How to Make Your College Visit Really Count
Choosing the colleges you want to apply to is exciting! Your research brings to light opportunities, experiences, and a world of possibilities open to you at different colleges and universities. As you begin to whittle down your choices, consider how your college visit can significantly enhance your research.
College visits let you see and feel for yourself what it might be like to live there. You gain information and insight you simply can’t get from brochures or websites. And, if you decide to apply to a school you have visited, your initiative demonstrates to the school that yours is a serious request for admission, and it may tip the scales in your favor (particularly if you have interviewed or spoken directly with admissions counselors, coaches, or professors).
Get Your Visit Right!
College visits require an investment, sometimes a significant investment, of time, money and effort. So, make the experience worth your while! Follow this checklist to be sure you get the most out of your college visit.
1. Plan Ahead
Colleges offer different types of visits including large Open Houses, special Visit Days, and smaller group or private visits. Each type of visit has advantages and disadvantages which we explain fully in Completing Outstanding College Applications. Check the college’s website to see what they offer, and, most importantly, how to register or make an appointment. Even if registration is not required, you want the colleges to notice you and your interest in their school. Try to schedule your visit while school is in session. In addition, if there are specific people you want to speak with (professors, coaches, staff), facilities you want to see, or things you would like to experience, be sure to arrange that ahead of time.
Before your visit, review what the college offers you and the reasons you want to visit. Bring with you a list of specific questions, concerns, or things you wanted to see or do whether on the campus itself or in the surrounding community.
Observe Proper Etiquette
Be on time, dress appropriately, be polite and attentive.
Allow Enough Time
Plan to spend enough time to fully explore the college campus as well as the surrounding community.
It’s easy to blend one campus visit into another and to forget, confuse, or mix up important information or feelings. Take notes during and immediately after your visit, either written or electronic, on your impressions, and which aspects of the college seem wonderful, acceptable, or are lacking. Take pictures and collect contact information. These notes will be very helpful later when deciding whether or not to apply.
2. Take (and hack) the Tour
A visit to a college campus almost always includes an extensive tour conducted by a student guide. You will usually see a variety of facilities including dorms, dining halls, the library, the student center, fitness centers, the gym, classrooms, theaters, arenas, athletic fields, art studios, music halls, practice spaces, book stores, and tutoring, career, and health centers.
Guides will give you lots of information. Ask lots of questions! But be aware that guides are usually highly scripted and prepared to minimize any negatives. For example, if you ask about the quality of food, which can truly be horrible, your guide might deflect with an answer about all the dining options you have on and off campus. If you ask about drinking and partying they will likely answer, “Like all campuses we have our share, but there is plenty to do on campus if you don’t want to party.”
Get around the talking points by asking unexpected questions—You’ll learn a lot! Examples include:
Where else did you apply and why did you choose to come here?
What is your greatest disappointment about this school?
How many hours a week do you study?
What surprised you most once you got here?
Would you change anything about the school if you could?
Do the campus police and the student body have a good relationship?
How often do students (you) go home?
What’s the hardest thing about living in the dorms here?
Which activities or events do students (you) look forward to most?
What do students (you) usually do on the weekends?
Tour guides may or may not be great at their job, so don’t make a decision about applying based solely on the tour. And if the tour skips areas of the campus you would like to see, ask if you can walk around on your own later.
3. Read Between the Lines
Pay attention to some subtle indicators of the nature of campus life such as bulletin boards, school newspapers, and college radio and television, which can tell you a lot about the student body, the college atmosphere, school culture, and activities offered.
Watch people! How do students interact with each other and with staff and faculty? Are people friendly? Do they look happy? What kind of energy do you feel on campus?
4. Customize Your Experience
When permitted, be sure to schedule the kinds of customized meetings or experiences that will be helpful to you.
These can be academically related, such as meeting with a professor or students, and/or sitting in on a class in a department you are interested in. Ask questions about the major, the electives in the major, and the opportunities to work with professors. Notice if the facilities are inviting, well-equipped, and up-to-date. Are classrooms well-lit, roomy, and tech-updated? Are there plenty of comfortable study spaces? How do students and professors interact?
Other examples of things you may want to do include observing a team practice or theater rehearsal; sitting in on a band practice; taking a sample music lesson; or meeting with a club president.
5. Eat the Food
College food can range from barely edible to quite good. Most dining hall food will get old after a while, but, if possible, duck into a dining hall and taste a broad sampling for yourself. Sometimes Admissions Offices will give you a complimentary meal ticket, but be prepared to pay for it. Find out what dining options other than the cafeteria(s) are available on campus and whether or not they are part of your meal plan. Also find out if nearby restaurants participate in your college’s meal plan or offer discounts to students.
6. Skip the Sleepover
It’s rare nowadays for colleges to include an overnight stay as part of your visit. This is because whether you have a great time or a horrible time, a one-night visit won’t accurately represent normal residential life on that campus or reflect the experience you would necessarily have if you lived there. So, keep this in mind when gathering impressions of a college if you do choose to stay overnight.
Applying to colleges is expensive! A well-planned campus visit is invaluable in helping you choose which schools are worthy of your investment in both application costs and the cost of attending. Learn more in our course, Making the Right College List.