College Tours Going Virtual

College Tours Going Virtual


Every college campus has its own personality, and often it’s hard to catch that vibe without being on campus. That’s fine if your favorite campus is only a quick drive or subway ride away, but what are you supposed to do if you’re shopping for colleges that are across the country or maybe even on a different continent? The good news is there are solutions that don’t cost the equivalent of a year’s tuition.

Welcome the era of the virtual tour. Yes, colleges are adapting to changing technology and putting content on their website that allows you to take a virtual walk on their campus. Some colleges are more digitally advanced than others but all will likely be there in a few short years.


While many colleges have panoramic photos of different buildings, for a fuller experience you might want to don your virtual reality glasses to feel as if you’re stepping onto campus. Don’t have a pair? They’re pretty cheap these days. You can find cardboard versions online for under $20 online. I bought a plastic pair for my husband for Christmas. They were about $100. Then I found a pair at my phone store on sale for $40 so I bought those too – just in case he never steps out of virtual world. I found them at the phone store because all except the highest end require an interaction with your smart phone to use them. Come back after Christmas because I’m going to take some virtual tours and write about the experience.


Once you secure a pair of glasses (your own, borrowed, or checked out a library), you’ll need to find virtual college tours online. I did a google search of virtual campus tours and lots of free sites came up. I can’t view sites until after unwrapping my virtual glasses at Christmas; the sites couldn’t detect the appropriate technology and would let me in. The Ivy League schools have virtual tours as do many others. You might want to check the technology department or computer science department at your high school to see if they have a pair. Also, consider talking to your school counseling department about them purchasing a pair. This is how students will take campus tours soon – or at least one step in the process.

That said, I still think it’s great if you can visit the campus. Why? Colleges are putting their best foot forward in the virtual reality world as they do with all their marketing material. You understand that they are marketing you, right? You still have to cut through the hype to find the college that a good fit for you.


Let me know about your virtual campus tour experience. Please recommend colleges for virtual tour.



Kira Janene Holt writes an blogs on college planning at Find her books on college planning at

Visit a College Campus and Feel its Vibe

Visit a College Campus and Feel its Vibe


You may be a  high school sophomore, junior, or senior. You might be the parent. Either way, you probably think you have plenty of time. If you’re the senior, you might think you’re to the wall for admissions and financial aid. The truth is with college planning, everything depends. That is unless it’s August, you haven’t done anything, have no money, and want to start in two weeks. Then, you’re out of luck – almost. There are still options.

Most of us don’t attend the most competitive colleges in the nation. That’s the truth. I didn’t! I went to community colleges, a large public university, and graduated from a regional college. If you’re not going Ivy or highly competitive, you can start planning your senior year. Many students do. If you’re a junior, great! You’ve got time. Sophomore – ahead of the game.


Let’s start! You may have heard this already. There’s no perfect college. Just like there’s nobody else exactly like you (unless you’ve been cloned). Every college/university is different. They’re unique – like you. Think of each college as a city/town where you could spend the next several years. Have you ever been to a place that feels comfortable? If so, what’s it like?

Have you ever been someplace where seconds feel like hours? Spending another day there would be eternity? Ick! You don’t want a college that feels like that.

First step on your college path. Visit a couple of college campuses and feel the vibe. Yep! You don’t have to meditate or let its energy work up your chakra. What impresses you? Drives you crazy?

Moms and Dads – take your kid to a college – pick close. Most of us live within twenty miles of a college unless you live on top of a rock in the middle of nowhere. I live in the country but have over a dozen colleges within an hour’s drive.


It could be the college you said you’d never attend. I only want you to look around. No commitments. Community colleges count. After a few minutes, start asking questions:

Do I like this place? Is this bigger or smaller than my high school? Who’s attending? What do the students look like? Are they my age or older? Are they dressing like me? (I mean are they dressed fashionably or are jeans/shorts the norm?)

What’s everyone doing? Rushing to and from class or hanging out? How big is the campus? How many students are in classrooms?

You get the picture? Visit few colleges and see if patterns emerge of what you like vs. what drives you crazy. If there are colleges that feel weird, take them off your list. What makes it wierd? To sum it up – where you would like to spend time vs. no way?

That’s how easily the college search can start.

Texas A&M – College Station Campus Tour

Texas A&M – College Station Campus Tour


The first time I walked onto the Texas A&M campus was a warm, humid Thanksgiving Day in the 1970s, a day of sharing an annual football rivalry between Texas A&M and University of Texas, and this year it was at Kyle Field. My dad had secured tickets for the family, and we had fold-out seats on the track surrounding the field. The game had special meaning because the UT senior quarterback, Marty Atkins, was from my hometown, where his father, Ray Atkins, was head coach and athletic director and his mother had taught me junior high reading. Drew Brees is Coach Atkin’s grandson.

