Tips for a Successful College Tour (1 of 2)

Staff writersStaff writersDear Students and Parents,

As the parent of a high school junior, I spent this past spring break with my family doing the same thing as many of you – touring college campuses in central and southern California. I’d like to share my reflections and observations, as well as suggestions for a successful and informative touring experience.

Our first stop was Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on the beautiful Central Coast. We left the Bay Area at 8:00 am and arrived in plenty of time to attend the information session at 11:10. The Admissions Representative gave a very detailed and thorough overview of the application process, requirements, how applicants are reviewed, and information about Cal Poly. I learned so many new things during this session, which is why my first tip is: attend an information session when you visit a campus.

Because we had some time before our scheduled campus tour, we decided to take a housing tour. This decision turned out to be a good one. We were led by a very enthusiastic guide, who showed us a variety of housing options for students. We were actually able to see a couple of dorm rooms, and this gave my daughter an excellent idea of what to expect from dorm life. According to her, “the rooms are small, sometimes smelly, and it looks like fun to live in a dorm.” The benefit of touring the residence halls is it helps the student visualize himself at a particular college and decide if it might be a good fit. For this reason, my second tip is: if one is offered, take a housing tour.

When we arrived for the campus tour, we listened to each tour guide give a brief introduction that included their major and areas of interest. We were then allowed to pick the guide we wanted to follow. Because my daughter is interested in the social sciences, she selected one who had similar interests since she thought the guide would be able to answer general questions as well as ones related to her specific major. Similarly, if you are interested in engineering, I would recommend selecting a tour guide who also studying science or engineering since you will probably receive more information about the department, requirements, and other details. My third tip is: If you have a choice, pick a tour guide who has similar academic interests.

After a wonderful tour led by a very energetic guide, we had the chance to reflect on our visit at an ice cream shop in the cute downtown area near campus. We were very impressed with the friendly “vibe” at the campus. We met students who were guides, restaurant workers, and bookstore clerks, and all were engaging and seemed to enjoy being there. My daughter said, “Everyone seems so friendly and happy. The atmosphere is very positive.”

One fact to note about Cal Poly is its tradition of a “Learn by Doing” academic philosophy. Freshman start coursework in their field right away, and for this reason applicants are required to declare a major at the time of application. If you apply to Cal Poly, you should know what you want to study.


After leaving San Luis Obispo, we headed south to Santa Barbara to stay with friends and tour UC Santa Barbara, which happens to be my alma mater. Our arrival at UCSB the following morning began with a rough start when we could not find a parking permit dispenser that worked. People were lined up at every machine, trying to purchase permits to no avail. After much searching, we found one that worked. We were glad we had given ourselves extra time and arrived early for our information session and tour. My fourth tip is: arrive early for your tour to give extra time for unexpected delays.

Because UCSB is a popular campus to visit, the information session was full and some people who were registered didn’t have chairs and were forced to stand in the back of the room. Those without reservations for a tour were put on a wait list and were not guaranteed a spot. My fifth tip is: be sure to register ahead of time for campus tours.

UCSB is a fairly large campus so you should be prepared to do a lot of walking (Tip #6: wear good walking shoes) and watch out for bicyclists because they are everywhere! Several buildings were under construction, and I was surprised by the many new facilities since my days as a student there in the 1980’s. My daughter liked the campus but was a little nervous about all the bicyclists zipping back and forth. Biking is a way of life at UCSB, and I assured her that as a student, it’s something you get used to.

UCSB is ranked as one of the top teaching and research institutions in the US, and the admissions staff and tour guide emphasized the opportunities for undergraduate research with world-class faculty. If you are interested in research, then UCSB might be a very good match.

After touring the campus, we walked to Isla Vista, the quintessential college town adjacent to UCSB. I wanted to show my family my former apartment and some popular student hang outs like Woodstock’s Pizza (where I was when I learned that John Lennon had been shot.) The strong beach culture is an important facet of the town’s identity, and we saw many students carrying surfboards, sunbathing, and playing Frisbee. Everyone who lives in Isla Vista is within minutes of the beach by foot. While many students are attracted to the beach lifestyle, it’s not for everyone (my daughter thought the town was a bit “grungy”.) When visiting colleges, it’s important to investigate the surrounding areas including apartments and off campus housing (Tip #7) since most students only live in the dorms one or two years.

One of the benefits of attending UCSB is its proximity to beautiful downtown Santa Barbara, and after a short rest, we ventured to town for dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant and some shopping (a popular activity for most teenage girls!) Santa Barbara is sometimes referred to as the American Riviera, and is a wonderful place if you enjoy hiking, fine dining, water sports, culture, or lazing on the beach.

(… to be continued in the Tips 2 of 2)

Staff writers

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