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Time for a Road Trip

College tours help affirm and broaden your perceptions of schools.

Even though the East Coast holds claim to having far more colleges than any other area of the country, do not overlook the Midwest to explore both liberal arts colleges and large universities. If you're planning on touring schools like the University of Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, University of Chicago, or the University of Michigan take the time to include several Colleges That Change Lives schools like Kalamazoo College or Hope College located between Chicago and Michigan.

Sign up for both the tour and information sessions to hear about each school’s mission and academic curriculum.

When visiting colleges, be open to learning not only what each school highlights, but also course offerings and requirements. The range can vary from capped classes for first-year students, to core programs that provide a buffet of courses to create a tailored curriculum or independent major. When touring the University of Michigan, ask questions about their learning communities designed to create an educational environment to help students find community and make a large university intimate. Find out how many students are in first-year English classes and what classes fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning requirement. You may also want to ask if you can cross-enroll in courses across colleges within the university and how difficult it is.

Are you looking for an emphasis on flexibility in academic choices and the variety of extracurriculars available to students? The University of Michigan does not lack for opportunities, but if you’re in the Chicago area, make sure to visit  Northwestern. Not only are Northwestern tour guides entertaining, but they are also examples of the highly engaged, superhuman students. Emulating the fast pace of the quarter system and engaged in the multiple educational opportunities for NU students, tour guides will openly share “lessons learned” on how to temper the temptation to try every activity, and the need to build in downtime to balance your schedule and academics. Heed their advice.

To round out college visits, research each school's website and check out college apps and resources to see reviews from other high school and college students. Try the recommended restaurants and food on or near campus (my Ann Arbor favorite is a Georgia Reuben from Zingerman's), pick up a newspaper, visit the student union and ask questions of students. All of these steps will broaden your scope beyond acceptance statistics and rankings. College tours provide opportunities to take in the scale of a campus and its location, and observe first-hand college students in action.

Discovering the differences between an urban setting or large town, and even how long it takes to get where you want to go, are just a few of the pieces of information you will want to gather during college visits. Visits are an opportunity to discover not only what you like, but also what you might not have been looking for, and can help you figure out if you want a Bean, a Cube or something entirely different as part of your college experience.

Looking for a few tips to help you get started with college tours, fairs and exploring colleges? Visit college.u admission resources where you can download the free college.u On the Road - tips for Exploring Colleges guide.

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