Whether you’re planning to attend an Ivy League school, or you want to start out at community college, it’s important to find the right fit. There are so many colleges and universities out there that there’s no reason you can’t find one that suits your needs and preferences.
But how do you go about choosing the perfect college?
You have to start somewhere, so talk to your high school counselor, do some research online, or ask around with your friends and family to start making a list of colleges you may be interested in. As you go deeper with your research, you’ll start to get a feel for each school, and you’ll start to get an idea whether you would fit in there.
Once you have narrowed down your list to a few top picks, it’s time to take the next step – college visits. In this article, we’ll talk about the importance of college visits and how to do them right.
Why Is It Important to Do College Visits?
The college application process is very time-consuming, and it can be stressful knowing that every detail of your application could be scrutinized. When you work that hard to put together the perfect application, you want to know that it’s being sent in the right direction. If you don’t take the time to visit and learn about the schools you’re applying to, it could be wasted effort.
On the other side of things, completing a college visit can help you get a better feel for the schools you’re applying to so you can tailor your application for each school. If you have the opportunity to talk with an admissions counselor at the colleges you visit, don’t pass it up! Take the chance to ask questions about the school and about your application as well as anything you can do to improve it.
Simply making a college visit can show the admissions team that you’re seriously interested in the school. Colleges are concerned about their yield rate – the number of accepted students who choose to enroll – so if you show a keen interest in visiting the school, it could improve your chances of being accepted. Of course, there are no guarantees.
Though making college visits is a great way to get the information you need to fine-tune your application and to show the school that you’re really interested, it’s also important for helping you make your final decision. It’s hard to tell by perusing a school’s Facebook page whether the campus culture and attitude is a fit. On a college visit, you’ll be able to explore the campus, meet some of the teachers and students, and see whether you can really picture yourself going to that school.
These are just a few of the reasons college visits are important, and your own reasons may be very different. Keep reading to learn how to make the most of your college visits this summer.
Tips for Preparing for College Visits
Many students wait to visit a school until they’ve been accepted, but the fact is that visiting a school beforehand can help you decide whether you want to apply at all. You may think that you love a certain school based on the information you’ve read and then find out in a visit that the college culture and atmosphere is just not a good fit.
Before you jump in the car and head off to your first college visit, there are a few things you should do to prepare. Here are some simple tips:
- Finalize your list and do some additional research. You don’t necessarily have to visit every college that is on your interest list but prioritize the schools at the top of the list and do a little extra research, so you know what questions to ask and what to look for when you get there.
- Start by checking out the school’s social media pages. Visiting the school’s Facebook page and other social media accounts is a great way to see what kind of activities the school is involved in and to get a feel for what kind of students go there. It’s also a great way to see what kind of events might be happening when you make your visit.
- Plan around prospective student days. You can complete a college visit whenever you like, but if you really want to make the most of your experience, consider scheduling your visit to coincide with a prospective student day. These events typically include a campus tour, interaction with students, and activities that really give you a feel for the school in a short time.
- Contact the admissions office ahead of time. If you just want to take a quick look at a school, you could just drive up and walk around. If you really want to get the full experience, however, you should inform the admissions office of your intentions and see if you can schedule a campus tour and a chat with an admissions officer.
- Don’t forget to check out the surrounding area. Even though you’ll be spending most of your time on campus, you should still check out the surrounding area. You may prefer to go to school in a big city or a small town, but you’ll only know what’s around if you check it out yourself.
- Consider planning a college visit weekend. If you’re considering multiple schools in the same area, try to visit them all in one weekend. Not only is this a great time-saver, but it will help you compare and contrast the different schools while your impressions are still fresh.
As you start planning your college visits, try to maximize your time. Make sure you have enough time to spend at each school so you can really get a feel for things but don’t feel like you have to linger if you’ve gotten the information you need. Keep reading to learn how to get the most out of each visit.
How to Get the Most Out of Your College Visit
There is no exact formula for the perfect college visit because every student’s needs and interests are different. If you’re attending college for a specific program, your focus might be on the academics. If you’re attending community college to complete some prerequisites, the atmosphere and campus culture may be more important.
These are important things to think about before you start planning college visits because it will help you use your time efficiently. If you really want to get a feel for each school you visit, however, there are certain things you should do.
Here are a few things to include in your college visit checklist:
- Campus tour (self-guided or official)
- Talk with an admissions officer
- Sit in on a class in your desired department
- Talk to current students
- Visit campus facilities (ex: dining hall, dorms, etc.)
- Check out the surrounding area
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these things and how to get the most from them.
1. Take a campus tour
Starting your college visit with a campus tour is a great introduction to the school. If you plan ahead, you can schedule a tour led by an admissions officer or a current student so you can really make the most of it. You can always wander around the campus yourself if you just want to take a quick look at things, but a guided tour will provide you with an opportunity to ask questions as you go along.
