37 students, 4 chaperones, 7 nights, 9 cities, 12 university campuses*, dozens of SMUS alumni, countless questions asked and application decisions made. This was the second major universities tour to Ontario that we have taken with Grade 12 students. As we hone the timing and itinerary of this event, we are learning just how important a piece of the decision-making process a trip like this is for many students. For most, if not all of the students on the trip, it was the first and maybe only time they would visit these universities before they make their decisions about where to apply. More than half the students who attended this trip made changes to their application list after the tour. One student concluded that “there were a few universities that I did not have on my radar at all that I became interested in after seeing the campus and doing the tour. There were also a few that I expected more from that were slightly disappointing.”
There is nothing to compare with the experience of being on the campus itself: having the opportunity to see the dorms, visit athletic facilities, eat in the cafeterias, observe a lecture in progress or tinkering in a tech lab. Added to that, students were able to check out the cities and towns where these universities were located. For a few, Toronto got ruled out (too big!) and McMaster ruled in (Hamilton is hip and cool now, did you know?). Touring big campuses in large urban areas e.g. U of T, York, Ryerson, McGill – and smaller ones – Brock, Trent and Wilfrid Laurier – helped students to get a sense of what kind of community they could see themselves living and learning in. For one student, “visiting the campuses made me realize the importance of the location and people.” Seeing a couple of universities that were just blocks apart – e.g. Ryerson and the University of Toronto, or Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier – provided significant studies in comparison and contrast. There is no underestimating the fact that the ‘vibe’ is different at each campus. An important process for one student was “getting to know whether or not I liked a university based on the feel of the campus.”
Drilling a little deeper, students were able to ask insightful questions about the programs that each institution offered. At Western University, we happened to co-ordinate our visit with their Fall Preview Day, so there was much on offer for students to learn about that campus and its programs. At most universities, we had a couple of hours to visit, which included a presentation and overview from an admissions rep, followed by a tour led by current students.
On several campuses our tours were met by more than three dozen SMUS alumni currently studying at those universities. Their input is so valuable to the next generation of students getting ready to make the transition to post-secondary life. These different perspectives allowed students to see each institution through a variety of lenses.
An optimal university experience is a combination of feeling at home on campus, enjoying and feeling challenged by the program of study, and experiencing the city or town where the campus is located. A tour like this one provides useful input in the decision-making process. Students and their families will invest a significant sum for an undergraduate degree so it had better be a well-informed investment, and what better way to do that than a multi-campus tour.
*This year’s tour included visits to Ryerson, University of Toronto, York, Brock, McMaster, Guelph, Western, Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier, Trent, Queen’s, and McGill.