It doesn’t matter how many viewbooks you read or websites you surf: there is simply no way to know how a college campus really feels until you visit. And now that some colleges are counting student interest among the variables they consider when making admission decisions, college visits are more important than ever. Nothing demonstrates your interest more than spending time on campus. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your visits.
Planning a Visit
- Do some research before you go. This background information will help you plan your visit efficiently and decide what questions you’d like to ask once you get there.
- Try to visit when school is in session if possible. Visits made during vacations or exams can give you an incomplete or inaccurate picture of the school.
- Phone ahead to the admissions office to find out what you can do during a visit and whether you need advance reservations for anything.
- Make sure you allow time to find parking when making your travel plans.
What to do while you are on campus
- Take a tour: Remember, though, that the tour guide is only one member of that community. You should not apply to a college or cross it off your list based solely on your experience with one individual.
- Have an interview: This will not be an option at every school.
- Eat a meal: You will learn a lot about the culture of the community just by observing what goes on in the dining hall.
- Meet with faculty and coaches: You will need to call in advance and ask the admission office the best way to set up these meetings.
- Attend an admission information session: It will round out your knowledge of the distinguishing features of the school and may offer helpful admission hints.
- Stay overnight in a residence hall: The admission office can help you facilitate this if you do not know any current students at a particular college.
- Attend a class: Or two!
- Find a college newspaper: You will learn a great deal about student opinion, news of the community, and controversial campus issues.
- Pay attention to the bulletin boards: Campus bulletin boards are plastered with announcements of upcoming events. You can learn a lot about the pulse of the place from these low-tech but ubiquitous displays.
- Take notes! It is impossible to overstate the importance of recording your impressions as soon as possible after your visit. One counselor we know suggests buying a postcard from the bookshop and jotting down your thoughts on the back.
People worth talking to
Some individuals—students, faculty, admission officers, coaches—are a given. Here are a few other rich sources of information that might not come to mind as quickly:
- Reference Librarians: These individuals have a unique perspective on the types of assignments faculty give their students and also on how engaged students are in their learning.
- Campus Police Officers: Whether you have specific concerns about safety or more general questions about the prevalence and degree of mischief on campus, the campus police can help.
- Dining Hall Staff: In a college hierarchy, the position of cafeteria worker may not be as prestigious as professor or dean or president, yet these individuals who work daily to serve students are valuable members of the campus community. If you want to understand the character of the student body, ask these employees about how students treat them and the facilities in which they work.
- Student Affairs Officers: Career services, Greek life, advising, residence life, student activities, religious life—these individuals can tell you how engaged students are outside the classroom.
- Financial Aid Officers: If you plan on applying for need-based aid, you should make a point of speaking with a financial aid counselor. You will be surprised at how eager these people are to help you understand this complex process.