As we shift into June, it’s important to examine the opportunities that summer brings. For rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors, this means the chance to take your potential colleges for a test drive. Taking the time to step foot onto the campuses you’re considering is tremendously important to your search process. It’s important to learn more about the school than can be obtained through a website or viewbook. There are relevant intangibles that can play a factor in your decision that you might otherwise not experience if you don’t visit. Each institution has its own personality that becomes far more recognizable once you’re actually immersed in the on-campus culture. Here's what you need to know about campus visits.
1. Ask visit-relevant questions
It’s important to make the most of your visit opportunities, and part of this is making the best use of your time speaking to admission staff, faculty, and students on campus. Don’t waste time asking about the average class size or how many students attend the school. While these are important parts of your evaluation, these facts and figures are easily available on most any school’s website or road piece. Use your time on campus to ask personal questions:
- Ask current students why they chose the school or what the top thing they’d change about the school would be.
- Ask faculty what kind of research their students get exposure to or what traits they look for to identify students with significant promise.
- Ask your admission counselor to describe the types of students that succeed at the institution or if there are important scholarship opportunities you need to be proactive in searching out.
These types of questions will help you cultivate a much more personal understanding of what niches your potential schools serve. With this information you can identify whether or not those niches fit for you.
2. Pay attention to detail
Hopefully when you’re planning your visits, you’re already starting to consider the things that are important to you about your college experience. Naturally, you’re going to be curious about things like school spirit, whether your desired major is offered, and how big your dorm room might be, but be sure to pay attention to other, smaller details, as well.
- Is there litter strewn about campus?
- Are there electrical outlets missing in the classrooms?
- Do the restrooms have toilet paper, soap, or paper towels missing?
While some of these things seem like no-brainers, you’d be surprised how many students I’ve spoken to over the years that were so excited to be on a college campus that they were wrapped up in people-watching and conversations and completely neglected to see cafeteria trays that had been tossed onto a bush carelessly or that the door handle to a residence hall was broken. I’d never encourage a student to make a college decision based on chipped paint, but be sure to notice how well the campus facilities are maintained, because this can be indicative of how the college handles other areas, as well.
Ultimately, finding the right educational experience will be far more dominated by the scholastic integrity of professors, internship opportunities, outcome statistics, and whether or not you feel like a valued part of the campus body. It is worth mentioning, however, that taking note of an institution’s facilities and exterior maintenance can reflect additional “pride points” that may be less important academically but still influential in your decision-making process nonetheless.
3. Go rogue
During formal campus visits at most schools in the United States, the itinerary you’re going to take part in is highly-scripted. From the hand-picked tour guide involved in eight clubs with a perfect smile to the faculty member that asks you to sit in on his or her class, the institution has made it a point to create a certain experience for you. This is a good thing: it means you’ll get to see how the school wants to be perceived by potential incoming students. Enjoy this experience and take the opportunity to engage in the first two items on this list...then go rogue!
- Wander campus aimlessly.
- Observe what the random students who are not trained as ambassadors of the school are doing.
- Walk into buildings unescorted (if you stumble onto a choir practice in session or an administrative meeting, just confess you’re lost...it’s actually true).
What you observe while trekking off the pre-approved path, who you encounter, and how they treat you can be very revealing. These unscripted moments can tell you a lot about the school. It is important to note, however, that while “going rogue” you may encounter a current student who is incredibly disparaging of the school or a staff member on their break who doesn’t appear to be acting out the “serve-first” experience you’ve seen during your formal visit. Be sure to take this with a grain of salt and not as a full reflection of the campus you’re visiting. Much like any other potential part of your life, there are bound to be a few individuals present on any college campus who are the exception to the rule. Spend enough time observing students, faculty, and staff in their element to get a sense of actual consistencies in behavior. Don’t let one interaction (good or bad) dictate your impression of an entire institution.
If your top priority is a quality education or landing meaningful internships, prepare for your campus visits in a way that will give you exposure to these aspects. Whatever priorities matter to you are the parts of campus that you should seek out for more information when visiting. This is by no means an exhaustive list of how to make the most of your visits, but hopefully this will help contextualize why you’re visiting schools, and maybe you’ll learn something about those institutions that ends up being a difference maker.
For more great advice before you go on your tour, check out our Campus Visits section.