College visits play a huge role in your decision when it comes time to choose a school. A lot of people simply say, “I fell in love with the campus,” but there’s more to it than that. If you end up just rushing through your visit to move onto the next one, you’re only wasting your time. To get the most out of your time on campus, we’ve got you covered with these extremely important tips!
1. Start planning and researching now
Whether you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, it’s never too early (or late) to visit a potential school. Colleges even have specific days and programs tailored to each grade level. Not only can you begin scheduling tours, but you can also start the research process. Summer Ford, a senior at Boston University, looked into a variety of schools throughout high school. “I researched and planned well beforehand which schools I wanted to apply to,” she says. “Because they were all somewhat in the same vicinity, I was able to plan out a week long college visit road trip with my mom!” Like Summer, you should be prepared before even scheduling a visit. According to Judi Robinovitz, Certified Education Planner and Founder of Score At The Top, students who visit schools without doing research beforehand are at an extreme disadvantage for a variety of reasons.
“You need to be in the position to ask questions that can’t be found online,” Robinovitz says. “That means already being well versed on what the university is about both academically and socially.” For example, rather than asking if the school offers double majors, find out beforehand and then ask something along the lines of, “I recognized on your website that having a double major is an option, what are some examples of popular combinations?” Doing so will not only make for a better visit, but it will make you stand out and show that you’re really interested in what they have to offer.
2. Set up additional arrangements
Rather than just doing the minimum by attending information sessions and going on a campus tour, look into the other opportunities the school offers. Robinovitz says that many colleges provide student hosts that take in high schoolers for an overnight in the dorms, and then go to class with them the next day. “Doing something like this, or even staying with a friend who might go there, gives students a much better perspective,” she says.
Whether or not a school offers overnights can usually be found on their website, according to Mark Montgomery, admissions consultant at Great College Advice. If you can’t find anything, though, the admissions office will be a big help. If that college provides hosts, the office will be able to set you up with one.
You can also reach out to any campus groups you might be interested in joining. If they’re not meeting while you’re there, ask to sit down and talk to any available group members! Additionally, you can arrange to meet with an advisor that’s specific to your major to discuss what you can do to start preparing for college. Rachel Petty, a junior at James Madison University, definitely stresses this one. “They can help you see if what they have to offer is right for you!” she says. If you’re really set on that major, you might be able to talk to a junior or senior who’s studying the same thing. There are plenty of opportunities; you just have to reach out to the college!
3. Pay close attention to the details on campus
When you’re with a big group exploring a giant campus, it can be easy to miss out on a lot of the important details. While learning the basics is important, it’s also important to get a feel for the campus and its students. According to Robinovitz, one of the best things you can do is gauge your tour guide’s enthusiasm for the university. Summer did exactly this by staying behind and talking to the tour guides afterwards. Additionally, she got their contact information, so she could ask more questions later on. “Making that connection with the guide can just help give you that inside scoop on the school from a student that actually attends the university,” she says. “You can look at them as being more than just a tour guide. They can be a personal connection at your potential school.” Take advantage of these people who are already willing to help in the first place!
It’s also important to determine the overall feel for the campus. “Admissions at every college will claim that their campus is friendly, but you have to see and observe it yourself,” she says. Ask yourself the following: are kids walking alone or in groups? When you pass students, do they say hello or smile? Does everyone generally look happy? How is your tour guide interacting with students you pass by? Another suggestion is to find the campus newspaper office and pick up multiple editions. This way, you can get a better idea of what’s going on, rather than just reading the current day’s paper. Robinovitz says these are just some of the factors to determine whether or not you can see yourself fitting in at the school.
4. Take lots of notes
This one is extremely necessary. After you’ve visited four or five schools, you’re not only going to forget things, but you’re going to mix them up. Be sure to bring a notebook and a pen or pencil with you to take notes throughout the day, especially during the information sessions. Also, Robinovitz says to write down the name of the speakers, so you can refer to them when asking questions afterwards. “This is an easy way to show that you were paying attention, and reiterate your interest in the school,” she says.
You should also make sure your parents, or whoever is with you on the tour, is also taking notes throughout the day. Have them write down the names of different statues and buildings; that way you can refer to them specifically later on in your admissions essay about how the school is a good match for you. It’s much more personal to say “I can see myself walking through the famous Lucas Park,” rather than, “I can see myself walking through the park.” Clarissa Montgomery, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida, did something similar when writing her admissions essay. “I went back through my notes from my visit, and I ended up referencing one of the speakers by name and explaining how what she said really convinced me UCF was right for me,” she says. Anything that can improve your chances of getting in is worth doing!
