I were when we first met during our first week of university! And she started having kids way younger than me – It’ll be another 7 years before I send my own firstborn off to university and I can’t imagine how old I’ll feel (and probably look) by then!

  12. Alice

    Did you feel like the info sessions and tours were useful? Or did Rob?

    We couldn’t afford to take trips for colleges when I was a teenager, and the information you’re describing sounds a lot like what I got out of the big book of college descriptions. Only the big book was quicker to read and conveniently located in my house. I hadn’t even set foot in the state where I went to college before I showed up to move into the dorms. I’m expecting to be able to afford to take our daughter on tours when the time comes, but I’m questioning if it’s worth the effort.

    1. Swistle Post author

      I thought probably they were useful, but I was worried they would encourage the child to make the decision based on superficial elements: whether or not they liked the tour guide, whether or not they liked the speaker, whether the weather was nice that day, etc.

      The biggest upside, I think, was that they made the decision More Real. But also, the tours brought up some issues we/he hadn’t considered, such as whether he wanted a “campus-y” campus (i.e., separate from the surrounding city) or more the kind that weaves in and out of a city.

      We didn’t visit several colleges on his list, the ones that would require a plane ticket. That seemed like overkill. On the other hand, I think that visiting some and not others meant the ones we didn’t visit got knocked way down on the list: often it was only after a visit that he’d get interested in knowing more about a college. A wily parent could use this to help direct the choice.

      1. Slim

        Congrats to Rob!

        Interesting to know the effect of not visiting a school that he applied to. My oldest is feeling done with visits because he thinks all the tours are the same (which is probably true), and he thinks the variables (campus-y, size, location) are all things he can determine by research now that his visits have shown him what variables he wants.

        I can’t figure out if I’m glad he’s going to make a well-thought-out decision or if I wish he had fallen madly in love with a school the way I did.

        1. Sarah!

          If he decides not to visit them all, encourage him to go visit once he’s narrowed it down to one or two but before sending in the commitment $$!

  13. Sarah!

    That photo looks very familiar, but colleges all kind of look the same when they’re 2″ tall, so I might be completely off!

Comments are closed.