There’s no substitute for putting your feet on the ground and trying a campus on for size.
A good fit is made in the details so, when doing a college visit, remember to check out everything: academic programs, campus location, dorm life, cafeteria, athletics, community spirit, extracurricular activities, Greek life, and study abroad opportunities.
As you hit the road for your campus visits this year, here are eight tips to consider before pulling out of the driveway.
Make a list.
Talk with your parents, counselors, and friends about what is most important to you in a college. Is it a specific academic program or the school spirit? There is certainly a lot to consider, and it is perfectly natural for your priorities to shift once you visit a few campuses. That being said, it’s still good to have a sense of the main attributes you are looking for in a college. Our College Visit Checklist is a great college prep resource for organizing your thoughts.
Register online for tours and sessions.
Colleges offer guided tours and information sessions for prospective students and both events provide valuable information about the college. You will be able to get down to specifics and, perhaps, gain some insight about the type of applicant the college values. If you’ve a specialized interest (E.g. art, music), you should also inquire about viewing those areas of campus, as they may not be included on a general tour.
Sit in on a class.
If possible, plan to sit in on a class during your college visit. Sitting in allows you to see if you feel more comfortable in lecture halls or smaller classrooms, get a feel for homework, talk to current students, and of course, experience a real, live college classroom.
Engage in the buzz.
Plan your visit when classes are in session and students are on campus. Many schools start mid-August, so early fall can be a wonderful time to be on campus. Traveling during Spring Break is another great option. Don’t anticipate getting a sense of a typical day if you are visiting on Thanksgiving or during the summer months.
I recommend splitting up for the tour—parents going with one group and students with the other. It will give you multiple perspectives of the campus. If one is unduly attracted to, or put off by a college because of the tour guide, perhaps the sharing of information afterwards will offer more clarity on what is really offered. This will also give you time to speak with current students and ask them what they like about their school.
Participate in an interview.
If the college requires an interview, be sure to arrange a meeting in advance with the admissions office. Practice a mock interview before you leave home . Although some interviews are informational rather than evaluative, it is always best to prepare a response to, “Tell me about yourself.”
Investigate the campus culture.
Check out the on-campus activities—how do students spend their time when they are not in class? Stop by the student activities/student life office. Consider the upcoming guest speakers, opportunities for service or internships, environmental, religious, or athletic activities. Check out the bulletin boards and investigate the evening activities. Also, look beyond the quad and determine your comfort level with the wider, outside community. Note whether a small town or large urban area is important to you.
Remember to take notes.
College visits all begin to blur together after a while. I highly recommend taking notes during the information session—check out our handy College Visit Checklist note section. When writing your supplemental essays, good notes will make the process much easier.
There’s a lot to take in during college visits, so make your brief experience as broad as possible.
Eat in the cafeteria, talk to students, sit in on classes, pick up a student newspaper, attend an event, and enjoy yourself! At the end of your travels be sure to take time to reflect on your experiences, discuss your impressions with others, and evaluate schools based on your developing personal preference. Refining and honing your choices will eventually bring you to your final decision—your college!