Organizing Your College Visits
You can't judge a college by its brochure
A campus visit is your opportunity to get a firsthand view of a college. A college catalog, view book, or website is not enough. To really get a feel for the school, you need to walk around the quad, sit in on a class, and visit the dorms.
Get answers to your questions
- What is the average class size and the student to faculty ratio?
- Are most classes taught by professors or by teaching assistants?
- What is the campus meal plan like? How is the food?
- What is the make-up of the current freshman class? Is the campus fairly diverse?
- What's the social scene like? What kinds of activities are planned by the college's Residential Affair?
- Is there ample space in dorms or does there seem to be a housing crunch?
- How many students are commuters/residents?
- Do I feel at home here? Is this what I pictured college to be?
Collect valuable information
- Pick up brochures and financial aid forms
- Get business cards so you'll have a contact if you have a question about admissions or financial aid.
- Look around for newspapers and activity calendars.
- Check out bulletin boards to see what bands are coming to the campus, parties are advertised, and internships are posted. Get a sense for the day-to-day energy of the place.
Prepare for your college campus visit: research the college
- Review the view books, course catalogs, and other materials the college sends to prospective students.
- Surf their website
- Talk to currently enrolled students or alumni about their college. Some college websites let you contact them online, or you can get their contact information from the admissions office.
Schedule your trip
Pick a time that's convenient for you, but try to go when classes are in session. That way, you can sit in on a lecture or stay in a dorm overnight. You'll only get a true feel for the campus if you're there on a day when classes are in full swing.
Schedule your time on campus, too, to make sure you'll have time for everything you want to do:
- Find out how often college tours run, and if you have to sign up in advance.
- Be sure to get a map of the school. You don't want to spend half your day trying to park or find the admissions office.
- If an interview is suggested, make an appointment. Also, consider meeting with the financial aid officer.
- If you're curious about a club, program, or a sport, arrange to attend a practice, rehearsal, or meeting.
Pack a camera and notebook
Was it X College or Y University that had that excellent exercise equipment in the gym? Where did I talk to that cool psychology professor? You think you'll remember everything, but you'll be surprised how colleges start to merge after you've seen a few.
What's important to you?
Make a list of what college characteristics are most important to you, so you know what to evaluate.
- Do you feel overwhelmed in a large lecture hall? Check out the class size.
- Do you have your heart set on joining a sorority or fraternity? See what the Greek system is like on campus.
- Is there a particular major that you want to pursue? Talk to current students or professors in that department.
Develop a list of your preferences. Take this list to the schools that you plan to visit and compare them when you get back home.
How to schedule your campus visits
Schoolwork, your job, your parents... choosing the right time to go on campus visits may seem like a complicated procedure. But when you're planning your trip, just be sure not to lose sight of the reason you're going: to see if the school is a good fit for you. This means you need to see the college when classes are meeting and day-to-day activities are taking place. In other words, go when the college is in session.
If it isn’t possible to go when classes are in session, plan a summer trip to visit several colleges over a week or so. You can take a campus tour (schedule ahead) and have an admissions interview (schedule ahead).
How to pick a date
During the week
· Mondays through Thursdays are ideal since campuses are generally in full swing. Since junior and senior years can be busy for you, though, it's important not to let visits interfere with your schoolwork.
· If possible, try to visit during high school holidays that fall on Mondays, when most colleges are in session.
· Most college schedule tours/information sessions throughout the summer months, and some even schedule sessions on Saturdays/Sundays. Check before you go!
The best seasons
· Late summer and early September before senior year are convenient times to visit, since many colleges begin their fall semester as early as mid-August.
· Overall, fall through winter, and sometimes early spring, are the seasons when seniors should conduct their explorations.
· Juniors who have researched colleges should consider using spring and summer vacations for college visits.
· Spring is also a good time of year if you play fall sports or are considering early action or early decision with application deadlines in November of senior year.
After you've been accepted: warning!
· If you're planning to visit colleges only after you've received acceptances, you may find yourself in a difficult position.
· Most colleges don't mail acceptance letters before April and the standard reply date is May 1. This means you may have only a few weeks before the reply date to visit.
· You could also be in a tight bind if, after visiting in person, you find you're not satisfied with your options.
· Visit before applications are due so that you're confident you'd be happy attending any of the colleges on your list.
When not to go
· Winter and spring breaks (when the colleges are on break)
· Reading period
· Exam weeks
· Saturdays and Sundays (unless the college schedules weekend tours/visits)
· When the admissions office is closed to visitors (check!)
· Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks
Campus visit checklist
- Take a campus tour.
- Have an interview with an admissions officer. (schedule in advance)
- Get business cards and names of people you meet for future contacts.
- Pick up financial aid forms.
- Participate in a group information session at the admissions office.
- Sit in on a class that interests you.
- Talk to a professor in your chosen major or subject that interests you.
- Talk to coaches of sports in which you might participate.
- Talk to a student or counselor in the career center.
- Spend the night in a dorm.
- Read the student newspaper.
- Try to find other student publications—department newsletters, alternative newspapers, literary reviews.
- Scan bulletin boards to see what day-to-day student life is like.
- Eat in the cafeteria.
- Ask students why they chose the college.
- Wander around the campus by yourself.
- Read for a little while in the library and see what it's like.
- Search for your favorite book in the library.
- Ask students what they hate about the college.
- Ask students what they love about the college.
- Browse in the college bookstore.
- Walk or drive around the community surrounding the campus.
- Ask students what they do on weekends.
- Listen to the college's radio station.
- Try to see a dorm that you didn't see on the tour.
- Imagine yourself attending this college for four years.
This article is adapted from the book Campus Visits & College Interviews by Zola Dincin Schneider, which is available at http://www.collegeboard.com/student/csearch/college-visits/101.html.
Faye Kunce, College Admissions Counselor