Are college visits and tours useful?




June 9, 2017

By Justin M. Buffer, MSE, College Essay Coach, and Planner, Founder and Owner of Cambridge Learning Center of NJ

        “Do I have to visit every college before I apply?” “How many colleges do we have to visit?” “When do we visit?” These are questions we are regularly asked here at Cambridge Learning Center and as part of our College Essay Coaching/College Planning program. I want to try in this article to give some general answers to these common questions.

First, families do not have to visit every college before applying. You should visit some universities, of course, especially ones that are close by or not geographically inconvenient (such as on vacation), as well as ones that are the student’s top choices, when possible. Families should not feel pressure, though, to visit before sending in an application. I feel it is important that we discuss why visiting colleges can be most helpful and what I feel its overriding purpose should be. The primary purpose of visiting colleges in the summer or any time is to really start to get a feel for a student’s preferences concerning the particularities of the kinds of colleges they would like to attend.

Some students, for example, will come back from a college visit and tell me, in effect, “I never want to go to a school in Manhattan.” Or, “A rural area in the middle of nowhere is not for me!” Some come back and state that they never want to attend a school with a large sports atmosphere or that they do indeed want a big school that plays in the NCAA tournament, despite first thinking they did not want to. These are all a matter of personal preference, and it is advantageous if a student has a good sense of their inclinations. One student I worked with a few years ago was so sure he wanted to go a particular university in California, only to come home from his visit to tell me that a large campus isn’t for him.


Such expressions help me as a College Planner best ascertain what schools to recommend to students and parents. After doing so, families can visit what they can before the application process and then visit the schools they get into during the spring before they commit. A lot of students of mine from previous years didn’t visit a school until they got into it. In reality, very few people can visit every school before they apply anyway. Additionally, campus tours should also be seen for what they are: marketing presentations for the school. Erica Reischer, a clinical psychologist, and the author of What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive, says that students and parents are not the best evaluators of what will make them happy and can often be deceived by such polished productions by universities. She suggests being careful and keeping everything a family sees on these outings in this context.


The top priorities prior to the application process should always be getting one’s personal essays, resume, and grades ready to be the best they can be. This includes a student’s first marking period grades of their senior year because they can help boost a student’s GPA, and good grades at this time can demonstrate continuity and consistency.


This is where parents and students should keep their primary focus as the college application process unfolds.



Reischer, E. (2016). What great parents do: 75 simple strategies for raising kids who thrive. NY, NY: TarcherPerigee.