While that traditional game is now an event of yesteryear, Texas A&M continues traditions with an open heart. I arrived on campus before the scheduled tour and walked through Memorial Student Union where a student played a grand piano in the Flag Room. Three older guys, sweating from a jog, walked through the halls shouting Howdy to every person within eye contact. I laughed, then walked into an art gallery and also visited a wall dedicated to Aggies who had won the Medal of Honor.

I learned on the tour that “Howdy” is the traditional welcome and we were greeted several times moving through the grounds. What surprised me most about the tour was the campus beauty and greenery hidden within the broad parkways surrounding the main academic campus. I had visited campus multiple times over the years, but had missed the lushness as I rushed in and out of a buildings while on business.


The campus is immense, attendance is close to 60,000 students. I was there early morning and watched the place come to life as students moved from class to class while others placed tables in common areas to recruit and support their clubs – cupcakes for sale with promised runs to offset the calories. The tour guide spoke of over a 1000 clubs and activities, something for everyone, and the sampling made me believe her.

The Corps of Cadets remains active and highly visible on campus. Only seniors are allowed to wear knee-high boots with their uniforms that are custom fit to their feet. They also are on call to escort students across campus during the night. A sophomore cadet keeps the school mascot, a collie, with him/her at all times. The dog attends class with the cadet, and if the dog barks, the professor has to let students out early. Why? Obviously the professor couldn’t keep the dog’s attention, and if he can’t keep the dog interested, how can he keep the student’s attention.

Two aspects that impressed me most about Texas A&M were its genuineness amid an unsung seriousness. Aggies love their campus and their traditions. My tour guide became emotional when she spoke of remembrances of Aggies who had passed and tears even rolled out from under my sunglasses. She spoke of Aggies helping each other, on campus and after graduation as well as their commitment to their alma mater – once an Aggie, always an Aggie. She described the class ring as a cherished symbol – as golden as the diploma is maroon. She spoke with pride about Aggie traditions as well as her campus  Those shared Aggie values combined with a renowned academic rigor provide Texas A&M with a feeling that I’ve never experienced on another campus. Texas A&M is a jewel.


By the end of that Thanksgiving Day game long ago, I had forgotten that I was there to cheer for University of Texas. Instead, I was locked arm in arm, invited by Aggies, standing because students always stand during games in case they need to become the 12th man on the field, and cheering against a hometown hero.

Want to learn more about Texas A&M facts?

Current Cost of Attendance:

Resident Living On/Off Campus – $27,272

Resident Living with Parents – $21,530

Non-Resident – $47,988


Admission – Texas residents – top 10% of graduating class automatic admit


New SAT – 1360 with at least 620 Math and 660 Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

ACT – Composite of at least 30 with at least 27 Math and 27 English

Meet the State of Texas Uniform Admission Policy –


What kinds of students would I recommend Texas A&M to? Students with a strong academic background who would like to study at a large, major research university steeped in traditions. Students who are motivated and able to carve out their space within a large campus. Motivated too because students apply to their college within the university and many fill fast – especially engineering.

I would not recommend A&M to students who crave an individualized path nor those who wish to be within a major urban environment. While Houston, Dallas, and Austin are all less than two hours away, A&M creates College Station’s culture.

What are your thoughts about Texas A&M-College Station? Have you visited campus? Enrolled. Alum?

PreACT: The Former PLAN is Back and Packaged as PreACT

PreACT: The Former PLAN is Back and Packaged as PreACT

No longer an assessment named PLAN, ACT, Inc. has a new PreACT assessment that has a similar feel to ACT’s previous grade 10 assessment, PLAN. Just like The ACT, the new PreACT tests in English, Math Reading, and Science. There’s not currently a writing section, just as there wasn’t on PLAN. Also like PLAN, it shares the same scaled scoring system with The ACT – scaled 1 – 36. I couldn’t find if PreACT only went to 32 as PLAN did or if the PreACT is also scaled 1-36. That would make more sense based on its name.


Unlike the PSAT, the PreACT can be administered on a day convenient to the school. This year’s window started 9/1/2016 and ends 6/1/2017. And here’s the scream – the cost is only $12/student as compared to $15 for this year’s PSAT.

Additionally the new PreACT has the same Interest Inventory that was administered with both EXPLORE (grade 8 discontinued Pre-preACT), PLAN, and ACT. How about that? Also, PreACT allows students to opt into ACT’s Educational Opportunity Service that allows colleges to buy students names. Same service PSAT has. Colleges like to buy names of students in grade 10 for marketing purposes. It can expand a student’s college search.


