One of my favorite parts about the whole college admissions experience (especially since there are so many stressful aspects) are college visits! Even though I’ve been out of college for…a while now…I still love visiting colleges, all of them different and unique in their offerings, just waiting for the latest crop of freshmen to begin their college journeys. I like to stand outside the bookstore or wander around the grounds and just think about all the bright and excited kids who will become themselves in the dorms, the library, and in the classrooms.
I also love college visits because it’s a majorly useful tool to determine what colleges you like and which ones aren’t for you. Nothing beats standing on campus, exploring what you can, marinating in the atmosphere, and paying attention to how the experience makes you feel. You may think, “Oh my gosh, this library is freakin’ gorgeous! I have to go here!” or you may think, “Um…there’s no way I can handle how hectic this quad is.”
The point is that there are few experiences in the whole college admissions process that allow you such a clear and immediate impression of a college. That’s why I tell all my students and all the kids I counsel on r/ApplyingtoCollege to try their best to visit as many colleges as they can. And even if they can’t make the trip themselves, I advise them to use my list of amazing online resources to do their research.
I want the same for you.
If You Are Lucky Enough to Visit…
Your college visits are about you, so you need to do you. If you see something interesting, follow your instincts. It’s all about feeling it out and seeing if the vibe fits with how you like to spend your time. I can’t tell you how to do that. I can only point you in the right direction.
Your purpose in visiting is to imagine how you’ll fit in on the campus. What’s the vibe? How does it make you feel? Can you easily [picture yourself here, happy and excited?
Your Game Plan:
- Sign in at the admissions office. Make sure you do this as soon as you arrive.
- Go on the tour and the info session. If you can’t, no biggie. But if you can, then you should make an appointment for them. Check online for a schedule.
- Do the bench test. Sit on a bench in the middle of the campus. Put your phone away and listen. What kind of conversations are you overhearing?
- Wander into an academic building of your interest and see if you encounter any professors. Bonus points if you say, “Hi!” to one. Crazy bonus points if you have actually made an appointment to meet with one.
- Sit in on a class, if you can.
- Visit the gym. Do you see yourself working out here? Do they have intramural activities or amenities you care about?
- Visit the dining hall. Get some food. Listen to the conversations.
- Visit the library. Walk around. Can you see yourself studying here?
- Go to the student union. Walk around. What’s it like there?
- Go to the bookstore. Are there kids shopping there? Maybe buy a tchotchke or a t-shirt. I like to add to my magnet collection, but maybe you’d prefer stickers or snow globes.
- Hang outside a dorm for a few minutes. Do the kids seem happy?
- If you have learning issues, go to the student support services and ask questions. This is essential.
- If you experience mental health issues, go to counseling services and ask questions. This also is essential.
- Make a spiritual visit to the religious facilities. Hillel, a chapel, a meditation room…if you have a spiritual side.
- Find the wall or post with posters and flyers about club activities plastered all over it. Do you see something fun and interesting to you?
- Find a coffee shop nearby. Sit and observe.
- Get lost and wander aimlessly for a while. Do you feel comfortable? How many kids are wearing college gear? Are kids alone and staring at their phones? Or are they interacting and smiling?
You should also do your best to talk to kids on campus. This is a big one! You’ll find that most kids are open to the conversation because it wasn’t that long ago that they were in your “prospie” shoes. If the first or second person you approach isn’t available, then ask someone else. Here’s a list of questions to ask to give you an idea of what to ask. Pick a few people and ask them one or two of these questions that interest you:
- “What do you like about this school?”
- “What would you change?”
- “What do you think about prospective students should know about the school?”
- “What’s close to campus that’s walkable for you to do?”
- “What’s the general vibe?”
- “What do you and your friends do on a Wednesday night?”
- “What about a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon?”
- “How late do people stay in the library when it’s not midterms or finals time?”
- “What kind of student support services do they have? Mental health? Tutoring? Health services? Does it cost extra?”
- “Do students wear [college name] stuff?”
- “What’s your favorite cafe or coffee shop nearby?”
- “Where do you go to study when you don’t want to use the library?”
Now, you might find that all your visits start to feel the same, and end up in just one big ole college campus blur. That’s where the College Vizzy App comes in handy! It gives you a place to mindfully and intentionally record your thoughts, impressions, ideas, and photos about each campus you visit, so you can refer back to it when you’re ready to create your college lists, write your Why College Essays, and make your final decisions.
What If I Can’t Visit?
College visits can be tough to figure out. If a college is within a one- or two-hour drive or an easy bus or train ride, I suggest you make every effort to get there and visit. For those schools that are further afield, sometimes you just can’t make the trip. And that’s ok. Maybe your family can’t afford it, or you have an accessibility issue, or you simply can’t fit the visit into your schedule. If you encounter this obstacle, don’t freak out. There are still ways to find out more about how you will fit in with a school’s environment. One thing you should definitely do is visit all the schools near you so you can get a feel what kind of vibe feels right for you. Try to visit large schools and small schools, rural schools, and city schools. That way you’ll begin to know what’s right for you. For more information about a specific college and its vibe, the internet is your friend. Specifically, you should:
- Watch all the videos on the school you can.
- Read Niche.com, Princeton review, CollegeScoops.com, and the Fiske Guide.
- Dig deep into the college’s websites.
- Read the online college newspaper.
- Follow the college and their admissions offices on social media.
- Go to the college’s subreddit and read what the students are writing about.
Also, more and more schools offer free overnight visits to their schools for low-income or first-gen prospective students. These programs, often called “fly-in programs” give you a chance to experience life on campus, partake in sessions with and get tips from admission officers, and frequently can be a great way to give your application more attention.
Here’s a list of resources to review for fly-in programs:
Can’t Swing College Visits? There’s An App for That!
College Vizzy, my new app for college admissions, is a peer-to-peer experience-sharing app and website that helps those college applicants who are unable to visit college campuses virtually “vizzit” them. With the help of their fellow “Vizzies,” i.e. their fellow applicants who can visit colleges, students anywhere can feel the vibe of over 500 college campuses through the mindful experiences of their fellow applicants. College Vizzy doesn’t use high tech drone footage, fancy edited and curated photos, or 360-degree videos. It simply uses the impressions, the thoughts, the feelings, and, yes, the selﬁes of the college applicants who actually make those campus treks.
I hope you’ll check it out here!
If you want to learn more about college visits, or if you need more college admissions advice, head over to Amazon and pick up a copy of my book, Hey AdmissionsMom: Real Talk from Reddit.
You can also find me on r/ApplyingToCollege, drop into the comments, or reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram.
Good luck and stay awesome!