The College Tourist: Why campus tours matter

Alexandra Bacchus

In her last column, senior Alexandra Bacchus wrote about her 25 California college visits in five days. This time around she talks about her summer tours around the East Coast and shares the knowledge she’s picked up as the application process looms closer.

Once I finished my intensive California road trip last Spring Break, school kicked back into gear and effectively extinguished the flame of excitement I once felt about college.

But from the moment I stepped out of my 7th period final and officially declared myself a senior, I started to plan what was supposed to be a long-awaited vacation on the East Coast.

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how I chose to look at it ­– my break would just turn out to be an extension of my California trip. When I stepped off the plane in Boston I had barely taken a breath of the humid Massachusetts air before my dad announced, “Next stop, Northeastern University!”

Though a lengthy and at times boring process, I have no doubt that touring is the most proactive thing a junior or senior can do for herself in terms of applying to college. Signing up for tours and visiting schools does two things: it acquaints you with the campus and gets your name in that college’s database.

This seems so insignificant, but the reality is that every little bit helps. At one point I became wary of filling out the small information cards before every tour, so I asked an admissions officer why it was necessary. He explained that, should I choose to fill out the card, it would show on my application that I’ve been to visit the campus. In other words, it makes you look more eager if colleges know you’ve visited them, and colleges love eager.

Touring the many schools in downtown Boston also taught me how important the decision between urban and suburban is. Though universities make campus life so attractive with concerts and events almost every weekend, city life holds its benefits with everything just a Subway or bus ride away.

I also learned that colleges are constantly trying to invent new services for their students to make campus life easier and a little more interesting. For example, at Columbia University fliers are visible everywhere advertising the TIC, their campus box office that offers subsidized tickets to events and shows all over the city. Additionally, at UC San Diego they offer a paid note-taking service for those who are disabled, or just too lazy to do it themselves.

However, I’ve also learned a lot of valuable information from the information sessions held by representatives either on a campus or here at school. The most valuable piece of knowledge I gained from an info session was learning that a great deal of schools super score the SAT, which means that they take the best score from any sitting and compile it into one score. It’s unquestionably a win-win because we, as prospective students, get to appear better than we really are at the test while they get to brag that their applicants have a higher average score.

Lastly, talk to people. Talk to students, admissions officers, and anyone you see who can give you a new perspective. Ask the little questions about dorm life, about how good the food is, or what the campus superstitions are. Never be too nervous to ask a question in front of the tour group because these questions often prompt unexpected responses and reward you with little-known facts.

After my trip up and down the northeast, I’ve significantly slowed down on my touring. I’ve moved onto the real work, the actual applications that require thought and perseverance, not just stamina and strong legs. Next column, it’s all about writing the essays.