Whew! I almost can express how excited I am that this test is now available. I worked for ACT for eighteen years and was really upset when they discontinued PLAN in favor of ACT Aspire in 2014. That’s the year I left. And I was deeply troubled when management wanted us to convert customers from PLAN to ACT Aspire – a much more expensive test. So learning that new management has seen the wisdom in restoring a PreACT that delivers an experience similar to what students have when taking the actual ACT restores relief that good things are happening again with the organization.


There is a difference between PLAN and PreACT. PLAN had developed norming information for students took PLAN and grade 9. I didn’t find any information about norming data for PreACT at grade 9. That was helpful for schools that administered PLAN when other students took the PSAT at grades 10 and 11. It still wasn’t ideal since back then the norming data was still off by a semester, and I hope ACT will develop norming data for Fall of grade 9.

My hope is that more schools will learn about the PreACT. Ironically, in the WAY back, PLAN’s former name had been the PreACT+. They changed the name from PreACT+ to PLAN so the assessment was seen as a test for all students and not just students viewed as college bound. Now that all students are college bound, I guess the new PreACT is still all inclusive.

I can’t think of a better practice for the ACT than to take the PreACT. Way to go ACT!

Sam Houston State University – Campus Tour

Sam Houston State University – Campus Tour


Sam Houston State University was one of the few remaining public, four-year colleges in Texas on my wish list to visit. I had driven around the campus years before, but the grey day dripped with dreariness and didn’t seem conducive for a walking tour. I had pulled into a parking lot by the Texas state prison’s guard turrets a few blocks from campus to come up with a new plan. Touring the prison wasn’t on my wish list and when I saw the guards take down my car’s license plate, I hightailed it thirty miles south to The Woodlands, an upscale community northwest of Houston. I freaked out and didn’t like SHSU based on that incident. Why do I share this impression? With college planning and college visits, first impressions count.

I was delighted upon returning on fine, sun-filled November day to find a welcoming, growing, aspiring and diversifying campus. SHSU currently enrolls over 19,000 students and adds enrollment each year – evidenced by new buildings mixed in with the old. SHSU started as a normal college (teacher’s college) and the oldest building was the first site of Austin College. Old Main, a gothic revival building built in the late 1800s burned in the 1980s, but semester welcome parties are still held in the greenery of its stone ruins.

Huntsville’s population is just under 40,000 so the university has a large influence in town and there’s a small town feel amid multiple amenities. SHSU is Division I school in the Southland Conference, with over 80 undergraduate, 54 masters’, and 6 doctoral degree programs. U.S. News and World Report ranked it being among the best in the country for online graduate programs. Wow!

Fast facts I pulled off their website:  Ranked #1 placing students in Texas workforce within 12 months of graduation; historically, over 50% of students are “first-generation”; Ranked 7th in the nation for African-American graduation rates. Read other rankings


Of course top 10% of Texas high school graduates are automatic admit. For a breakdown of ACT/SAT score and GPA, this chart might be helpful:

GPA                       ACT Comp    Old SAT    New SAT (R, W, & M)

3.5 – 4.0                  17                      850                  930

3.0 – 3.49                19                      930                  1010

2.5 – 2.99                22                     1030                 1110

2.25 – 2.49              25                     1140                 1210


Undergraduate Texas resident tuition, fees, room and board (on-campus living) for fall 2016 (15 semester hours) was approximately $9650.00. An affordable education!

The same scenario for non-resident students would cost approximately $15,800.

When I talked with my campus guide, she mentioned that SHSU had programs for students with learning disabilities.  I thought it was interesting that she pointed it out so thought I would pass it on.

Asking about graduation rates for students, I was presented with a packet of institutional data for 2015, and six year averages for all students persisting from year one to year two was 76%. For white students, persistence from year one to year was 75%, 77% for African-American and 75% for Hispanic students.

What stood out most about the campus on this visit was the friendliness and helpfulness of the students. Lost after parking in the wrong garage and worried about being late to the tour, undergrads helped me at every turn as I navigated up and over the rolling hills. Each one loved SHSU (I asked), and two said it was the only university they applied to, that they knew it was their campus when they took a college tour.

I visited the dorms and the largest dining hall. I had to run out of the dining hall as I could smell their legendary cookies. Yum!

The second impression of SHSU was much more positive than the first. Seems like a good value university with lots to offer a diverse student population. What do you think?

If you’re not from Texas, do you know who Sam Houston is?