To all the seniors who have now chosen where they will be spending the next few years of their lives, congratulations! I know from personal experience that the college decision-making process was a tough one, and there is a lot of time and consideration that goes into your final choice.
For the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors who may have witnessed this stressful process, I’m sure you’re wondering how us seniors came to our decision! I won’t go into the whole process, as CollegeXpress just released an article about that, but I thought I would delve into why you need to visit schools when making your final college decision, along with some tips on how and when to do so.
Related: Campus Visit Tips No One Tells You
The importance of campus visits
Many of you have probably already visited a college campus. You probably attended an information session and tour, and a few of you may have sat in on a class. This is great for deciding where to apply, although you’re not required to visit all the campuses you’re applying to (especially if they are far away!).
However, once you have been accepted, there is no getting out of the college visit. No, it’s still not required, but I can tell you from experience that visiting campus was one of the most important factors in making my choice. Although you may not notice it now as you visit campuses, when you have been accepted to schools and go visit them, there is a certain “vibe” that comes with each school. For those of you who are skeptical about this, trust me, I was too—but it’s completely true! You have to appreciate the feel of a college campus, or else you may find you won’t enjoy your time there as a student.
Make plans to visit your school(s)
Once you have decided where you will apply, block out time in April of your senior year to go see those schools (or as many as you can). By the end of March or beginning of April, you will know where you have been accepted, and you can go to those colleges for one last look before you enroll. If you don’t plan ahead, April can become very hectic and you can miss a lot of school. Try to utilize your spring break and weekends to visit rather than weekdays.
There are two main ways to visit a college campus once you’ve been accepted. You can either attend an admitted student day, where the college will put on events and programs meant to get you to come to their school, or you can plan a separate visit. Both of these options have their merits, and I did each for different schools.
Admitted student days are a really fun way to meet other accepted students, along with faculty members, staff, and current students. There are normally a ton of information sessions about different programs and majors, which are very helpful when trying to figure out what school is best for you. Students also might put on social events to connect with admitted students, which are a lot of fun as well. However, these days can be problematic, as you don’t get to see what a normal day on campus is like.
If you can’t or choose not to attend admitted student day, you can make your own visit. Some colleges offer special admitted student tours and will allow you to attend a class, stay overnight, and/or eat in a dining hall. This is a great option to see what a normal day is like on campus without trying to be persuaded to enroll at a school.
If the school doesn’t offer special options for admitted students, don’t despair! You can reach out to the admission office or a professor in the department you’re interested in and ask if you could sit in on a class or be connected with a current student. Most of the time you will get a great response, as faculty and staff want you to come to their school! If you get a negative response or don’t hear back, that might be a sign about the institution itself.
Campus visit tips
Once you’re on campus, you should try to speak with professors and current students to get a feel for the school. You can ask them just about anything, from why they chose this college to what the workload is like.
You should also visit the surrounding area outside of campus. Although you’ll be spending most of your time on campus, you may want to leave sometimes for a break. It is important that you like the surrounding area as well as the school itself. Some colleges are also located in consortiums, in which case you might want to look at the other schools nearby. Those are the students who you will be seeing outside of the student population at your school.
Finally, once you’re done with your campus visit, make sure to document it! You can write in a journal or type into a document—anything works. Just make sure you write about how you felt, what you experienced, and what you liked or didn’t like about the experience.
You may want to make a spreadsheet with a pros and cons list for each school, and add on to it as you visit different colleges (this worked well for me). Do this immediately, as it is so easy for schools to blend together—especially if you are seeing them all in a short period of time.