Picking a college is not easy. It can be challenging…and kinda terrifying. However, one important way to help make your decision easier is to visit the campus. Here’s how to do it right! Visiting a college provides a unique and really useful experience. Many colleges look fantastic on paper but may give off a vibe that just doesn’t sit well with you. Visiting campus can give you a feel of what the experience and students are like, and information sessions give you the perfect opportunity to ask those questions that have been burning in the back of your mind. Here are some crucial things to do before a college tour to make sure you get the most out of your campus visit.
Do your research
You won’t be able to make the most of your college visits unless you put a little time and planning into them. After all, you won’t be able to see the entire campus, so it’s important to figure out what’s most important to you and prioritize getting there if you can. For example, maybe you really want to see the chemistry department or rehearsal space or student TV studio. Maybe you just want to sit down in the library or dining hall to see if it feels right! So research the college in advance and make lists of things you want to see and question you want to ask in advance.
You can also tell the admission department about your goals when you schedule your visit. Ask if you can speak with admission folks, financial aid counselors, professors, and/or sports coaches if you are interested in playing athletics during your visit. Many schools will have this included in your registration, but if not, take the two minutes to either email or call the admission office. They are there to help you, so make sure to take advantage! Beyond that, make sure you find out as much about the campus and college itself before you even make your reservation. That way, you can make your visit all about atmosphere rather than facts and figures. Also keep in mind that you might be able to do some college visit stuff on your own if you can’t fit it all into the official campus tour.
Choose your dates wisely
Most colleges will require you to register for visits in advance. But when picking a time of year to visit colleges, be careful. While it may be easier to come in the summer when you don’t have school, remember neither do most college students. Some students may remain behind to do summer classes, research, or to help with tours, but the majority will be gone. This means the campus will be much quieter than normal and give off a different vibe. A big campus may seem much smaller without the numerous crowds of students, while a small school may actually seem bigger, with lots of empty space. Also, coming in the summer means you will be less likely to get to talk and interact with current students, which leads to the next tip…
Interact with everybody possible
Interacting with people who attend and work at the college is important. You can learn a lot from them. Current students can give you an idea about the course load, opportunities to get help, extracurricular activities, and day-to-day life. Professors, on the other hand, can tell you about the different opportunities in the classroom, from lab work to internships to studying abroad. They can also give insight into how classes are run, what their expectations are like, and what to expect for your course load.
Then there are the coaches. If you are planning to play in college, whether it is Division I or intramural sports, this is important. Coaches can answer questions about how long practices and games are, how flexible it is around your schedule, and what the team is like. Interacting with members of the college community can help to give you a more holistic view of the college. And don't forget: you can also simply talk to students who are around! Or you might ask about sitting down with a current student as part of your visit when you register for the event.
Go to the information session
As you are registering for a visit, many colleges give you the option of doing just a tour or a tour and an information session. Do both! Or at least do both for your first college visit or two. While the tour will allow you to explore campus and get a feel for where you may be living for the next several years, the information session is helpful too. It will tell you about the graduation rates, college size, and all those important dates you need to know, like when you need to send certain forms in. You may also get dates for open houses that will allow you to explore the campus more.
The information session is also the perfect time to ask admission counselors your questions. Want to know if your SAT score qualifies you for a special honors program or if your AP test score will help you place out of first-year math? How about if there are any co-ops or internships available in your major? Now is the time to ask. Anything you have questions about, feel free to ask—though try to make them questions you can’t just answer on your own with a quick online search! You might even be able to schedule a meeting with an admission counselor if you have additional questions.
Visit the town too
If you're not already familiar with the college town, go exploring! Sure, you can sheck out the touristy spots and eat at the famous restaurants. But also try to get a feel for where you might be living and what it will be like as a local. Use the public transportation and eat at college student hangouts, or visit the nearest grocery store or even house of worship, if that's important to you. Whatever you do, get a better idea of what living in the town would be like. The campus tour is important but so is the town experience, since you’re pretty much inevitably going to leave campus for one reason or another while you’re attending the university.
Talk to the tour guide
If possible, get the email of your tour guide or of another student (the admission office will be happy to help) so you can contact them with additional questions. Any student who dedicates time to give tours or works in the admission office will know plenty about the school and work hard to answer your questions to the best of their abilities. Additionally, since they’re still a student, the college search process will be fresh in their minds, and they’ll be able to sympathize with your feelings and provide more personable advice.
Write everything down
You may think your college trip will be unforgettable (and it may very well be), but some of the details might slip your mind in the future. Within three days of your visit (but ideally immediately!), write an entry in a notebook detailing what you did, your thoughts about the campus, and how you feel. This is also a handy place to store whatever information the college gives you during your visit, so when you’re deciding where to apply, you can remember how colleges treated you and how at home you felt in much greater detail.
So as you find yourself exploring colleges, take the time to visit their campuses—and make the most of it! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The tour guides and admission counselors are there to help you. They want you to come to their college, so they will be glad to set up meetings for you and answer your questions. Oh, and one more important thing: make sure you have fun! After all, this is your future we’re talking about.
Can’t go on college visits? Try watching our YouTube video of a student taking us on a tour of Michigan State University to get an idea of campus life!