Originally Posted: Jan 14, 2015
Last Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Stephanie Klein Wassink
Winning Applications and Admissions Checkup
Junior year is usually a busy time as students and their parents plan college visits. Seeing a school in person can help narrow down your top choices and, ultimately, provide information that will prove helpful when completing college applications and essays. But what you do while you're visiting the school is equally important. Here are my 10 tips that will get you on the right track.
- Call the school and check out the website first. Some schools require prospective applicants to reserve a spot for the information session and tour. Since information sessions and tour times vary seasonally, confirming the time will prevent mixups. While you have them on the phone, make sure you’re on the school’s mailing list and find out about the other resources available to prospective students. Finally, check to see that classes will be in session (and that students will be on campus) when you visit.
- Take notes. Putting together a school list is difficult, especially if all the schools are running together in your mind. Taking thorough notes will help remind you what you did and didn’t like about each college you visit. Feel free to email Admissions Checkup for a template.
- Talk to students who aren’t affiliated with the admission office. Student tour guides are sometimes less than forthcoming regarding a school’s shortcomings. Other students—those who do not work for the admission office—may offer different (and less scripted) insights, so don’t be afraid to talk to them!
- Take the tour. This is a great way to get a sense of the campus. While on tour, be observant. Is the campus well cared for? That can be an indication of whether alumni give money to the school. Alumni who’ve had a great experience and feel that their school was part of their success often give back.
- Attend the information session. Other than an interview, this is the closest most applicants get to the admission committee. Take advantage of it. Ask thoughtful questions during—or better yet, after—the information session. Get the speaker’s card and follow up with an email or thank-you note. The note will not get you in, but it will likely be included in your application and provides another data point on which your application will be evaluated.
- Interview, even if it’s not required. Interviewing showcases an important component of your application: interpersonal skills. These are difficult to demonstrate in an essay. If possible, interview with an admission committee member on campus rather than an alumnus. It will be, after all, a member of the admission committee who will be evaluating your application.
- Pick up the school newspaper and skim it. Hopefully you took clear, meaningful notes while sitting in the information session and taking the tour. All too often things were clear when you visited, but later everything is a blur. Campus newspapers differentiate the school and highlight issues students and the administration consider important. Referring to the college paper will come in handy, especially when you have to answer that all too difficult supplemental question, “Why this college?”
- Investigate the campus’ crime statistics and those of the surrounding neighborhood. Campus safety is important! Students need to feel safe when walking back from late-night study sessions or socializing, and knowing the campus is safe will make everyone more comfortable.
- Spend the night if you can. An overnight stay is the best way to get a sense of how you would fit in on campus. Unlike anything else, it gives you a chance to experience a college’s classes, dorm life, campus safety, cafeteria food, and social life up close—blemishes and all.
- Find out how they treat students. One way to quickly assess the relationship between the administration and the students is to get a sense of how students are treated by college employees. Are students, particularly undergrads, considered a nuisance? If so, take notice.
Colleges and universities can offer some of the best venues for the arts, athletics, lecture series, films, etc. For a prospective student who really desires to get a feel for campus, it’s a good idea to take advantage of an overnight stay. Weekends offer opportunities to experience both formal and informal events and activities. If your interest is in athletics, ask to attend a game or contest in your favorite sport. Perhaps you enjoy drama—ask for tickets to an upcoming theater production. If you want to see what weekend life is like, stay in the residence halls and attend meals or a coffeehouse on campus. There are so many special events on a college campus. You should be able to experience something that will be both enjoyable and informative as you seek the best college fit!
Wondering what else you can do while you’re on campus? Check out our article on Ways to Make Campus Visits More Fun.