Photo courtesy Steven Casanova/VCU University Marketing
Deciding which college to attend can be a daunting task. University websites list programs, statistics and financial aid options that help with the college selection process, but also put the student-to-be in an information overload. So what do you do? The answer – take a college tour.
Taking a tour gives prospective students the opportunity to view the campus and speak with the staff, faculty and students to get a better grasp of what will be available to them if they decide to attend.
Tours vary on a university-to-university basis. Overnight stays, weekend-long visits, sitting in on a class and visiting a specific department are options that may not be available on every campus. However, almost all Virginia colleges and universities offer a daily tour.
The following schools are just a sampling of the different tours available within the state.
Virginia Commonwealth University (828-1222 or vcu.edu) is a public university located here in Richmond. Daily campus tours and information sessions are held twice a day Monday through Friday, and once on Saturday. Once a month, Saturday tours for transfer students are held. Many academic departments also offer tours either daily or by appointment. Open houses are held during the fall and spring semesters; special events like "Pathways to Success" are held each spring for Richmond public high school students; "Primeros Pasos" is held each fall for Hispanic high school students. A podcast is available for download on the VCU website for self-guided tours.
Christal Holmes, the assistant director for communications, oversees the Welcome Center. She says a good way to get the most out of a tour is to do some research and know what you are interested in and would like to ask about. "Don't be afraid to stop other students on campus and ask them to share their experiences," Holmes says.
Liberty University [(800) 543-5317 or liberty.edu/visitus ] is a private, Christian university located in Lynchburg. Benjamin Smith, the coordinator for VIP tours and distinguished guests at Liberty, encourages prospective students to be proactive in their college search so that they ultimately find the best school for them. "We really encourage our students not just to come to Liberty, but visit many, many schools within the commonwealth," he says. "Go get on campus and question a lot of folks."
In addition to two daily tours Monday to Saturday, many special events and individualized options are available, such as "My Liberty Mondays" and "Friendly Fridays." On these select Mondays and Fridays, the daily tour is expanded, and students are able to take part in different information sessions and events throughout the day. "College for a Weekend" is held four times a year at the university. A four-day event, Thursday to Sunday, CFAW offers a preview of everything the campus has to offer.
Shenandoah University [(800) 432-2266 or su.edu ) is a private college located in Winchester. Two main campus tours take place every weekday while school is in session and on select Saturdays during the spring semester. The nationally recognized performing arts school, Shenandoah Conservatory, offers its own tours once every weekday. Students are also able to sit in on a class as long as the university has at least 48-hours notice. Open house events are held about six times a year during the fall and spring semesters. They offer a broader information session, and tours are held throughout the day.
Joanell Toliver is a senior at SU and she leads tours as a Hornet Ambassador. "Campus tours are a way for the student and also the parents to feel comfortable with their surroundings on campus and really get a sense for what student life is like," she says.
Christopher Newport University [(757) 594-7015 or cnu.edu ] is a public, liberal arts university located in Newport News. Campus tours and regular information sessions are available Monday to Friday and most Saturdays.
Matlin Pessarra, a student ambassador and graduate student, says that sharing her CNU experiences with visitors stems from her own admissions process. "When I came on my tour here I realized that it was a good environment for me. I liked the size and the community."
There are several events throughout the year for prospective students, but the fall and spring open houses give visitors a sampling of campus life. On the Friday night before an open house, potential students can stay in a residence hall with a CNU Student Ambassador and have dinner in the dining hall and attend campus activities. Members of the faculty and staff from almost every department on campus are on-hand to provide information about academic programs, as well as financial aid, athletics, student life and dining services. Tours are also led throughout the day by student ambassadors.
Virginia Tech [(540) 231-6267 or visit.vt.edu ) is a public university located in Blacksburg. "When you go and look up Virginia Tech, you see the class size and the majors offered, but those are all statistics and numbers," says Ed Devine, a Hokie Ambassador and senior at VT. "We really want people to know what it feels like to be at Virginia Tech."
Hokie Ambassadors host three tours a day, Monday to Friday, while school is in session. Saturday tours are available except during the months of May and June or when there is a home football game. Most departments offer overview sessions that can coincide with a main tour. Departments such as agriculture and life sciences, Air Force ROTC, electrical and computer engineering and university studies hold sessions two to three times a week. The Pamplin College of Business and the College of Engineering have sessions every day. There are open houses twice a year in the fall, and there's a downloadable podcast for taking self-guided tours on the VT website.