College Corner: All aboard for the campus tour

Published on Monday, 4 August 2014 19:22 - Written by

I’m a big believer in the importance of the campus tour and I always encourage high school students to visit at least two or three schools on their wish list — preferably even more.

The more schools you visit, the more you know what questions to ask and what features are important to you. Are you looking for a small walkable campus, modern dormitories, or a very active extracurricular scene? Visiting the campus will help you find out.

But there are two problems facing most students when it comes to college tours — finding the time to make a visit, especially schools more than a couple hours away, and knowing what to look for once you get there, especially the first time you take a formal tour.

So this year, I decided to help the process along for some students I work with. I planned a special one-day tour of a school popular among East Texans — Texas A&M University in College Station. Like many highly ranked, competitive schools, A&M is a huge campus with many excellent programs, and just the very breadth of its offerings can be intimidating to prospective students.

In one long day, a Capstone adviser and a small group of students made the trek down to College Station, where they toured the campus, visited dorms, met with admissions officials as well as representatives from the business and engineering colleges and heard about the school’s hallowed traditions. They essentially took a crash course in what it takes to get into A&M — and how to succeed once you’re there.

All the students on the tour are considering A&M, so that experience was enough to make the tour a success in my eyes. But what pleased me even more was that the group learned so much about comparison-shopping for colleges. This is knowledge that will help them narrow down their application choices.

Laura, a rising senior who hopes to major in journalism or photography, explained that she had never been inside a college dorm or paid much attention to campus layout before her College Station visit.

“I learned to look for buildings I might be taking classes in and where they are located,” Laura said. “I also learned to pay attention to the condition and cost of the dorms.”

Laura also learned how to word questions that elicit useful answers. She was reminded to ask about tutors and other special help that might be available for certain subjects — things that will make a difference in her college choice, but that she might not have thought to ask on her own.

Laura had not been on any campus tours before, but now she’s planning to visit at least one more of her top choices, Texas State University in San Marcos. She already knows some of the things she’ll be looking for, such as what kind of tuition assistance she might expect and which campus traditions she could be a part of.

She may still end up applying to A&M — the tour convinced her it would be a good fit, she says — but no matter what school she chooses, she’ll have a sound basis for her decision. To me, that makes every college tour a day well spent.

Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to You just may see your question answered in a future column.