Manassas Journal Messenger | Take the walk, make a lock

High school juniors and seniors have a big decision to make just deciding which colleges they might want to attend. There are college fairs, glossy brochures, booklets, e-mails and even calls trying to entice you to a specific college.

You can do all kinds of research on a school and in many cases even take a virtual tour of the campus, but the only way to get a feel for what an institution is all about is to step foot on its campus and take a walking tour.

All schools offer this opportunity and some offer tours at many different times.

Uses student guides

At the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, for example, student guides lead tours at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. If you get a group of 10 or more people together, the University Guide Service will put

Tips for a visit
  • Arrive early
  • Take a student-led tour
  • Take a driving tour
  • Try eating on campus at a college dining facility
  • Talk to students you encounter during your visit
  • Check the workout and recreational facilities
  • Visit the college bookstore
  • Attend a concert, lecture or athletic event
  • Tour academic buildings in your area of interest
  • Ask lots of questions.

together a specialized tour for you.

Like many colleges and universities, U.Va. offers tours conducted by a student volunteer organization. But rest assured that this won’t be the 10-cent tour. Only the best and brightest at the university are selected for the honor of being a student guide.

“Our student guides take this responsibility very seriously,” said Brendan Mathews, assistant news editor at U.Va.

Carefully selected

Allison Murphy, chair of the University Guide Services, said 232 people applied to be guides this year. The group selected 24.

“The first semester as a guide is probationary,” Murphy said. “Guides are given a 4-inch-thick binder to memorize. They take quizzes and do exercises in public speaking. They have to create their own tour outline.”

The tour is rich in information, history and U.Va. lore. Murphy is a fourth-year student and has been a guide since her freshman year. She likes to explain the diversity of student organizations.

“We had a student organization called, ‘Disciples of Bob Barker.’ This was a group that planned their classes around watching ‘The Price is Right.’ They would try to get tickets to the show and that kind of thing. I just want students to know they can find an organization that they fit with here, or they can create one.”

The student-led tours at U.Va. are independent of the admissions office. Information sessions are also held by U.Va. Admissions.

Give advice

Student Ambassadors at James Madison University annually log about 7,500 miles walking backward taking prospective students and their families on tours. They show off the oldest portion of JMU’s Harrisonburg campus where bluestone buildings are situated around the famous Quad, and they trek over to the new Zane Showker Hall, home of the College of Business and one of the many wireless areas of campus.

They walk around and through Gibbons Dining Hall but warn prospective students that they will be flagged as freshmen if they call it by that name. The round building is more fondly referred to as D-Hall.

JMU tour times vary depending on the season, but in October and November, information sessions and tours are offered twice daily during the week with the exception of Wednesdays when there are no sessions. Open houses are offered on some weekends. You can make reservations for a tour, which is recommended. As many as 40 daily tours are given during the busy spring season.

For a preview of the campus, there is a virtual tour online at that gives a 360-degree look at JMU.

Can go to specific area

At Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, students meet at the Welcome Center at 1111 W. Broad Street, next to the VCU Monroe Park Campus bookstore, for a half-hour informational session, then VCU Ambassadors conduct student-led tours of housing, dining and academic centers. The sessions are held at 10:30 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Students with specific interests such as engineering or the arts are given an opportunity to meet with people in those areas.

George Mason University in Fairfax offers daily one-hour walking tours of its 600-acre campus. Prospective students should contact the admissions office to schedule a tour. Tours consist of five to 20 people. GMU also offers Mason Ambassador-led tours, but only on weekdays.

“Students show off our Johnson Center, which is a combo library and student union, our center for the arts and our food court that is similar to a shopping mall food court,” said Dan Walsch, university spokesperson. “They also take tours to our residence halls and tell them about our plans and what’s around the bend.”

Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville offers tours during the fall, spring and summer semesters by appointment.

Get a feel for school

Student Ambassadors conduct the tours at Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista. Prospective students can just show up at the admissions office on any weekday, and a tour will be given. Campus tours include visiting classrooms, athletic events, fine arts, music and theater. Visitors also get the chance to meet faculty and current students.

“It’s good to go on a tour because only by actually being on site can you get the feel of the school,” said Mike Flood, assistant dean of admissions. “By being on campus, you will know, ‘This is a good place for me to go.’ “

For Web sites, e-mail and telephone numbers, turn to the Profiles on Page 5.

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