Most college counselors will strongly recommend that you visit the colleges you are considering. They are right. The campus visit is the only way you will know if the college feels “right”.
The college visit scheduled with the admissions office will look very similar at many colleges. Visitors will get a brief information session about the college and then a campus tour led by a current student. The information that is shared is very important and should not be missed.
However, students must remember that the information you receive on a sanctioned campus tour can be very scripted and is meant to sell you on the college. Plus, the places that are showcased on the campus tour are the things the college is proud to show off. There will be elements of the campus that will be left out. Sometimes they are left out because there is just not enough time, and other times it is because it is not the best selling point for the college.
To make the most of a college visit and to help you get a real look at the college, students should also consider doing some of the following:
1. Take your own tour
After the official tour, explore the campus on your own. Was there something missed on the campus tour that you’re curious about seeing? Go check it out.
2. Spend the night on campus
If there is a chance you will be living on campus, it is a must to spend the night in the residence halls. When dorm rooms are shown off on college tours, they are typically hand-selected to show prospective students clean and organized rooms. Spending the night will let you actually experience living on campus. This will include feeling how comfortable the bed is, how quiet (or loud) it is at night, and the bathroom situation. Plus, spending the night on campus allows students to experience the people and some of the campus activities. Overnights can often be scheduled through the admissions office. In order to narrow down the number of overnights you do, you may want to wait until you’ve been accepted to schedule this.
3. Eat in the cafeteria
You will eat a lot of cafeteria food when you’re in college, so it’s important to make sure its acceptable to you. Most college food does not taste like “mom’s cooking,” but some colleges have better food than others. In addition, if you have special dietary requirements, you’ll get to explore the options and possibly talk to someone who works in the dining hall(s) to make sure you will find everything that you need.
4. Explore the surrounding community
No matter how amazing the college you attend is, you will need to get off campus once in a while. Is the surrounding community safe? Does it have what you might need? If you will not have a car on campus, will you be able to walk or find a local bus that can get you to where you need to be? The surrounding community will also be your home for the next four years, so you want to make sure it’s a place you like and feel safe.
5. Talk to current students
Sure, you met a current student during the campus tour. However, they are trained to talk about the college in a positive light. Talk to other students about the college and see what they like and dislike. Current students will be very honest about their experience and are a great resource for prospective students as they are figuring out if a campus is a good fit.
6. Sit in on a class or two
The most important reason for attending college is academics, so students should test drive the classes at the college. If you know what major you are considering, try to sit in on one of those classes. The professor you see in that class will probably be your professor when you get to campus as a student. If you’re not sure what you’ll study, a general education course is also a good option. Stay behind after class and introduce yourself to the professor and ask a question or two. For example, you could ask the professor what makes major ‘x’ so great at the college.
7. Read the student newspaper
By reading student publications, you’ll get an idea of what is important to the campus community. Plus, you will probably learn about things that might not have been mentioned in the sales pitch that came from the admissions office.
8. Check out the bulletin boards
The bulletin boards are a good indication of the types of activities happening on campus. Do any seem interesting and something you’d like to attend if you were a student at the college?
9. Come prepared with questions
If something is important to you, ask about it. College is a huge investment in time and money, so you want to make sure you’re getting everything you want and need. College professors, admissions officers and others are happy to answer your questions. They understand it is part of their job to do so in order to continue to attract smart, capable students to their college.
10. Visit during the academic year, if possible
It is always best to visit a college when class is in session. Many colleges feel like a different world when students are not on campus. Plus, visiting during the academic year will allow you to see what the weather is like. Sure, many locations have great weather during the summer, but will you be able to handle the weather in January? If you come from a sunny climate and you’re considering a cold climate, this is especially important.
11. If a summer visit is the only option, seek out a prospective student event
Many students can only visit during the summer. While it is not ideal, it is still better to visit during the summer than not at all. If dates are flexible, check with the admissions office to see if there are any special events for prospective students during the summer. These types of events will be sure to have people available for visitors, such as current students and professors.
12. Work with the admissions office
Many of the activities mentioned above, such as spending the night on campus and sitting in on a class, can be scheduled through the admissions office. As soon as you know you’ll be able to visit campus, contact the admissions office to see if they can schedule everything you want to do while on campus which might include meeting with a coach or professor. The more time you give them, the better.
13. Take notes and photos during the visit
College visits will start to blend together. Take photos and notes during your visit so that you can look back when you’re trying to make your decision about where to apply or attend. You don’t want to confuse two different campuses when making a decision about college.
The college visit is very important during the college search and selection process. Don’t just take the official campus tour when visiting. To make the most out of the visit, take advantage of your time on campus to truly experience life as a college student. This is the best way for you to see if you’ll like being a student at the college.