The Campus Tour Go Bag

I’ve done blog entries with variations on the theme of preparation for campus tours before, readers, but with spring upon us and a plethora of campus visit opportunities available between now and when colleges and universities release their students for summer break, it’s worth re-visiting the subject. A recent article written by one of my colleagues that recently appeared in the newsletter I receive as a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) also brought the travel side of college tours into new perspective for me.

Here’s the thing about educational consultants, readers – we visit a lot of college campuses each year. (And by “a lot,” I mean that it’s a slow year for me if I only get to 15 campuses.) As such, we spend a great deal of time in and out of airports, hotels, and various means of mass transit as we transition from home to campus to campus and back home again. We pack and repack our bags, utilize any phone apps that can make things easier and reduce the amount of stuff we have to carry, and are essentially road warriors.

Want to know where to find the best food near campus or the fastest TSA lanes at a particular airport? Ask an IEC.

Now for me, all of the travel that comes along with my job as an educational consultant isn’t new, having begun my career as a different type of road warrior – a college admissions counselor. The rhythm of my fall and spring seasons went something like “laundry out of the suitcase, clean clothes in, hit the road.” (And kids, I traveled in the days before GPS navigational systems and phone apps like Waze, so my car was always fully stocked with maps too.)

But now I can take all of this accumulated travel knowledge and pass it on to you as you gear up for your first, second, or even fifth campus tour.

Here goes:

  • A backpack is your friend. For the electronic devices you’ll use in the car or on the plane, for your notebook or tablet (more on that in a minute), and for the sake of your shoulders (!), a backpack is practically a campus tour necessity. Leave space in it when you pack at home for the college swag you’ll inevitably acquire along the way but also use it to keep your hands free to meet people (a firm handshake makes a great first impression) and to take pictures to help you remember campuses later. (Please note that texting during the tour is not an acceptable use of your free hands, however.)
  • Read the weather forecast and pack accordingly. Two years ago, I toured Pennsylvania campuses during the middle of a severe mid-fall cold snap. The weather was bright, sunny, and FRIGID. Because I knew this going in, however, I was fully prepared – thick (breathable) socks, gloves, a scarf, jackets of various weights, and clothes that all layered together seamlessly. This summer, I’m bound for campus tours in Indiana once more and am prepared for the sort of hot, humid weather we’ve always had in the past for the tour. That said, however, I’ll check the forecast 24 hours before departure to finalize my clothing needs – it could just as easily be 59 and raining! (Please note that an umbrella is a campus tour necessity no matter where you go or what time of year it is. If you don’t have it with you, mark my words: you will regret it.)
  • It’s all about the shoes. I’m a girl so I fully understand the need to have a wardrobe full of super-cute shoes. (I’m also a horse girl, so my shoe needs are always secondary to that of my horse, but I digress.) But the problem with many good-looking shoes/sandals/boots is that, after an hour or two of walking on concrete (a la every campus sidewalk ever made), your feet, ankles, knees, and back will hate you. And if you’re crazy enough to do two campus tours in a day? Better own stock in an over-the-counter pain reliever. Moreover, if it rains during a tour, you’ll probably be out one pair of particularly adorable ballet flats. So plan carefully not only for the weather, but also for the amount of walking you’ll do – even if you’re doing an interview with an admission staff member after your tour, it’s okay to either bring a change of shoes or dress one step below business professional in order to preserve your ability to fully concentrate on what the tour guide is saying rather than concentrate on the pain in your feet. (Shameless plug – I own three pairs of Ariat boots – the fashion kind, not the riding kind – and they have gotten me through many a tour in comfort and style.)
  • Notes, notes, notes! My students hear me say this over and over again – every campus tour is the same. I’m not kidding. Every campus has wonderful faculty and dorm rooms and student unions and athletic facilities and random historic stories (“This is the oldest building on campus – or at least it would be if it hadn’t been rebuilt twice over the course of its lifetime because it burned down once in 18– and again in 19–.”) And every tour guide is heavily involved in student life and happy and has big plans for his or her future. As the tour-ee, then, it’s your job to take copious notes about how you feel on the tour, write down questions that linger as you pull away from campus, and also copy down all of the important admission deadlines and details that are listed during the campus information session that’s either before or after the tour. Handwritten notes seem to prove best for later memory recall but digital notes via iPad or other device may be more easily accessible to you later. Either way, make sure your backpack has the appropriate note-taking materials inside when you leave home for the tour!

Now students, I’m not saying that you have to achieve “Tour Level Expert” the way my counseling colleagues and I have, nor am I suggesting that you assemble a college visit “go bag” that’s already pre-packed with items you take with you to every single tour (guilty!). But because the time and expense required to go visit your prospective schools in person (and it’s a vital part of the college search process!) is great, it takes careful, focused planning to make sure that you’re able to get the most out of the experience and that nothing trivial distracts you along the way.

(Need help planning your visits or with the college search? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)

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