You’ve researched many colleges, talked to many academic advisors and read through a ton of college brochures and websites. Now your list has narrowed to a few top choices and you are beginning to reach your final decision on which schools will receive your application. While research and phone calls go a long way toward finding the right school, the college visit is a very important piece of the process. You’ll only have a certain amount of time for your college visit, especially if the school is far from where you live, so it’s important to make every moment count and to get the most out of your visit.
If you plan on taking a road trip to visit your college, you may be able to make the trip more economical if you can include a couple of schools in one trip. If you are taking a family vacation near your school and can make a detour on that trip to avoid making a different trip, you can save time and money. If possible, set aside a full day – even two full days if the school is far away or in an unfamiliar part of the country. You want to make sure you have plenty of time to see the things you need to see.
The Official Tour:
Schools often have a program designed for prospective students, which includes a tour of the campus, a description of all the amenities of the school, and sometimes the opportunity to sit in on a class. Often, the tour is conducted by a student volunteer and a lot of the information you’ll be given on the tour you will have already read or heard about from your research into the school. Go to the tour with a list of questions you have – whatever was not covered on the website or brochure. You will have many opportunities to ask those questions.
The Unofficial Tour:
After the tour, you’ll most likely be encouraged to stay on campus for a while and explore on your own. This is perhaps one of your best opportunities to see what the school is really like. Grab a cup of coffee. Check out the student cafeteria. Talk to the students that are hanging around. Most will be happy to talk to you. Ask subjective questions like “how do you like going here?”, “Do you feel safe on campus?” “What’s your favorite part of college?” Striking up conversations with students who have not volunteered to be tour guides for the school is the best way to get honest and unbiased perspectives of the school and what it’s like to attend.
Scouting the Surrounding Area:
This part of your college visit is particularly important if you will be going to school in a city that is unfamiliar to you. It will help you get an idea of what the area surrounding campus is like. Are there places nearby to get groceries, see a movie, hang out, etc. Finally, try to talk to locals during your visit.
What if I Can’t Visit?
There are some cases where a college visit is just not possible. Perhaps the school you are interested in is too far away, or you just can’t schedule any time away, or a trip to the college is financially not practical. In these cases, there are still some things you can do to get an idea of what it would be like to attend that college. Some colleges have virtual tours, where you tour the campus online. If that’s not an option, ask the admissions person if you can get email addresses or phone numbers of students that you can talk to or correspond with. You can ask them all the question you have, that an advisor wouldn’t necessarily answer.