During your tour, try to really be engaged in the experience with the goal of getting a feel for the school and how you would fit in. Check out flyers and bulletin boards to see what kind of activities are going on and see if you can find a school newspaper. After the tour, you can venture out on your own to take a closer look at the things that interest you.
2. Talk with an admissions officer
In addition to taking a campus tour, you should also talk to an admissions officer. Even if you don’t sit down for a full interview, it’s a good idea to check in with a representative to show the school that you’re interested and to get the information you need to guide the rest of your visit. If you have questions or specific things on your list that you want to see, the admissions office is the perfect place to get that information. They’ll also be able to provide you with brochures and class schedules if you want to get a better feel for student life.
After talking with the admissions officer, be sure to get their contact information. It’s a great idea to send a quick email thanking them for taking the time to talk to them and reiterating your interest in the school. These little things can make a difference because they’re all part of showing the school who you are and demonstrating your interest.
3. Sit in on a class in your desired department
As a student, you’ll be spending a great deal of time in class, so it’s a good idea to sit in on one if you can. If you already have a major in mind, communicate ahead of time with the head of the department to see if you can sit in on a class and, even better, have a quick chat with the professor afterward. Sitting in on a class will help you get a feel for the teaching style at the school and for student participation. Make sure the classes suit your style of learning.
In addition to getting a feel for professors and teaching styles, you should also take a closer look at the classrooms themselves because they can give you clues that are good to know. Are the classrooms big or small? Are they set up with tables or is it stadium-style seating? Check out the technology in each classroom as well to see how up-to-date the facilities are.
4. Talk to current students
One of the best ways to get a feel for a college is to hang out on the quad and to stop by the dorms. Though academics may be your priority when you go to college, you still want to have opportunities to meet and make friends with other students. If the school doesn’t provide common hangout spots, or if students don’t tend to use them, it’s probably not a good sign.
If you talk to the admissions office before your visit, you might be able to schedule a sit-down with a current student. Better yet, that sit-down might happen in the dining hall so you can check out the facilities and talk to a current student at the same time. Take this opportunity to ask the questions you might not ask an admissions counselor about things like dorm life, extracurriculars, and amenities. The more information you can get about a school, the better, so take advantage!
5. Visit campus facilities
Visiting classrooms is a must when you make a college visit, but don’t forget about the other campus facilities, particularly the dormitories and the library. Most colleges provide some kind of athletics facility, and many are just as good as professional gyms, if not better. Even if you don’t see yourself working out every day, it’s still good to have the option. If you do plan to use the gym, see if you can find out whether the sports teams have their own facilities or if you’ll be sharing them.
In addition to athletics facilities, be sure to visit the library, student center, and dorms. Even if you don’t plan to study in the library as much as your own room, it’s still important to make sure the library is a good resource. It’s where you’ll be doing a lot of your research and it will likely house other facilities like computer labs and group study rooms. The student center is another great place to visit because it is another place for students to hang out but may also be a hub for certain amenities like the student health center, mail room, and book store.
Another important thing to check out on your college visit is the dormitories – especially freshman housing. In most cases, freshman housing won’t be the newest or the nicest, but it’s all part of the college experience. Get a feel for the layout of the dorms, the size of the rooms, and other amenities such as common spaces, kitchens, and study areas. You may also want to talk to students or admissions about whether on-campus housing is guaranteed your first year.
6. Check out the surrounding area
After checking all of the boxes on your campus visit list, it’s a good idea to venture out into the surrounding town or city. It shouldn’t take long for you to get a feel for the area outside the campus and to determine whether the college and the town have a good relationship or not. See if you can visit some local businesses who might be willing to answer questions about the dynamic between the school and the town because this could impact your experience as a student.
In addition to getting a feel for the dynamics in the area, you should check out local attractions. See what kind of restaurants, shopping, and entertainment options are available for the times when you want to get off-campus. It also helps to know how far the school is from important things like a major hospital, shopping malls, and other interests.
Alternatives to College Visits
Sometimes making a physical visit to a certain college just isn’t in the cards. Whether you have too many other plans for the summer or the school is simply too far away, it may not be practical or possible to make the trip out to see a college for yourself.
So, what do you do to get a feel for the school if you can’t actually visit it?
One option is to spend some time on the school’s website and see if you can find a virtual tour. Many schools have their own virtual tours online, or you can check a website like YouVisit which has tours of hundreds of schools. Even something as simple as checking out the college’s social media pages can help you get a feel for the atmosphere on campus.
Another option is to call the school and ask whether they are sending representatives to any college fairs in your area. If you can’t visit the school to talk to an admissions rep, you may be able to get one to come to you. If you’re really interested in a school, talk to your high school counselor to see if they might be able to work something out with the school. You may even be able to get a phone call with a current student so you can ask questions.
Attending college is a major decision and not one you should rush. Taking the time to complete college visits will help you get a feel for the schools on your list so you can make the right choice. Put to use the tips you’ve learned here to make the most of your college visits this summer!