Originally Posted: May 3, 2017
Last Updated: Feb 2, 2021
So you’re thinking about visiting colleges. Depending on how far along you're in the process, you might have anywhere from five to 20 schools on your list. But, how do you know which ones are worthy of visits and which ones are just kind of there? And what if you don’t even know where to start? These tips should help!
Do your research thoroughly
Before begging your parents for plane tickets and money to buy five sweatshirts from your desired colleges, you need to make sure you know a good deal about those schools. You don’t want to spend a lot of time, money, or effort traveling to a college, just to find out they don’t offer your major or—worse—their cafeteria doesn’t serve macaroni and cheese. Study up! Visit the college’s website for admission statistics (how likely is it that you’ll get in?), campus life insights (would you fit in and be happy there?), and financial information (what’s does their cost and financial aid package look like?). This shouldn’t take very long, but it is highly recommended before you plan campus visits so that you have a good idea of what you’re getting into. Once you’ve done your college search, you’ll have a much easier time figuring out which schools really fit you—and are worth visiting.
Put your colleges first
You might start with a list of colleges you have heard about from friends, famous colleges you’ve just always had on your radar, colleges family members went to, etc. These can all serve as a great jumping-off point for your campus visits. However, make sure to do your research like we already said, and from there, visit the colleges you’re most interested in first. There's a reason you're drawn to them, and that's worth looking into more so than colleges that interest anyone else—becaues this is your college journey not anyone else's.
Related: How to Find the Right College Fit
Your dream school doesn't have to be top priority
An easy first step in deciding which colleges and universities are worth visiting in person is to single out any “I Need to Go There” school. If you have one of these, it will most likely make the college visit road trip list. However! If you’re 100% certain you’re going to apply to this dream school no matter what, it might be worth saving the visit until after you apply and are (hopefully) accepted. Save your campus visit time and money for a school you’re on the fence about and actually need to see, you know?
Definitely visit your safety schools
Way too often safety schools are treated like throwaways, where students don’t give them much thought and apply to them “just in case.” Safety schools are so much more important than that! (Not to mention they’ll probably give you the most financial aid, so there’s that.) You want to make sure you’d be happy to go to your safety schools if need be. And since campus visits are all about helping you figure out where you’ll be happy, you should probably prioritize visiting your safeties.
Plan out some day trips
If you live near any colleges, whether they’re three minutes or three hours away, it can be fun to just take a day trip and knock out a few schools in one go. Even if you don’t think you’ll apply to them all, visiting convenient campuses can still give you a sense of what you want in a college. You can also use what you learn to think about any campuses you just can’t get to. And experiencing the “college-town” feel is a very fun way to get connected with a certain school and picture yourself as a student there.
Don’t overdo it
Of course, just because you can squeeze visiting seven colleges into one weekend road trip doesn’t mean you should. A good college visit should include more than just a drive-by. Tours, information sessions, meeting with current students and faculty, and trying out the dining halls are just a few of the many fun activities you should plan for a college visit. Plus, campus visits should be fun!
Visit a variety of types of schools
If you're truly unsure about what you’re looking for in a college, it’s a good idea to visit different types of schools—small and big, public and private, in-state and out-of-state, research-heavy universities and liberal arts colleges, technical schools, etc.—to get a sense of your options. You never know what aspects of a college may draw you in if you don't already have an idea of what kind of atmosphere you'd like. The feel and community can drastically shift from one school to another, and that's why campus visits are so important.
Plan your visits ahead of time
Many college tours and info sessions have a capped number of people they take for a given day, and if you don’t register for a spot, you may be unable to participate. And no, planning “ahead” does not mean calling on your way over to the school. To really make the most out of your campus visits, you should set a schedule and plan them out a few months before you go.
Think outside of campus
Of course, seeing the college or university is important, but seeing the local area’s attractions, popular restaurants, and shopping areas are also helpful. You don’t want to be cooped up in your dorm for four years because you don’t care for the restaurants or malls around. That would be tragic. Find a college location where all (or most) of your personal needs/wants are met! And you can really only do this by visiting.
It can be hard to decide which colleges to visit in person, but hopefully these tips help! Visiting colleges in person and taking part in tours or information sessions is a great way to get a feel for their vibes and really imagine if you could see yourself living there for four years. Plus, buying cute gear from their bookstore doesn’t hurt.
CollegeXpressers: how did you decide which colleges to visit in person? Let us know by tweeting at us @CollegeXpress.