Originally Posted: Feb 18, 2016
Last Updated: Dec 17, 2020
When I first started my college search during my junior year of high school, I did a ton of research online. And getting familiar with your colleges through their websites and other sites online isn’t a bad idea. But to really get a feel for a school and what life and classes would be like there, there’s nothing quite like an in-person campus visit. These are the three most common types of visit typically offered by colleges: traditional tours, open houses, and overnight visits. No matter which type of visit you go on, try to schedule it with the school instead of going it on your own (because admission counselors track your interest and it can help in admission!) and come prepared.
Traditional campus tour
When many students think of college visits, they often first think of formal, planned campus visits, which can include tours of both the campus and/or buildings specific to their major, meetings with counselors, and possibly shadowing a class. These tours are often in a group, whether that means two or three families or a dozen, and the size of the group can really impact how catered the tour is to your needs. If you are in a smaller group, you can often ask to see the buildings you might be spending more time in (depending on your major or other interests) than other buildings on the tour. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work so well with larger groups, as everyone has their own needs, and the tour guide only has so much time to fit in the campus highlights. Like an open house (discussed below), traditional visits are a good way to get a feel for the school as a whole, especially if you are just starting your college search.
One of the first types of college visits that many students attend is an open house. Open houses are typically the most crowded types of visits, so if you are looking for one-on-one meetings, this probably isn’t your best choice. However, open houses do have their benefits. First, many schools use an open house as a way for prospective students to get a feel for many different departments or organizations on campus. Students can often hear from and talk to:
- Representatives from the admission department to get answers about acceptance to the college or university, if they aren’t accepted already.
- The housing department to ask questions about where freshmen typically live and possibly about meal plans and student activities as well.
- The financial aid office for information about scholarships, grants, and loans and what is specifically available from the school.
- Members of student organizations who are typically there to discuss their club or activity and answer questions from interested students.
- Current students! Typically, they're there to lead tours or other activities, they can also often answer questions more candidly or specifically than a staff member. Open houses are one of the best ways to interact with current students, as overnight visits may not fit into your schedule and are not offered by all schools, and more traditional visits are often during the week when most students are in class, while open houses are most often on the weekends.
Overnight visits are the least common type of college visits, though they can be the most informative. Overnight college visits can consist of tours of the campus or buildings/facilities specific to a student’s major, shadowing current students in classes, social time with other prospective students, and, of course, spending the night in a residence hall with a current student. These visits are the best way to really get a feel for what life as a student at that school is like and to talk to current students about what made them decide to attend that specific college or university. It probably makes more sense to do these visits later in your college search, once you have narrowed your list to just a few schools. However, overnight visits are not offered at all schools and may not fit into your schedule if you don’t want to (or can’t) miss your own classes or get away for a night.
From very traditional visits centered on a simple campus tour to larger open houses and all-inclusive overnight visits, colleges offer a variety of ways for prospective students to get a feel for their campuses, academic programs, and student life. Which style of visit you choose will ultimately depend on what stage of the college search process you are in, what a particular school offers that fits into your busy high school schedule, and what works well for you overall.
For more advice and fun ideas for your next college tour, check out our Campus Visits section!