The Inside Scoop: ESC’s Guide to College Tours

Although the semester is in full swing right now, winter break is around the corner. It is important to plan ahead! Many ESC students will be attending Winter Odyssey, ESC’s college tour program that, this year, will take place between February 6 and February 22.

ESC Odyssey is a unique opportunity for students to:

  1. Experience various types of college classes (small seminars versus large lectures)
  2. Engage with professors in private classroom settings
  3. Learn about the school in VIP information sessions with Admission Officers
  4. Explore campus on VIP tours with current students
  5. Shadow current students for an evening and stay overnight in college dorms.

Whether you’re joining Odyssey or touring on your own, here are some of ESC’s tips and tricks for making the most of your college tour:

Tip 1: Research beyond rankings.

College tours are not about choosing a school you will attend. It is about research. Be a scientist and make observations about the “factors” that make up school “types”. Factors include undergraduate size, location, curriculum, and atmosphere. You will never be able to tour all schools, so learning to evaluate factors like these will help you understand even schools you’ve never visited.

Is it a small Liberal Arts College in a suburban location? Is it a large university in a urban location?

Use the tour to think about these types of questions. That way, when you are back in China, you can look at a school (that you have never heard of) with 3,000 undergraduate students, in a suburb, with a social justice mission, and understand the student experience at that school.

Also look for specialized programs that would help develop your unique interests. A ranking won’t capture the fact that a school has the exact “Virtual Reality & Education” lab that you’ve been looking for.

When it comes to college tours, always remember that you are going to college not just to study, but also to live in that community. Think about what environment will support your growth, not whether the ranking of each school matches your expectations.

Tip 2: Take notes and reflect.

On Winter Odyssey, students visit a lot of schools (16+). The schools will start to blur together. Keeping notes is essential to remembering your thoughts on each school.

Try to take notes in three stages:

  1. Pre-visit preparation: Learn basic profile information about the school. Generate two or three good questions to ask while on campus. Prepare well to show you care.
  2. Visit notes: Listen to the language students and admission officers use to describe their school. Listen carefully and record the phrases you hear. Record the names, roles, email addresses of people you meet on campus. You’ll be able to use some of these details later, when writing application essays about why you’re a great fit for the school.
  3. Post-visit reflections: Look back at your pre-visit notes and your visit notes. What was surprising to you? What did you learn that you couldn’t have found online? Knowing the factors of the school, what did you like and not like? Why? Use this to think about what you now expect (with this new understanding) on your next campus visit. Be sure to send a thank you note to anyone you met on campus!

On Odyssey, we schedule guided reflection time to make sure students are doing these steps well and getting the most out of their experience on campus.

Tip 3: Ask questions.

Use tours to gain information you cannot find on the schools’ website.

You will have a number of opportunities to ask questions while you’re on campus. It is important to direct questions towards the person best equipped to answer them. For instance, questions related to student life and campus culture may be better directed towards a student tour guide who has experienced life on campus. Questions regarding the school curriculum or specific programs would be better left for an information session, as your tour guide’s academic interests may differ from your own.

Prepare questions for admission officers, current students, alum, and professors. At the end of your visit, you should better understand the specific academic programs, clubs, and student experience.

This is helpful in deciding which schools to apply to and also when interviewing and writing supplemental essays!


College tours are a great tool for college research, especially if you follow the tips and tricks outlined above! ESC recommends that all of our students take advantage of the opportunity to attend Summer or Winter Odyssey before their Gao 3 year.