How to Make the Most of Spring Break Campus Visits: Part One


A campus tour is an excellent investment on the way to making your post-secondary plans. Tours allow students and parents to get a sense of a school’s setting and culture while often providing a chance to ask specific admissions, faculty, and financial aid questions. Read on to learn more about why you should take a tour, when to go, and where to visit.

Why should I go see the school myself?

There are many factors that influence our decision-making around university – reputation, a desire to move away from home (or stay close), a specific area of study, the advice of teachers and other adults, and the opinions and decisions of friends. In the midst of that process, it is important for students to get as much information as they can and form their own opinions.

Going to a post-secondary campus, speaking to current students and faculty, and getting a feel for the location can make a big difference when the student must decide which schools to apply to, and ultimately, which to attend.

Why should I go before I apply?

Many students say they will visit campuses when they have offers in order to decide which school to attend. However, this understates the role a campus visit can play in choosing which campus to apply to and shaping an application.

It is expensive and time-consuming to apply to universities, especially ones with long supplements. If a student visits campus A and loves it and then visits campus B and hates it, then it might not make sense for them to do the work or pay the fees to apply to campus B.

It is also very beneficial to have visited a campus when answering supplemental questions – especially the ones that ask “Why do you want to come to our school?” Wise students can use their visits to find the answer to these questions.

Of course, visiting universities when students have received offers is also helpful. Some students choose to tour colleges in March or April once they have been accepted. At this point, the visits can help students differentiate between schools and programs and learn about the campus community and location of their prospective schools.

Planning a Tour

When to go

  • As early as grade 9 or 10, families can start visiting any schools they are near on vacations and other travels. Going to Boston? Visit Harvard and BU. Have a conference in Montreal? Take your high-school age child and visit McGill and Concordia. In order to best choose a post-secondary institution, it is helpful for students to see a variety of different genres of university: big or small or city, suburban, or rural.
  • Many students plan a campus tour sometime in the spring of grade 11 or the summer between grade 11 and 12. Do some research first to shape your list of schools to visit.

Where to visit

  • We all enjoy visiting the beautiful campuses of Ivy League schools and the most prestigious Canadian universities. But we can’t all be accepted at those. So make sure to visit some of the other excellent, more accessible schools you are near. If you are going to visit Berkeley and Stanford, pay a visit to some of the other schools in the UC system or smaller schools like Santa Clara and see what appeal they may hold for you. If you are in Toronto, as well as touring U of T, pay a visit to York and TMU as well.
  • Let your student’s interest guide their choice of schools. If they are interested in engineering, focus on schools with an engineering faculty. If they wish to pursue anthropology, find out which schools are best or unique in that field.

Best time of year to visit

  • This is obviously largely dependent on family schedules. Most large schools will run tours year-round, and most colleges will have people on campus at most times of the year. Ideally, you will visit when classes are in session and when there are students around.
    • Try to avoid visiting in the breaks between sessions and holiday breaks (Christmas break, reading break). At these times, most campus buildings will be closed, students will be away, and tours may be suspended.
    • In particular, avoid visiting on actual holidays. A deserted college campus on Thanksgiving Day does not paint an accurate picture of the community.

Stay tuned later this week for part two of our Spring Break Campus Visits Series.

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