As college application season quickly approaches, high school students across the country are booking their college visits for their top choices. They hop in trains, cars, and planes and make mini vacations out of weekend college road trips. College trips are the best way to truly get to know the schools you're interested in. But how do you make the most of those visits? You follow this little-known advice, that’s how.
Book an information session and campus tour
Almost every college and university offers information session and tour packages for prospective students. The good news is that they’re absolutely free! Take advantage of the opportunity to hear all about the admission process, financial aid, study abroad, classroom sizes, and more directly from college representatives and take a tour led by a student who actually lives there. Also, because you will be guided through the campus instead of aimlessly walking around, you will have the opportunity to see libraries, dining halls, and sometimes even dorm rooms. Finally, both campus information sessions and tours are awesome opportunities to ask tons of questions!
Related: The 3 Main Types of College Visits
Open houses shouldn't be skipped
Once the spring comes around, colleges and universities tend to hold campus tours and information sessions Monday through Friday. However, on a few particular days they’ll host open houses too. During these events, visiting students participate in a day full of admission-related activities, such as student panels, open classrooms, and even lunch in a dining hall. Because an open house has more going on than a regular tour or information session, you learn more about the school. Also, they attract more people, so you can meet the kind of students who are also applying to the school.
Current students know best
Colleges can go on and on about how their students are all bright and happy, but the only way to find out for sure is to meet some of them on your own. Maybe you can talk to other students in the admission office while you’re waiting for your tour to start, or you could chat with a friendly looking group relaxing in the quad. You might be surprised by how willing students are to talk about their college experience, share their tips, and answer your questions. Do they study a lot? Are they excited about campus sports? Do they have an avid extracurricular life? Are they stressed out all of the time? You want to hear the truth from them directly. After all, these students will be your peers if you decide to commit to the college, so it’s important to see how you’d fit in. Unfortunately, because most college students leave campus for summer vacation, there aren’t many students living there during June, July, and August. Still take a tour if this is the only convenient time for you to visit, but consider going back down the road when you are closer to your decision.
Visiting the financial aid office will benefit you
Since you’ve already taken the time to visit campus, you might as well stop by the financial aid office before you leave. Ask if you could speak with an advisor, and come prepared with questions. The best way to understand how the school can help you financially is by talking to the people who will be ultimately making your financial aid package! In fact, on rare occasions, a college might waive your application fee just by visiting the financial aid office. As applications can get up to $70 or $80 dollars, you don’t want to pass those savings up. Do your research before you visit the school to see if this applies. Also, the school’s financial aid advisors may be able to tell you about scholarship opportunities that are unique to you, your interests, and/or your major. They can also explain the process for applying to these awards, like if you need to apply separately or if your general application for admission is all you need to submit. Finally, be sure to check when the financial aid office is open. Sometimes they have reduced hours during the summer, and they’re rarely open on weekends, so you may have to plan accordingly.
Visit the surrounding town or city
It’s a good idea to extend your trip off campus visit and spend some time where you may be living and/or hanging out in your free time. Go to dinner at a local restaurant students like. Walk around and feel out the atmosphere of the area. Get a sense of what there is to do for fun and maybe even for work (whether part-time jobs or internships). Even if you plan to live on campus throughout college, the surrounding city or town can have a big impact on your life, so it’s important that you are happy there. Like you wouldn’t move into a house that you’ve only viewed online, you shouldn’t commit to a college without seeing it first. Take the time to do so, and you will be happy you did so come college decision time!
I hope this blog gave you some advice you hadn’t gotten before about college visits. The fact of the matter is no two campus visit experiences are going to be the same. The most important thing is to be yourself, focus on what’s most important to you and not anyone else, and have a good time.
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