Even with a tour guide rattling off fun facts about the newest university library or award-winning sports teams, campus visits can be daunting. You’re handed folders and pamphlets and drawstring backpacks, all packed full of information about financial aid and how to double-major and which teen movie franchise filmed scenes on campus (at University of Chicago, it’s Divergent). You’re trying to look at the students—are they having fun?—and the teachers—are they friendly?—as well as taking in the academic, athletic, and social environment of the school.
If you don’t know what to look for, campus visits can be exhausting, not to mention a wasted opportunity.
Luckily, knowing what to look for isn’t too difficult. It’s the same things you thought of when you chose to visit that college in the first place, from the campus activities you want to spend your free time doing to the professors you’ve been dreaming of learning from. The secret to a great visit isn’t counting how many dining halls are on campus or if you’ll be provided a free pass for public transportation: it’s finding your passion on campus.
Even though it’s important to know about dorm life and academic departments, most of that information can be found in pamphlets or online. Instead of trying to memorize the minutiae, listen for what you’re passionate about. At Northwestern, instead of taking in the breathtaking Lake Michigan view that was right outside, I looked at a display case of alumni’s famous books (Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy). At Notre Dame, I talked to my tour guide about being involved in theater productions instead of the new football stadium. Even though great views and Division I sports are definite draws to those schools, those things aren’t what I’m passionate about. Instead, I paid attention to what Northwestern and Notre Dame had for me.
So look past what’s on the brochures when you’re visiting a campus. Ask if they offer the foreign language you’ve been taking online. Ask about dance teams. Ask about intramural sports. After all, you’re probably not going to spend a whole lot of time staring out at a city skyline or sitting in the multi-million dollar stadium while you’re at college (unless, of course, those are the things you’re passionate about!). Look for ways to do what you love—even if they don’t get printed on information packets.