Sam has some valuable campus visit advice to share. The most important? Go with your gut. Here’s why.
First things first: don’t be like me.
My first college visit was during an accepted students event at one of my safety schools. In retrospect, that was not the best idea. I’ll explain below. Also keep in mind the time of year of your campus visit. I visited another college during a school vacation and the campus was essentially empty.
Anyway, back to the story of my first campus visit to that safety school… We gathered in the gym, where I sat high up in the bleachers flanked by my parents, as members of faculty and administration stepped up to a podium in the middle of the gym to speak.
“We have three sets of twins who were accepted this year,” I remember one speaker saying, a wide smile spread across his face. I clapped, laughed, and swelled with pride with each speech.
Once the members of faculty had spoken, we were split into groups for tours of the campus. We saw several residence halls with posters of group activities and upcoming events around campus. The dorm room we were allowed to look in was clean but small, with two lofted beds and a desk beneath both. We met briefly with the Resident Director, who went on to describe the different events and programs we’d seen detailed in the posters.
During the college application process, I was struck with doubt about my every move. I was afraid that I would not be accepted to any of the schools I applied to. I was afraid of disappointing my parents, so it was a great boost to my self-esteem and confidence being accepted to that first school. But deciding to visit a college for the first time during an accepted-student event can trick you a little bit. With such a focus on the best parts of the school and the students who were accepted, it’s easy to lose track of what you want from your college experience.
Related: Find colleges you should visit
From there, we broke for lunch, descending on the dining hall en masse. My parents and I took a small table in back by the windows. The décor looked like what you’d find in a coffee shop, with brown booths and amber lights hanging from the ceiling. The buffet separated the dining area from the kitchen, where cooks and steam flittered around endless trays of food. It was nice, but I still felt like I was simply observing a space rather than deciding to become part of this school.
By this point, the excitement I felt during the morning speeches had waned, and my lists of must-haves returned. Those must-haves stuck with me for the rest of the day, and even though I was able to see the unique merits of the college, I realized it wasn’t the right choice for me.
On the flip side, you really can’t ignore your gut. The first time I visited the school I ended up attending, I knew pretty quickly that it was the one for me. I visited Ithaca College during an event for accepted students as well, hearing the same speeches and seeing the same kinds of facilities. But this time, something clicked. I thought the nearby town was perfect, not too big and not too small, and the academic programs offered interested me and promised a challenge. It just felt right.
Comparing these two schools on paper versus in person shows how important it is to make a priority of visiting your potential colleges. While it may look like the perfect place online or in a college guide, you can’t get a feeling of the more nuanced aspects of the school, like how students and faculty interact, what the residence halls and cafeteria are really like, and how the college fits in with the surrounding community. So, take advantage of that excused absence from high school and make an adventure of your college visits!
What’s your campus visit story? Did you have a strong gut reaction to any of the colleges you visited? Tell us about it in the comments. Or we’d really love to hear from you on social media.