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How Can I Tell What a College Is Really Like?

How do you really get to know a campus in a short period of time? Check out these campus visit tips from the Independent Educational Consultants Association.

Mark H. SklarowMark H. Sklarow

Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA)
Campus visits are one of the best ways to determine whether or not a school is a good fit for your academic and professional goals as well as your personal needs. But how do you really get to know a campus in a short period of time? Here are some tips from the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) to help you get the most out of your campus visits. 

  • Learn about the college before you visit. Read materials from the college and check out its website. If you’re visiting more than one school on a particular day, refresh your memory about that school just before you arrive. Be sure to spend at least a half day at each college on your list.
  • Evaluate the environment of the campus. Is the campus too big or too small for you? Do you like the nearby town, or do you feel isolated? Consider how you would get around campus, particularly in the rain or snow.
  • Visit the admission office and participate in the information session. Ask questions that help you clarify the academic programs at the school and the type of student who’s most comfortable and successful there. You may choose to have a formal interview with an admission staff member. If so, bring a résumé of your grades and activities. Dress nicely but not out of character.
  • Take the student-led tour of campus. Take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about campus life from a peer. Recognize, however, that tour guides are not necessarily typical of all students since they formally represent the school.
  • Check out the dorms. Find out about the dorm options available, such as all-freshmen or co-ed. Arrange in advance to spend the night in a dorm, if possible. Picture yourself living in a dorm: Are you comfortable with where it is located on campus, such as the proximity to classes or the campus center?
  • Arrange for campus meetings with department heads in the subjects that interest you. Also meet with coaches in sports in which you excel, plus former graduates from your high school. Bring a résumé that highlights your experience in your area of expertise. Ask about opportunities based on your skills and interests. Write down the names of any officials you meet with and send personal thank-you notes when you return home.
  • Sit in on classes and check out the library. How is the rapport between students and faculty in the classroom? Look through the books at the library in your area of interest, and also look for quiet places to study.
  • Look into life beyond academics. Check out the athletic facilities, theater, and student center. Read the notices posted in the dorms or on bulletin boards. Can you see yourself joining clubs and fitting in?
  • Have lunch in the student center and watch student interactions. Talk with students all over campus about their impressions of the school. Look at the students themselves—do you feel comfortable among them?
  • Write down your impressions of each college you visit. After a while, the visions of different schools will start to blur if you don't immediately stop to record your thoughts. Keep a list of pros and cons for comparison.

Still unsure? Check out our article on How to Tell If a College Is Right for You to get a better idea of the path to your future. 

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