Spring break is right around the corner. For the upper classmen in high schools around the country, it's a prime opportunity to visit college campuses.

Juniors are just diving into college research, getting familiar with the options out there. Seniors are just hearing back from their regular-decision colleges. Both juniors and seniors can get a lot of benefit from visiting colleges -- but with very different mindsets.

It's why I like to encourage families to think of college visits in two different categories: "sampler" tours, and "test-drive" tours

“Sampler” Tours: These tours are for when you are still building an understanding of your options: learning what your college criteria really feel like in person.  Second semester of junior year is perfect timing for the sampler tour. They're part of casting a wide net; after you return home, you should have a much sharper sense of what you must have as well as what is a deal breaker when it comes to your college choices.

The following items are typically true of sampler tours: 

  • They take place before (or very early in) senior year.
  • They enable you to test out a lot of different options.
  • They span a variety of campuses (usually about 5 - 10).
  • They mix official tours/info sessions with “drive by” visits, & stops for fun.
  • They help you to experience the different variables in determining the right-fit college, such as student body size, campus locale, & institution type.

REMEMBER: knowing what you DON'T want is often just as valuable in the college-application process as knowing what you DO. The campuses you visit on these types of tours, therefore, do NOT need to be a perfect match, or all campuses that you already think you have your heart set on. Just get out there and check out the variety of choices you'll have!


On the other hand, once you've reached second semester of senior year, it's time to make the final decision about where you'll spend the next four years, you might want to think about a test-drive tour.

“Test-Drive” Visits: These tours aim to immerse you more deeply in campuses' social and academic atmosphere in order to develop an up-close-and-personal sense of what life as a student will be.  This IS about narrowing down your options & focusing your ability to make the final decision.

You can think about test-drive tours in the following ways:

  • They take place after you’ve received college acceptances. 
  • They focus on a smaller range of schools (sometimes one at a time).
  • They happen after you’ve done all your investigation into a college's offerings and correspondence with your contact at each school.
  • They include overnight stays, sitting in on classes, meeting with professors.
  • They often lead to a gut feeling that this is the right school for you. 


The idea is to clarify your intention behind visits before you go.