As you begin to think about where you want to attend college, I believe it is extremely important to take a campus tour. Think of shopping for colleges like shopping for your college home. When you shop online, the school controls the content you see. I often tell students a story about when my husband and I were house shopping a couple of years ago. We found a beautiful house online. The pictures were stunning, and we were ready to make an offer. Thankfully we decided to take a tour. As soon as we walked in the front door, our eyes were opened to another side of the house that had not been depicted in the pictures. The carpet on the stairs and in all of the upstairs bedrooms was from the 1970’s and you had to ride a chair lift to get there. I was confused. This wasn’t in any of the pictures online. We were shocked and although my two boys thought the chair lift was the best thing ever, my husband and I could only think about how much time and money we would spend to make this house our home.

When colleges create their online presence, they too market their best attributes. I am not saying that colleges lie on their websites or that they only show you the positive side of their university, but I am saying that it is important to walk around the college and make your own observations. Your tour guide will likely be a current student, so don’t be afraid to ask them tough questions. What do they like most about the school? What do they see as their biggest challenge? What is one thing they wish they could change about their school? What are their classes like? How much interaction do they get with their professor? How do they feel about dorm life? After the conclusion of your tour, sit somewhere on campus and people watch. What do you notice about the interaction between students? Do they say hi to one another or does everyone walk around campus with their head down focused on their phone? Do you see students and professors engaging with one another? What are the dorms like? Can you live in the space provided or will you want to live off campus? What food options are on campus? If possible, try to eat lunch while you are on campus. Do you feel safe while walking around campus? Are there things for college students to do on the weekends? What is the surrounding city like? Does the school assist with the placement of internships? What percentage of the student body participates in an internship? If you are pursuing a major that involves a major exam post-graduation, what are the school’s pass rates? What percentage of students have a job in their field or attend grad school within six months post-graduation? Most importantly, can you see yourself as a student there?

We could have made the house with the chair lift work, but since we were making such a big decision and spending a great deal of money, we didn’t want to select a place where we could just survive. We wanted to find a place we loved; a place that checked all the boxes and met all of our needs without the need to make drastic changes. Remember, when you select a college, you are picking your home for the next four years. Don’t select the place that works or where you can survive. Select the place that provides the most opportunity for you to thrive.