01/31/2012 02:39 pm ET

College Visits: 5 Things NOT To Do On Your Next Campus Tour

You've finally narrowed down a few of your favorite colleges, and after stacking your desk high with college brochures, you're ready to take the next step. It's time to take a college tour! You have done everything right so far, from juggling extracurriculars to acing your SATs, so why risk your reputation at your future alma mater by committing a faux pas on your next visit? Here are a few pitfalls to avoid when you tour the college of your choice.

1. Ask how much the college costs

All the tuition information you need about a college can be found on its website or in one of those nifty free pamphlets. It's no secret that higher education can be expensive, but there's no need for you to bring up the college's price tag in the middle of a tour.

Elizabeth Schmitt, a freshman at Mount Holyoke, went on over 15 college tours and remembers hearing this question often.

“In almost every one, some person just had to ask,” she said. “The reaction was always very awkward.”

Instead of focusing on the cost of attendance, try considering the fun, free aspects of a school. Many universities offer benefits to their students such as free entrance to athletic events, free tutoring and counseling, and social events. Ask your guide about those!

As for specific cost questions, direct those to the financial aid office. College websites and brochures can only give rough estimates of tuition, room and board, and fees. The ultimate cost will depend on your family's finances and financial need, so even if a guide wanted to give you an accurate number, they couldn't. Set up a meeting with the financial aid office to go over all the details.

2. Take your girlfriends with you

As tempting as it can be to visit an intimidating college campus with your three best girlfriends in tow for moral support, college is all about becoming your most fabulous, independent self. You won't get the most out of your tour if you're spending it catching up on gossip with your girls or making plans for next weekend.

“If you're having a good time with your friends, it may sway your view as to how you really feel toward the college,” said Kristen Pye, a sophomore at McGill University. “It's best to just take a parent or two.”

Also, input from friends could end up affecting your decision. If they all hate the school but you're loving it, you could be tempted to cross it off your list of potentials. Make sure you choose your school for you, not for your friends.

3. Rely solely on the tour guide

Tour guides are trained to know everything there is to know about the school they're promoting, but there's one part of the college visit that's all on you — getting the most out of your visit. You only have a small window to get an impression of the school you're interested in, so be sure to take advantage of your time there.

If possible, go to the dining hall and have a meal there. Check out the campus fitness center and get a guest pass so you can see what the facility has to offer. There's nothing like a soak in the hot tub or a walk around the track to take the edge off a long day of driving to and from campus.

Walk through the library and try out a computer in the lab at the student union. Grab a coffee at a nearby cafe and talk to students about their experiences. Get everything out of your next trip to campus by witnessing a day in the life firsthand.

4. Let your parents run the tour

You love good old Mom and Dad, but if that one time you were late for curfew taught you anything, you know they have a tendency to ask way too many questions. As much as you want their support on your next campus visit, you have to remember that you will be the one attending classes and making memories there for the next four years.

“Talk to them beforehand and discuss what they would like to know about a school,” Zowie Hayes, a sophomore and tour guide at the University of Maine, said. “It's completely okay for parents to ask questions, but it's nice to see students who are willing to take charge of their future.”

5. Forget to do your research

Just as you wouldn't go to an interview knowing nothing about the company you want to work at, you wouldn't visit a college knowing nothing about what they have to offer. Do your homework. University websites are always a good bet for information, but don't be afraid to talk to your prospective school's recruiting center or residence hall association for a more personal approach.

Hayes suggests learning about the school you're about to visit and writing down a list of questions you have. Bring the list with you just in case you forget them when your guide leaves space for questions at the end of the tour.

“Look around at what they have to offer for the programs that you're interested in, look and see what their dining plans look like and look at a sample menu, and maybe see what other things they have going on that interest you,” says Hayes.

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