Campus tours are ideal for getting to know the college of your dreams. Campus tours are also an opportunity for you to impress the admissions board with your personality and intelligence. One key to making the most of campus tours is knowing what to look for, and what questions to ask.

Before you get there, make a list of questions. To do this, you’ll really need to have a firm grasp on what you hope to get out of your college experience. This is different for everyone. For a music major, you’ll want to know what kinds of practice rooms they have – what hours they’re available – and, specifically, how much access you will have as a Freshman. For a physics major, the questions are similar, but replace the words “practice room” with “lab.”

That part about being a Freshman is key. Many of the Ivy Leagues really shine when it comes to their graduate programs. The Harvard Law, Harvard Med, Harvard Divinity, etc. experience is extremely different from the Harvard undergrad experience. And, going one step further, Harvard is one Ivy League school (though the same can be said for the majority of the others), where traditions rule and seniority is everything.

So if your tour guide is a senior, and she’s telling you about all the amazing things she gets to do, and how famous and brilliant all her professors are – ask her to dig deep down in her memory to describe her experience as a Freshman. Did she have the same caliber of professors? Or were her classes primarily taught by T.A.’s (teaching assistants)? Sure, she’s the editor of the newspaper now, but as a freshman, could she even have garnered a byline?

In other words, picture yourself checking out a hotel – and the manager only showing you the Luxury Honeymoon Suite. That’s great – and something to look forward to – because one day you, too, will be a senior. But that’s still a long way off. You need to see the servant’s quarters. The boiler room. The innards.

The best advice we can give for campus tours is not to put too much stock in the guide you’ve been assigned, just because she has an uncanny knack for talking and walking backwards at the same time. (If you’ve yet to go on a college tour, you’ll laugh at that joke after your first few tours – this is a little bit of shtick they all engage in!) Maybe you get lucky – maybe your guide will be very much like you, with similar tastes, goals, aspirations, and criteria for deciding upon a school. But as there are hundreds of different kinds of students, the chances are your guide is perfectly nice, but not a stand-in for YOU.

So veer off after the tour – shake off any shyness – and start talking to people. On the tour, you learned where the dining halls are, and the campus center, and the concert hall, and the ball fields. Head out there, and start chatting people up. Don’t base your decisions on one chance encounter. You (or your parents) likely undertook a significant outlay of cash to get you there on the Ivy League campus – so you owe it to them – and more so, to yourself – to make the most of the experience by talking to everyone you see.

College Textbooks

And lastly, as much as your college experience is going to revolve around friendships, dorm life, girlfriends and boyfriends, parties, rallies, protests, weekend trips, late night talks that go on forever, and every other social and political dynamic you can imagine, it’s still a school. You could get most of those experiences at summer camp. But for the price tag of an Ivy League education, your money is really almost fully being spent on the quality of the teachers. We’re talking some of the pre-eminenet scholars and experts anywhere in the world.

And now you, a visiting potential pre-freshman, get to sit in their classrooms for free and bask in their greatness. (Or at least alleged greatness.) Go to class. Go to classes. Go to as many classes as you possibly can. Don’t whine about it – at least you won’t have to do any homework! If there’s one good reason to choose one Ivy League college over another it’s this: the teachers. Even finding one single professor – within your field of study, ideally – who totally blows your mind – this could make your choice of Ivy League schools a true no-brainer.