Last Updated: Sep 30, 2015
New York University, The New School, Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Amherst, Williams, Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Yale. Over a thousand miles put onto the rented blue Jetta in pursuit of the perfect school. The memories I made and the experiences I had were some of the best I in my lifetime so far. I learned many college search and campus visit lessons from my 10-day sojourn as well, and below are just a few that were that were the most helpful. Hopefully they will help you too.
Talk and listen
During your campus tours, be sure to pay close attention to what the guide and others are saying. You may even want to take notes or pictures while you are walking. Also listen to how they are talking about the school. Do their comments seemed contrived? What are they involved in at the school and what’s their “vibe” when they talk about the things they do? Do they use specific details or broad language? It’s important to ask yourself these questions and more. Also be sure to ask other people questions, not just your tour guide. Ask a random student for directions. Ask an admission rep a question about which class to take. Ask a diner at a local restaurant what they think of the college.
Food is important
When you are visiting the college, make time to experience the food in the area. Get on Yelp or Urbanspoon and look for the highest rated cheap restaurants in the area. Eating food on campus and/or in the local area will help you get a sense for what going to that college is like. Take some time to at least explore the dining hall, but eat a meal there if you can. You will be eating most of your meals in a dining hall, so you want to figure out which ones are good . . . and which ones are questionable.
Take advantage of your drive
Podcasts and audiobooks are your friends! Inevitably you will be cramped up in some car, bus, plane, etc. for hours on your way to campus. Make use of that time by learning more about the school (or learning something new in general) or immersing yourself in literature, because reading is always a good idea. I promise the miles will go faster that way. You can also use this time to review your campus visit questions and reflect about the college in writing. Any time you put your thoughts to paper, you will find that they are easier for you to remember, which is a huge plus when you are seeing multiple colleges.
Make time for fun
If all you do is going on official tours and admission interviews, you probably aren’t going to have the most fun ever. Not that talking to tour guides and admission counselors isn’t a hoot—you know, while you’re sweating your future the entire time—but it’s nice to leave time for leisure (especially if you’re using a family vacation to tour campuses). And it’s another opportunity to get to know the campus and surrounding area. Explore the city, go to a concert, see a museum, or even check out a student event if you’re able.
Notice your surroundings, not just your tour guide
It’s easy to get sucked into what the pretty brunette girl is saying about how wonderful the student activities are on campus and what she loves the most about the school. It’s much harder to notice the brown grass, the bitter cold, the lack of parking, and the SAT Subject Test requirement. This oddly specific example illustrates my point: look around. Pay attention to buildings. How clean and modern are they? How many people are there milling around? Do they look friendly and happy? What about the weather? Is it warm and pleasant or cold and bleary? (Obviously, weather changes a lot, but if you hate the cold and you’re struck by how biting it is—in September—you might want to keep that in mind.) These questions will help you determine whether the school really is as great as they say it is.
When it fits, you feel it
Apologies for the awful JCPenny phrase, but the sentiment rings true. There is always that certain special feeling that you get when you visit the right school. It isn’t something that can be quantified. Perhaps it’s the general atmosphere or a feeling you’re having. But in any case, when you leave that grassy quad or grand marble building, you know the school is right for you.