5. Bring a camera
Yes, an actual camera — not just your smart phone. Robinovitz says that if you’re snapping pictures on your phone, you’ll be tempted to be on it the whole time whether you’re texting or scrolling through social media. Then, you’ll not only miss out on everything, but you’ll come off as rude to your tour guide who’s taking time out of their day to help you get to know the school. You can even pass the camera off to your mom and dad. “Generally, I tell students to employ their parents to do that so they can let the experience wash over them,” Montgomery says.
While you shouldn’t be on your phone the whole time, Robinovitz says that tweeting or uploading an Instagram picture and tagging the school is a great idea. “[The school] will definitely see it because they look for things like that,” she says. “It’s a great way to demonstrate your interest.” Time to put your IG skills to the test!
6. Eat in the dining hall
Opting for a dining hall meal over the fast food options on campus is good for a variety of reasons. The best and most obvious is that you’ll be able to decide whether or not you like the food and what type of meal plan you’ll need. Do you like it to where you’ll be able to eat there three times a day? Or maybe just three times a week? Determining this early on can save you some money in the long run. Bailey Howard, a junior at Iowa State University, had to learn this the hard way. “I wish I would’ve taken the time to look into the cafeteria food beforehand, because I ended up only eating cereal every time I went there,” she says. “It was too late to switch my meal plan, so I had to wait until semester to change.” It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
While testing out the food, you can also talk to some of the students there. Talk to the people in line, at the drink station and those sitting down. Most of them will be welcoming and happy to talk to you, but that doesn’t mean you should march up to someone who has headphones in and is doing homework. Montgomery says that if you’re talking to a student, it’s better to ask the specific questions. Kyra Tyler, Director at College Coach, suggests some of the following: What would you like to see changed? Do you feel challenged? Are you able to connect with faculty easily? What's your favorite campus tradition? This is better than just asking someone if they like the school. However, this tactic requires talking to a variety of students, so you can take in different answers and opinions. It might be scary, but it will be well worth it!
7. Tour the area off-campus
It’s not enough to get a feel for the college. You’re not going to be on campus 24/7, so it’s important that you take the time to explore the town or surrounding area. Montgomery recommends venturing around the town in the evening because most students are done with class for the day and out doing things. “Be sure to talk to people like baristas in popular coffee shops and ask them about the town and the college students,” he says. “This way, you’ll get an outside perspective from someone who’s still in the loop.” Also, Tyler says that you're better off by exploring by walking. "I think getting out there on foot is best but if you're rushing to the next school, by car is better than nothing," she says. When it comes to looking around town, some of what you’ll want to find depends on your personal interests, like a movie theatre, mall or sushi bar; however, you should make sure that there’s a nearby grocery store, gas station and other amenities. Also make note of how close the nearest airport is if you’re going to be far from home.
Another important factor has to do with jobs and internships. Make sure there are companies or businesses nearby that fit with what you’re interested in. The smaller the town, the harder this will be. If this is the case, try to check out some of the surrounding towns or cities. Many colleges are not in big places themselves, but near larger cities.
8. Go back for a second visit during the weekend
After you’ve learned as much as possible about the actual school, try to go back at some point on a weekend. This will be easier if you know someone who attends the university, but it’s still worth it if you don’t. You’ll be able to figure out a variety of things; for example, Robinovitz says that if all of the parking lots are nearly empty, it’s probably a commuter school. This was the exact case for Alexa Harvey, a sophomore at the University of Kentucky. “Before I decided on UK, I had been set on a school that was closer to home,” she says. “My whole view changed after I stayed with one of my friends that went there. It was a Friday night, and hardly anyone was out doing anything! She ended up telling me that it wasn’t uncommon for that to happen, so I knew I had to look at my other options.” It’s always better to find something like this out beforehand!
If that’s not the case, you’ll be able to find some of the popular hangout spots. After some observation, it will become pretty clear whether the students spend their time partying or studying.
Whether you utilize these tips or not could determine how much you get out of your campus visit. It’s not worth it to plan an entire day with your parents and end up leaving with as much information as you came with! Do everything that you can to find out if that school is right for you because it’s better to find out beforehand that it’s not rather than a semester in.