Choosing a college is a huge investment—for your future and your bank account. It's important that you take the right steps to ensure that the college you decide on is the right fit. A great tool for evaluation is the campus visit. You might wonder: with all the benefits that a technologically savvy society has to offer, is a campus visit really necessary? Definitely. A campus visit allows you to gain a feel for the atmosphere of your prospective college and will help you in your decision-making process. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your visit.
1. Plan ahead
Call the admission office to find out when tours and information sessions are offered. Do a little research about the school so you can prove you are well prepared and knowledgeable. Ask if you can speak with a current student, a professor in your intended field of study, a coach, an admission officer, or a financial aid officer (they can answer the difficult questions about paying for your education). Most campuses require reservations, so plan accordingly!
2. Take your time
Allow at least half a day for each campus visit. This gives you enough time to interview, tour, and explore all you need. Any less, and you won’t gain a full understanding of what the college has to offer. Map out routes and schedules ahead of time to make sure you are making the most of your visit.
3. Dress appropriately
The first impression is important. You may meet an admission counselor or go for an interview, so it is important to dress professionally. Also, you may want to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking a lot. Finally, plan for the weather.
4. Try everything out
Eat lunch in the dining hall. Sit in on a class. Catch a football or soccer game. The best way to answer your questions about a college is to go find out for yourself. Why ask a tour guide if the food is any good when you can grab a snack from the dining hall and taste it for yourself? Firsthand experience is a great way to discover if you like the atmosphere of a college and a major benefit of a campus visit, so take advantage of it!
5. Visit while school’s in session
Summer may be the most convenient time to visit a campus, but it’s not the best. Often campuses are deserted because most students are home for summer break. The same is true for winter and spring breaks. Also, avoid exam time. The atmosphere provided by stressed-out students hunkered down in the library is not typical of the rest of the year. And finally, major campus events such as commencement, homecoming, or opening weekend of the fall semester may prove to be too busy to get the attention that you deserve. To get the most out of your campus visit, try to visit during the middle of the fall or spring semester, while campuses are humming with activity and you can get the full campus effect.
6. Stay overnight
It’s the best way to imagine you are a student. By spending a night in the dorms, you can gain a viewpoint on what life would really be like if you attended that college. Some colleges allow prospective students to spend a night with a current student in a dorm. If this is impossible due to limited space or unavailability, then talk to your guidance counselor. Graduates from your high school may be glad to host a student for a night. Even if you can’t arrange an overnight stay, you still want to check out the dorms. After all, you’ll spend most of your time in your room, so you want to make sure you are comfortable there.
7. Visit the city
When you visit a campus, you want to make sure you check out its surroundings. Make sure that if you need something, the city or town the campus is in can provide it. Check out the local restaurants, parks, and museums. Will you need a car, or is there easy and available public transportation? During all the excitement of a campus visit, don’t forget you are going to be living there for the next few years. Make sure everything you need is at hand.
8. Pick up a newspaper
Student newspapers are one of the best sources for finding out what campus life is like. Look up what activities are happening or what the articles focus on. Newspapers can really show what’s important to the student body. Bulletin boards can give you the same type of information as well, so keep your eyes open during your tour of the campus!
9. Get involved
Talk to the experts—the students! They can provide great inside information that you may not find on a website or in a brochure. Ask them what they love about the school and what they are not so fond of. Prepare important questions ahead of time and find someone who can answer them for you. Another great way to gain information from a campus visit is through a group information session. Others may have questions that didn’t occur to you. In general, students have a lot of information to give. All you need to do is ask, so don’t be shy.
10. Reflect on your visit
Take notes. You are going to be visiting a lot of campuses (hopefully), and you are going to need those notes to remember and make comparisons. If it’s possible, take pictures of points of interest to remind you what the campus was like. When you get home, send thank you notes or emails to interviewers and admission officials who helped you along the way. Then begin to compare the schools. Figure out what you liked about them and what you hated. Picture yourself as a student at each campus and try to discover which seems the best fit. With a bit of luck and some preparation, your campus visits will help you choose the right school for you.
Use these tips to help you make the most out of your campus tours as you possibly can. These experiences will give you the best idea of what you want and don’t want from a college—hopefully, making your decision a little easier in the long run. Have fun on your visits and let yourself get fully immersed in them!
If you can't go on college visits, try watching campus tours on YouTube, like this CollegeXpress video where a student takes us on a tour of Michigan State University.