School Admission Tips I Learned from Giving College Tours

Hi there! My name is Brittany, and I recently graduated from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. One of my very favorite parts of my time at Muhlenberg was giving college tours as a tour guide for the Admissions Department. I learned lots of important skills from the job, such as walking backwards, recovering gracefully when you trip, and pulling off extremely corny jokes. Most importantly, the position gave me a unique perspective into the mysterious world of school admissions (cue dramatic music). Combined with my experience applying to college and then again to graduate school (I’ll be attending Columbia University in the fall), I’ve learned some tricks for successfully finding, applying to, and enrolling in your dream school. Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Visit often! I visited Muhlenberg probably 5 or 6 times and Columbia 3 times before committing to either. It’s crucial to visit multiple times because a visit can go negatively or positively for any given number of reasons, and you want to make sure you’re having a complete view of the school. Tour guides and admissions officers are humans too, and they have off days. Visiting multiple times can ensure that you get a better feel from the school that isn’t reliant on the events of one day, and can also show the admissions team that you care about the school.
  2. Ask about Financial Aid. Although some students may be in a situation in which money is no object, that is not the case for the majority of applicants. I spent a serious amount of time looking into financial aid options for both college and graduate school, and it paid off (literally!) Tour guides can generally tell you the school’s policies for financial aid and connect you with experts on the admissions team for additional help. Financial aid can sometimes play a huge role in deciding where you’d like to attend, so feel free to ask your tour guide about the options at their school!
  3. Ask why they decided to attend their school. I generally ended my college tours telling my “Why I chose Muhlenberg” story. Asking tour guides and other current students why they decided on a particular school can give you perspective regarding the strengths of each school – is it their interconnected curriculum? Their impressive athletics department? The chance to study in another country? Knowing motivations of current students can help you discover your “fit” within each school.
  4. Find out what student life is like. Another important question regarding student motivations. Do you want a school with a strong theatre (or community service, or technological, or environmental) focus? Would you prefer to have a school with a close knit community, or one where you can be more anonymous? What do students do on the weekends? As important as academics are, it’s also crucial to make sure that you feel comfortable, challenged, and supported wherever you decide to attend. Student life can make the difference between feeling at home and feeling lost, so it’s important to look into. After all, you’ll be there for several years – you want it to be enjoyable! Tour guides are a perfect resource for this – they’re a part of student life at that school and can give you an inside perspective that you wouldn’t be able to find online or in a brochure.
  5. Eat in the dining hall or cafeteria. Listen, I love food and I bet you do too. The dining hall or cafeteria is often one of the most important social scenes on a campus and can give you a feel for how students interact with each other – offering important insight into student life as well. Plus, this is a good way to make sure you can stomach (and hopefully really enjoy) the food being served at your school. This is especially crucial for anyone with dietary restrictions. As a vegetarian, it was important to me to find a school where I could actually find options other than the salad bar. And feel free to ask your tour guide their perspective – we love talking about food!
  6. Ask questions while on tour. Tour guides LOVE questions! The best college tours I had were with families who were engaged and actively asking about different aspects of campus. I was able to effectively tailor the tour to their interests, and felt like they got the most out of the hour I spent with them. No question is too embarrassing – yes, even the one your mom won’t stop asking at each school.
  7. Get their contact info. If the school policies allow, see if you can get your tour guide’s contact information. That way, if you have questions about the school that come up after your visit, you have someone to contact who is passionate about their school and who you have already established a relationship with. Plus, we really enjoy hearing if we made a difference in a student’s experience!

And my final tip…look for your fit. Forget about the school’s name and reputation for a second and just picture yourself walking through the hallways on the way to class. Really consider how that makes you feel. A certain amount of nervousness is understandable, but you should also feel really excited! I chose my college (and graduate school) because I felt happy on campus and energized to start learning. I experienced a lot of changes throughout my time in college – I switched my major multiple times, lived in several different dorms, and even studied abroad. However, the feeling of belonging I had never wavered, and it enabled me to be successful throughout my four years. Tour guides are there to show you their school in the hopes of you finding your fit. Use them (and the rest of the admissions department) to make sure it’s the right choice for you. Feeling like you belong at a school can make all the difference in how you spend your next few years.



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