Originally Posted: Oct 29, 2015
Last Updated: Mar 3, 2021
I was a sophomore in high school when my mom dragged me on my first college visit. I didn’t want to listen to admission counselors or walk around a snowy campus, let alone even think about college. But at the end of the day, I realized college wasn’t as scary—or as far away—as I thought. Despite not initially wanting to go, I learned the importance of the college visit and want to share my advice and experience with other students hesitant about putting in the energy.
My extensive personal experience
College visits were something I learned could master with a little bit of practice. And so practice I did! Over the next year and a half, I visited six Midwestern public universities—Winona State University, University of Minnesota, University of Iowa, Iowa State University, South Dakota State University, and University of Missouri—as well as one private college, the University of Northwestern—St. Paul. After all those visits, I’ve learned there are a few things you can do to make sure your time on campus is well spent. I may not have all the answers, but I’ll share with you what I know, prospective student to prospective student.
Campus tour tips
Campus tours are meant to be an opportunity to learn as much about a school as possible in a single day, so soak it all in as best you can. If there's anything I've learned from my many campus visits, it's these five big lessons.
- Bring questions. Take some time to write out your campus visit questions as well as who you intend to ask (an admission counselor, financial aid advisor, professor, or current student). Make sure to write down the answers while you’re talking to them too, or you’ll forget what they said!
- The best place for asking questions is in private meetings. Colleges are happy to schedule appointments ahead of time with people you’d like to talk with. They can usually arrange them on the day of your visit too.
- Be prepared to share what you plan to major in. If you don’t know for certain, pick something you’ve thought about or a general area, such as the medical field. The college will tailor your visit based on your tentative major, and it’s a lot easier to analyze a school if you have an idea of what you want to major in.
- Walk at the front of your tour group. You’ll have an easier time hearing what your tour guides say, viewing places as they talk about them, and getting their attention if you have a question.
- Create your own campus profiles. After you visit several schools, each one’s details will get all mixed up in your head. To avoid this, compile the most important information onto one notebook page or spreadsheet. Keep a similarly formatted page for each school so that comparing them is fast and easy. Write down details that matter most to you when choosing a college, which could be the price tag, how strong it is in your major, student body size, housing options, or distance from home. Also include relevant information for future reference such as application deadlines, fees (including which ones are refundable if you change your mind), and contact info of your admission counselor.
A few tips about public universities
While each school has its own quirks, I noticed that there are a lot of things they have in common. I mainly visited public universities, and, in my experience, the following is true for the majority of them.
- They’re always under construction. Don’t be swayed by fancy facilities—especially the top-of-the-line gym your tour guides brag about. Almost every school I went to boasted a brand-new exercise building.
- The earlier you apply, the better. Some schools give out housing based on when you applied for admission.
- The staff can’t tell you much about which scholarships you might get. Aside from those that are automatically awarded upon admission, you’ll just have to apply (early!) and hope for the best.
- Career placement programs and internship connections are important. It’s hard to get a job right out of college, so find a school that will help you.
These are just the basics—but that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. Knowing the basics and the key things to look out for on a college visit is crucial. Explore some more college visit advice to get even more ideas of how to make the experience great. You’ve really got to experience a school for yourself to catch all the little things that make it unique—and those just might be the things that make or break your decision to attend.
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