Visiting colleges is an important part of the college admissions process. Just because a college is highly “ranked” on paper doesn’t mean the campus will be the right fit for you. This is where you’ll be committing to living and studying for several years of your life. You want it to be a place you like.
To help you along the way in your college visit adventures, here are some helpful tips and tricks I’ve picked up from both my own experience visiting campuses as well as what I’ve heard firsthand from students.
Narrow the search.
When you’re first starting to plan out college visits, it can feel pretty overwhelming. One thing I’ve found helpful to ease the stress is to plan your visits around school types. It can really help narrow your search. Try a big state school and a small liberal arts college. Visit an extremely diverse city campus and one in a conservative small town. This will help you get a feel for the overall vibe that suits you. You just might find that a large campus is not as appealing as you thought it’d be. Or that a big city is actually what you’re looking for, even if you’d never thought it would be. You just never know until you go.
Ideally, you don’t want to be visiting at the last minute as that adds to the pressure of the decision. So, I think it’s a good idea to try to plan these visits for the spring of your junior year if you can. But…..
Weigh the costs.
College visits are expensive and time-consuming. So, depending on your situation, visiting every school you have in mind before you apply just might not be feasible. I’m here to tell you that’s OK.
A lot of students cast a wide net for their applications and then just visit the places where they get accepted. Some schools will even foot the travel bill for students who’ve been accepted and can demonstrate need, so make sure to see if your colleges offer something like that. It never hurts to ask. There are also visit programs to help out low-income and first-generation college students that you can look into as well, even before you get in.
And if visiting is not an option at all, don’t fret. This is the internet age! There are some really great virtual tools offered by most schools that can give you a great sense of what a campus is like from the comfort of your computer screen.
When you do visit a college campus, the official tour and info sessions are important, so sign up and do them, but also go beyond the tour. I think spending time wandering around is an excellent way to get a true feel for a campus.
Go to the library. Visit the student union. See if you can sit in on a class. Chat with students you meet and ask questions. You’ll be surprised at how receptive people will be to your questions. After all, they were likely in your exact same shoes just a few years ago. And if they’re not, move on. Find someone who is friendly. Don’t be shy; more than likely you’ll never see these people again.
Sometimes I join the very tail end of a tour, just to get a sense of it with a new tour guide, and maximize my time spent exploring. Self-guided tools are great too. All you need is a map with some points of interest marked and then you can take things at your own pace and experience life on campus in a more natural way. You can always go to the admissions office with specific questions afterward.
Think beyond the info sesh.
If you’re still wondering what to do when you get to a campus, I’ve prepared a handy guide for such an occasion. Think of it as a college scavenger hunt. I created this guide based on my own experiences, so feel free to use it as reference but don’t be afraid to go your own way too. Be on the lookout for when this guide becomes an app, CollegeVizzy, that I’m so excited to introduce to you this fall. You can read more about it here, www.collegevizzy.com.
Do the bench test.
Find a bench in a busy area of campus. Sit for 20 minutes and just observe. No phone. No distractions. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll see and hear in a short time.
Chat it up.
This is not the time to be shy. Ask questions if you run into professors or students who seem like they have some time on their hands. Impromptu convos like these can yield surprisingly candid answers.
Be a foodie
Grab a meal at the campus dining hall or a restaurant near campus. In addition to some grub, you’ll probably overhear some great gossip as well.
Sweat it out.
Check out the campus library and gyms to see where students are working their hardest.
Walk the halls.
Walk in an academic building. If you spot a professor, see if they’re open to a quick chat.
Get into the spirit.
Check out the campus bookstore, which is usually also a great spot for school spirit gear. Also check out how many people are actually wearing school spirit gear around campus.
Check out your new digs.
If possible, check out a dorm room to see what your actual living quarters might look like. If you can’t get inside, simply checking out students going in and out of their dorm building can be pretty telling.
You do you.
If you see something interesting, follow your instincts. Join a game of hacky sack or read on the quad lawn. It’s all about you feeling it out and seeing if the vibe fits with how you like to spend your time. Even I can’t tell you how to do that ?.