If you’re a high school junior or senior, college is probably one of the biggest things on your mind right now. For seniors who have already applied, you’re probably chomping at the bit to find out if you’ve been accepted. For juniors who are just starting the college search process, this is when things really start to amp up—you’re taking the necessary standardized tests, and hopefully by now you have a list of the schools you’re considering applying to. The next step is to start scheduling your college visits.
Why Visit Prospective Colleges?
With online video tours, brochures, and all the other information that’s available on the Internet, you might be wondering why it’s so important to visit a college in person. Well, although you can get a ton of information from a college’s website, the only way to really know if it’s a good fit is to be on campus, where you can take a tour, speak to students and faculty, and experience it firsthand.
* TIP: Visit your most desired school last. By then you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for and what types of questions to ask.
When to Visit Colleges
You may have been told that summertime is a great time to visit colleges. Although you have more free time in the summer and the weather’s better, the most opportune time to visit is in the spring, while school is still in session. This will give you the most accurate idea of what life at the college is really like, and you’ll also have the chance to speak to students and get honest opinions.
* TIP: Don’t wait until the end of the term, when students are busy with finals and there aren’t as many activities going on around campus.
The Official Campus Tour
Even if you’ve done your research and feel you know all about the college and what it has to offer, don’t dismiss the school’s official campus tour, which can give you a chance to check out the food court, tour classroom buildings, and see some of the things the college is most proud of.
Before you even arrive at the college, make sure to come up with a comprehensive list of questions to ask your tour guide or the admissions reps. Some questions you might ask include:
- What is the average class size?
- What’s the student-to-faculty ratio?
- What are the meal plan options?
- What kinds of activities are available?
- How up-to-date are the facilities?
- What types of volunteer opportunities are available?
- What’s the student center like?
- Do you offer a study abroad program?
- What do students do on the weekends?
- Are there many work-study positions?
- What is it like to live here?
- Are the dorms modern and comfortable?
- What’s the college’s best-kept secret?
Of course, these are just some examples. Take this opportunity to ask any question you may have. Then, after the official tour, do a little exploring on your own. Talk to students, faculty, staff. Ask them what they like about the school. What they don’t like. Gather as much info as you can in order to help you make an educated decision down the road.
* TIP: Student newspapers can give you an inside look at what campus life is really like. Pick one up to check out on the ride home.
Other Things to Do During Your Visit
Other than the official tour, there are some other things you might want to consider doing during your visit. Schedule a meeting with a financial aid representative to see what grants or scholarships you might be eligible for. If possible, sit in on a class that interests you or meet with a professor in your anticipated major. Hang out in the student center for a while and get a feel for campus life. Visit the career center and learn what services they offer. You might not get another chance to visit the school in person, so be sure to make the most of your time while you’re there.
* TIP: Scan the bulletin boards around campus to see what daily student life is like.
Evaluate Your Visit
A campus visit shouldn’t be the only reason you choose a college, but it can be a major factor in your decision. During the visit, pay attention to how you feel. Your instincts can go a long way in helping you make the right decision. Then, that night when you’re back at home, review your notes and make a list of pros and cons you can use when you’re comparing various schools.
Of course, some schools might be too far away to visit in person, at least during the early stage of your college-search. Luckily there are some great online services like eCampusTours, YourCampus360, and CampusTours that enable you to explore the campus from afar. And many schools now feature a virtual tour from their website, too.
Whatever you feel after visiting a particular college, don’t be too hasty in your decision. Be sure to visit as many schools as you can — big schools, small schools, schools in the city, rural schools, etc. — so that you can get a better understanding of what they have to offer and what is the best option for you.
And of course, be sure to have fun. Enjoy this time and don’t let the process stress you out. This is just the beginning of what will be one of the most exiting and memorable times of your life. Good luck! ~