To most students around the world, the college application process can seem grueling and endless. At least that’s how it felt for me when I went through it. The difficulty of the process is significantly heightened for students who are trying to study abroad. On top of having to take the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, etc, students have to then figure out where it is they would like to apply and possibly attend. However, for international students and especially those in the Czech Republic, the next part of the process may seem foreign to them (no pun intended). Campus tours of colleges and universities play a serious role in the decision making process of many American students looking at higher education. Although these hyper-spirited tours are normal to those of us in the states, they are most likely unheard of to students in the Czech Republic. However, for you students in the Czech Republic who want to study in the U.S., it’s only right that you have the opportunity to understand this integral part of the college application process. As a former high school student, I went through this process a number of years ago and I now see it through a new lense as a campus tour guide at my own college. Through this article, I hope to answer the most likely questions about campus tours, their usefulness and how this relates to Czech students wanting to study in the U.S.
Possibly the most important question about campus tours is quite simply, what are they? Campus tours are an opportunity that many American students take to explore the college or university of their interest. The tour gives the students (and parents) and opportunity to not just see the physical campus of the school, but learn about the atmosphere, spirit, educational opportunities as well as the ins and outs of the college. In many cases, the tour works similarly to if you were looking into buying a car. Just as a salesmen would take you around the car and tell you all the great things about it, a tour guide will do the same thing with the university and its campus. The campus tour is not just there to familiarize you with the school but to really sell the college and all it has to offer to you. Similarly to how a car salesmen would show you not just the outside of the car but the interior and all it has to offer, a campus will likely show you many buildings and inner workings of the schools. Campus tours serve as an additional way for colleges to try and show why they stand out from other schools. With this in mind, there are many factors that go into a campus tour.
|Hampden-Sydney College Offers Also a Virtual Tour, http://bit.ly/2rJSoaB|
Campus tours are more often than not given by a current student or recent graduate of the school. However, every college or university tour can and will look different depending on how the school chooses to run them. In the cases that the tour guides are current students or alumni, they serve as a unique resource for prospective students to hear about the university experience from someone who has or is currently living in it. The tour guides at most colleges will be very energetic and excited to share about their university and why you should choose that school. They serve not only a resource for knowledge about the college, but as direct way of “hyping” up the experience and appeal of the school. Student campus tour guides have the opportunity to express why they chose their college over the others when going through the application process, while admissions workers who may be giving the tour have the ability to express what is needed to make into the school if you apply. Regardless of who is giving the tour, the guides are all there to show what the school has to offer and that there is a place for you there.
The term campus tour is pretty general in that it doesn't say where the tour will go, that’s because every tour at every school will naturally look different. Most tours will never take you every corner of the campus, they will rather serve as a brief summary or postcard view of the highlights of campus. Although each college and each college tour is unique, they all have some things in common. From my past experience attending college tours and my current experience giving them, I can gather that there are a few basics that most campus tours cover. Campus tours will typically show you the more popular aspects of campus like the library, dining hall, main academic buildings and the main gathering area for students like a quad or student center. College tours are also likely to show off some newer building on campus or current construction projects that prospective students will get to enjoy in future years. Apart from just seeing these things, tours will usually taker student inside some of the attractions to see what it feels like to sit in a typical class room and eat in the dining hall. Prospective students will spend most of their time in the places that the university is most proud of, for some that may be a new technical science center or an artisan dining hall for example. Students will also most likely have a chance see the inside of a student dorm so they can get a feel for what their freshman year could look like. Rankings are a big deal to many Americans so most colleges are likely to share the areas where they have received good marks like “best dining hall” or “2nd best dorms in the North East”, for example. Although these are all typical things that a college tour will encompass, tours can still look different depending on the kind of school you choose to tour.
One of the main factors that contributes to the structure of a college tour is the size of the college that you visit. If you tour a large public state school that has 30,000 students, you are most likely only going to be able to see a small fraction of the campus and what it has to offer. However, smaller schools and private schools are more likely to have a personal tour and dedicate a significant amount of time to seeing the campus and answering your questions. The makeup of your tour can also change depending on whether or not the campus is located in a city and is spread out or if it is in a more centralized suburban or rural area. The overall schedule of the visit can also change depending on the structure of the tour. Most colleges around the US have “open houses” in which many prospective students come to campus on the same day and take group tours. These tours may vary in size and some may be restricted to just students while parents receive another tour or some may be conducted with the parents and family of the prospective student. Open houses also usually have additional activities outside of the tour that enable the prospective student to learn more about the university and if they think it’s the right fit for them. These activities can range from a panel discussion from current students to a video presentation and much more. Campus visits are not, however, limited to open house days or this structure.
Campus visits and tours and the options they provide can seem overwhelming but they provide a great resource and experience for students trying to take the next step in the education. For Czech or other international students who wish to experience American college campus life, their options are wider than just pre-planned open houses. Most universities offer group and personal tours throughout the academic year and summer. Although open houses have the benefit of organized and prepared events, going on other tours may offer the chance for students to see more of the campus or spend more time asking questions of their guide. In addition to open houses or personal tours, many colleges may also offer students the chance to sit in on a class so they can get a taste for educational lifestyle of the school. In many cases, prospective students are given the opportunity to sit in a class that is related to their desired field of study if they have one. A much more uncommon way of visiting a college campus is doing an “overnight stay”. Overnights stays, when they are offered, are typically done at smaller, private schools and give the prospective student a chance to stay in a college dorm for a night be fully immersed in the life of the school. These overnight stays also usually include a campus tour and many other events that give you an in-depth look into the school. Despite all of the options that have been discussed, it is important to remember that each school is unique and may have many other options for visits of their own. Most information on campus visits can be found on the school's website or by calling the admissions office.
|Hampden-Sydney College Campus, source: Facebook|
Despite all of this information, one question remains to be fully answered is why is it important. To many international and Czech students, they may simply have the goal of wanting to study in the U.S. However, colleges are so different and unique in America that they each require specific attention. College campus tours are incredibly beneficial to your college search because they offer you much than a book or a webpage can. Going on a college visit not only gives you new insight into the school, but also makes it much easier for you to decide which colleges you do or don’t like. During my last two years of high school I definitely went on a few tours that made me realize I would never want to go to those schools, but some tours also opened my eyes to new options at other schools. There is nothing wrong with looking into the big rankings of colleges and universities, however, those rankings can’t tell you if you will enjoy that school or if it is the right fit for you. By using the term “right fit”, I mean that every college has the opportunity to give you something but only the ones that are the “right fit” will give you the opportunity to enjoy yourself in college while giving you the education you desire. For example, Dartmouth may have the academic program you are interested in but maybe spending 4 years of your life in small town, rural New Hampshire isn’t your style. I believe that the overall experience you receive in college is an integral part of your years of education and how you will move into the real world. Therefore, putting yourself in a place where you can grow educationally while enjoying your time socially is equally important to your overall college experience.
With this in mind, go out and explore colleges when and if you can. Although most Czech students may be an ocean way, if you have the chance to take a vacation or spend time in the U.S., take advantage of it. Do your research into the places that interest you and go see them for yourselves. No one wants to make the investment of buying a car without seeing it, so if you have the chance don’t do the same thing with you education. Exploring and searching for your best educational opportunities in college is an incredibly important part in the process, but that isn’t to say that your college search ends there. Visiting college campuses offers you with the unique opportunity to explore your options for higher education and plays an important role in deciding where you want to spend the next 4 years of your life!