5 ways to make college tours more fun

Some people view college tours as a chore — an obligatory part of sending a child into adulthood — but they don’t have to be.

Here are five things to do to make them more fun — during the heat of summer or any time of year.

This is an update to a blog post I wrote last year, after visiting five California universities with my niece. This post focuses on my observations from five recent university tours (in Colorado, Idaho and Washington) with my nephew.

1. Local food: Some universities, especially land grant schools with large agricultural programs, may offer products made on campus and/or made with ingredients grown by students. A visit to Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., is not complete without a stop at Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe on campus. Ice cream flavors, including Caramel Cashew, Huckleberry Twist and Cougar Tracks, are made with campus products.

This single-serving bowl of two flavors — Huckleberry Twist and Caramel Cashew — cost $2.20 at Ferdinand’s. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Ferdinand’s also sells WSU’s cheese in a can, with the most popular being Cougar Gold. That stemmed from WSU research in the 1940s to find a way to store cheese in tins. At least 10 years later, the creamery began making milk and ice cream products for students. Today, Ferdinand’s is open to the public.

Off college campuses, try regional products at restaurants, such as a lentil burger (Paradise Creek Brewery) in Pullman, Wash., or dried garbanzo beans (Nectar and Lodgepole) in Moscow, Idaho (home of the University of Idaho). Lentils and garbanzos are grown in the surrounding beautiful Palouse area.

2. Local activities: Find out what a town or area is known for and do it. Look for activities that interest you. Is there a bicycle trail, such as the Bill Chipman Palouse Trail between the University of Idaho in Moscow and Washington State University in Pullman, a climbing wall or community theater? Research can be done beforehand or on the fly via an Internet search, a stop at the local visitor center or asking a local.

Cyclists ride by golden fields of wheat on the 8-mile (one way) Bill Chipman Palouse Trail between Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Wash. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

3. Bookstores: College towns still have quirky brick-and-mortar bookstores. Boulder, Colo., has at least a half dozen. Not only are they cool places to hang out, but they usually have a local or regional section to learn about the area and culture or find local authors.

Don’t forget to check out campus bookstores, too. Some schools include a coupon in their information packet (it was 20% off at the University of Idaho and Washington State University). It might be a good opportunity to load up on gear from your favorite school or sports team. They also have a good selection of new books, including books by their professors.

4. Museums: Still on my list from last year is to find campus museums, a trend in recent decades helped by alumni funding. When I recently visited Washington State University’s small and manageable Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, it offered engaging works by Louise Bourgeois, Jacob Lawrence and Robert Rauschenberg. In Golden, Colo., the Colorado School of Mines’ Geology Museum is a find for gem and rock lovers; it has two moon rocks. The University of Colorado Boulder has the Museum of Natural History and the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore., has the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

These are just some of the minerals, gems and fossils displayed at the Geology Museum at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

5. Explore the town or city. Some college campuses dominate their small host towns, others are located in or near big cities, such as Boston or Seattle. Take the time to walk, bicycle or drive around the town or city closest to campus to see what it has to offer. Eat, shop or watch a movie. Stay overnight if you can to get a true cultural immersion.

Here’s a related tweet from Wednesday, Aug. 7, about five college trends I’ve noticed while on 10 university tours in four states in the last year:

The featured photo at top by me is art by Louise Bourgeois at Washington State University’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.