Lola Clark ’17 steps on a bus, ready for a six-hour drive to Clemson University in South Carolina. While many of her peers are spending their spring breaks resting at home or traveling, Clark is preparing to see her 10th college in the past five days as part of a school-run tour.
“I went into it not expecting it to be really fun,” Clark said. “I was a little nervous about seeing 12 colleges in one week, but it ended up being really exciting and really fun. It allowed for a lot of bonding with people that you wouldn’t bond with at school. It was very relaxed but also structured.”
Clark said that seeing a variety of schools allowed her to identify exactly what she was looking for. She and other students were able to talk to alumni and hear about their college experiences.
Others chose to go on college tours with their families to experience a more personal selection of colleges and to get the input of their parents throughout the process.
“I decided to not go on one of the school college tours because I felt that it was important that I saw colleges for the first time with my parents and that they were a part of my first impressions,” Chloe Zoller ’17 said. “Hearing their take on each college was very important to me, given that they were once going through the same process.”
Some students decided to attend both the school-run college tour and a tour just with their family to get the benefits of both.
After the Harvard-Westlake tour, Clark went on to see an additional eight schools with her mom, making her grand total just under 20 colleges for a two-week period.
“It was nice on my personal college tour to see just the colleges that I was interested in instead of wasting time at ones that I definitely didn’t want to go to,” Clark said. “But I definitely think that the tour with the school was much better because I got to see a range of schools that I didn’t know I might be interested in.”
Although deans advocate for students to attempt to see a variety of schools, many caution against piling on a large number of schools all in one break.
“Schools can start blurring into one another, and I’ve heard of people who did even just one week of touring, and by the end, their impression of a school was marred by their level of tiredness,” upper school dean Celso Cardenas said. “Students tend to be much more enthusiastic about the schools they see earlier on in the trip.”
However, Cardenas also said that he tells his students to try to visit at least each type of school and to see schools with varying degrees of selectivity. He also advocates that his students try to visit the school to which they choose to apply Early Decision.
“If students are thinking about going Early Decision anywhere, I highly encourage that they visit,” Cardenas said. “The whole process happens so early that you want to be well equipped to make the decision and not have buyer’s remorse once you get there.”
Another motive for students to visit is that some colleges consider a student’s “demonstrated interest” when reviewing their application. While the most selective schools in the nation do not take such interest into account, students should try to visit more moderately selective schools that do care about whether students took the time to visit, Cardenas said.
Many students plan college tours during spring break of their junior year, because it gives them plenty of time to decide which schools they’re interested in before they begin their applications the next fall. They are also able to see colleges when they are in session rather than visiting during the summer when students are out on summer break.
For some, other commitments took up the entirety of their break.
“I couldn’t go on college tours over spring break because of the choir trip, so I had to find available weekends and days off that I could go and visit colleges dispersed throughout the year,” Henry Platt ’17 said. “It was definitely harder than having it all laid out over one or two weeks. It was manageable, but I wish I had the opportunity to see them all at once.”
Some sophomores also go on college tours to get an early start on the college process, and some seniors visit after they’ve gotten into the schools and must review their options before the May 1 decision deadline.
“We were driving from Pittsburgh to New York and saw several colleges on the way just to get a feel of what type and size of college I liked, as opposed to taking specific colleges into consideration,” Harry Garvey ’18 said.