college visits can be stressful, but by making the most of your visit, you don’t have to worry! Check out these tips and tricks to help you get the most out of each visit.
Read About the School Online.
Go online and see what’s being talked about, and not just on the admissions homepage. Do some googling. Check out online forums. Many universities even host public blogs where you can get a sense of what students and professors are working on. It doesn’t have to be an exhaustive search, just enough to give yourself an idea of both the great (and not so great) things about the school you are going to visit. You may want to look into things that piqued your interest and ask staff about any concerns you’ve come across when you are there.
Please don’t wait to visit potential schools until after you’ve applied or applications are half done. Even schools that appear amazing on paper may not be the right fit for you and you could save yourself a lot of time and energy (and application fees) by having visited earlier. Every place has an atmosphere. And not everywhere is for everyone. Most students can easily tell if a campus is just not right for them after visiting. Try to plan visits early (preferably spring break of junior year and the following summer) so that you know ahead of time if a university is right for you. Need a timeline? Click here.
Go When Class is in Session.
I know I just said to visit in the summer and on spring break, and I promise I still mean it! Firstly, realize that spring break for colleges is usually much earlier than high schools – so any visit you plan should coincide with college classes being in session. As for the summer, try (if you can) to visit schools in August, when most universities are already back. Otherwise, try to visit on weekends during the school year (when you know the university isn’t on break). I realize that the option doesn’t always exist for families and students to travel during the year, but a campus is very different when it is empty. If you do visit a campus in the summer (as many do) try to visit it again at a later date if it’s still at the top of your list.
Eat in the Dining Hall.
And not just on one of those special visiting weekends. If you are living on dorm (which is the norm at most universities, at least for the first year), you will be eating at the dining hall(s) three meals a day. Most universities have amazing food – thus the dreaded freshman fifteen! – but make sure while you are visiting (on a normal day) to stop in and try the food. Some universities change their selection on special occasions, so seeing what the fare is like on an average day is a must. If you have any special dietary restrictions or concerns, the day you visit is a perfect time to speak with the dining staff about your options and accommodations.
Many universities offer programs to stay overnight for potential students. Some high schools even offer to match you with an alumni of your high school who is attending the university so you can stay with them on dorm. Some others also offer the option to buddy a potential student with a current one. Ask your high school guidance department and the university admissions team if they have any such programs. Staying overnight can be stressful, but the longer you spend on campus, the more sure you can be of your decision that the university is right for you. I especially suggest you consider this with whichever universities are your top contenders (early on), or with whichever schools have already offered you an acceptance (later in senior year).
Take a Class.
Much like the overnight and buddy programs, many universities allow potential students to sit in on a real lecture. Sometimes these options aren’t advertised, so ask! Many admissions departments are happy to set up appointments with professors or have you sit in on a class, if they are asked and given enough notice. The more you see of the school, the better!
Talk to Students.
Don’t be scared! I promise they are used to the gaggles of high school students and parents touring campus and have probably been stopped and asked a question before. No one knows the university better than the students who live, eat, and learn there day in and day out. Many schools even hire students as tour guides for this very reason. Don’t be afraid to talk not only to the official guides, but random students on campus. It’s okay to talk them!
Go More Than Once.
Again, this if it’s possible (many people apply to schools very far away) visit more than once. If you visited campus before applying and loved it, visit again after applying or after being accepted, before you make your final decision. Sometimes viewing the quad with acceptance-colored glasses changes things. Another look may make your decision for you.
Depending on how many schools you visit, the process can become confusing. Which school had that great computer lab? Which one had amazing dorms? After enough campus tours they all blur together. So when you visit, take photos and take notes! Keeping track of which school was which – including how you felt about each of them (were you comfortable? happy? lost?). Keep a physical or electronic file on each school so that in six months, you’ll still remember which one had that great all you can eat ice cream parlor.
Can’t Visit? Find Alternatives.
Sometimes you can’t actually visit a campus in person, and while that’s not ideal, there are alternatives. Many admissions departments offer virtual tours or live chats to learn more about campus. Some universities also host special events across the country for prospective students with school representatives and admissions staff, often attended by current local students and alumni. You can also contact alumni or current students who live nearby and are willing to chat with you (many universities offer matching services). Read blogs online and do a little research. If you do end up applying and are accepted, do try to visit before making your final decision.