College visits can be a big factor in deciding where you’ll go to college. For many prospective students, it’s the “feel factor.”
That’s the feeling you get when you visit a college campus and know that it’s the right place for you.
College visits are important, but they require planning. In this post we’re going to discuss what you need to do to ensure a productive visit.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
• How to arrange a college visit
• The best time to visit a college
• What appointments you might need to make
• What to bring with you
• What to see and experience
• Admissions information sessions and campus tours
College Visits – the Experience
When you visit a college, there are a wide range of opportunities to get to know the school and the campus, including:
Attend an admissions information session
Take a campus tour
Eat in a dining hall
Spend the night in a dorm
Attend a class
Speak with a professor
Have an application interview
Meet with an admissions officer
Meet with a financial aid officer
Watch an athletic contest
Sit in on a club meeting
All these experiences won’t be available at every college, but almost all colleges offer admissions information sessions and campus tours to prospective students.
Best Time to Visit a College
If you’re trying to avoid missing your high school classes, which is always a good idea, this means visiting colleges during high school vacation times.
Unfortunately, other high school students will have the same idea. It’s important, then, to sign up early for tours, admissions information sessions, and, if you need it for your application, an interview. We’ll talk about how to do all this later in the post.
Other days that are ideal for college visits are days when your high school is not in session, for example, on Monday holidays or teacher training days.
And while you’re looking at the calendar, check to see when your high school begins classes in the fall. You may be able to squeeze in a visit if the college semester begins before your classes do.
Many families plan vacations around college visits, which is a great way to save money. The trip may help younger siblings who will go through the process in the future.
When Not to Visit
You don’t want to visit a college when the activity level on campus is not the same as it would be when classes are in session. Here are times to avoid:
• Exams or reading periods
• Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas/Winter break
• Spring break
Many schools publish on their website the dates that they’re not open for visits.
Types of College Visits
There is no set plan or agenda for a college visit. College visits will be different depending on your interest in the school and the time you have available. Visits can range from a couple of hours to an overnight stay in a dorm, from a self-guided informal tour to a formal presentation by the admissions office. You may decide to do more things and visit more places on campus at your top choice than at your safety school.
What’s most important in terms of the type of visit you plan is to make sure that it will give you the information you need to make decisions.
Admissions Information Sessions and Campus Tours
Admissions information sessions are specifically designed for prospective students on college visits. They commonly take place at the admissions office, either before or after the tour.
During the session, an admissions officer or representative will speak with you or a group of students about academic programs, student life, the application process, and financial aid. You also have the opportunity to ask questions and get answers directly from an admissions officer.
Campus tours are usually student-led, and are one of the best opportunities to get to know the campus and school from someone who’s “been there.” The goal is to give you a first-hand look at student life. Usually the tour includes destinations such as the library, dining hall, classrooms, student center, and freshman dorms. In addition to leading you around campus, student tour guides are excellent resources for questions. We included some tour guide questions for you at the end of the post.
Some colleges require, recommend, or have optional interviews as part of their admissions application process. College visits are a good time to get these done. You must plan ahead, though. Don’t expect admissions officers to be available whenever you show up.
Make an appointment well ahead of your visit and be aware that admissions officers are often not available right after the application deadline because they are reading applications.
Scheduling a College Visit
The most important thing to remember when planning a college visit is to CALL AND RESERVE YOUR SPACE EARLY.
Not all colleges will require you to register for information sessions or tours, but for the ones that do, there are only so many seats available.
Here’s what you need to do to arrange a visit.
Step 1 – Check the college’s website for instructions.
Most colleges have specific instructions on their websites for prospective students planning a visit. This usually includes information about the programs they offer, when they occur, and whether you need to register for them.
An easy way to find that information is to type “college name + college visit” into a search engine (e.g., “Skidmore College college visit”). There’s usually an entire page dedicated to campus visits.
Step 2 – Decide what to do on your visit.
This is important. Use the list at the beginning of this post to decide what you want to do. If a particular experience isn’t listed on the college’s website, that doesn’t mean it’s not available. Always ask.
Step 3 – Follow the school’s instructions and set up a visit.
Most schools want you to call the admissions office to reserve a place in their information sessions and for a campus tour. Some colleges, especially larger ones, have online reservation systems where it’s easy to see what dates and times are available for information sessions and tours, and you can sign up right online.
If you’ve already decided on your major, it may be possible to meet with a professor in that department. A department head is even better. If they’re impressed with you, they may put in a good word with the admissions office.
Experiences such as interviews, sitting in on a class, shadowing a student, and meeting with a professor will most likely require a call to the college. When you call, ask the college if it offers the opportunity you’re interested in and, if it does, how you set it up.
It’s important to know before you call what you want to do during your visit. Most admissions offices are very busy and will appreciate it if you don’t waste their time.
Parking – Most colleges have limited parking, so ask where you should park for your visit.
WARNING: Appointments for admissions information sessions and campus tours fill up very quickly, especially during high school vacation times. Many colleges recommend booking at least a month in advance of your visit. We totally support that recommendation.
Virtual Tours – What to Do Before the Visit
Some colleges offer virtual tours on their websites, and these are a great way to experience the campus before you visit. The tours provide information and a visual guide to the college, including buildings and landmarks, which can be very helpful when you’re walking around the campus.
What to Bring on Your Visit
Campus Map – You can usually find one on the website that you can either print or bookmark on your phone. They’re handy if you get to campus early or want to do your own informal tour.
Camera/Smartphone Camera – There’s nothing like pictures to remind you of your experience. They’re especially helpful if you plan on visiting several colleges in one trip.
Notepad/Smartphone Notes – Take notes about what you find interesting. Your notes will help you later when everything about college starts to become a blur. I know one student who dictated notes right into his phone as he walked around campus.
What to See and Do on Your Visit to Campus
Places to See
• Freshman dorms
• Areas you’ll visit often (e.g., technology facilities, athletic facilities)
• Dining facilities
• Student center/Union
• School book store (always interesting to check out the prices, too)
• Places where students eat (when they don’t eat in the dining hall)
• Career/Job placement center (ask about services they offer)
• Buildings where you’ll have a lot of classes (art studios, chemistry labs, practice rooms, etc.)
Things to Do
• Ride the campus transportation system
• Read bulletin boards
• Pick up a copy of the student newspaper
• Drive through the town
Ask for the business cards or emails of people you meet in case you need to contact them or send a thank you note.
Finally, stand still on the campus and imagine what it would be like to be a student there.
Questions to Ask on a College Visit
Here are some questions you can ask your tour guide:
Where do the freshmen live?
Do students live off campus?
What are the best things to do on a weekend?
What do students do in their free time?
If you’re interested in sports, ask about opportunities to play sports if you’re not on a team.
If you’re visiting a state university, ask if many of the students go home on the weekends.
If you could change something at the school, what would you change?
What do you like most about the school?
What’s the biggest difference between high school and college?
Why did you decide to go to this school?
What’s a popular place to eat besides the dining hall?
What is it like to go here?
How big are your classes?
What do you like best about the school? … the least?
Once the Visit is Over
Once your visit is over, you’ll probably find yourself with a lot to think about.
When you get back to school, it may help to process the visit by having a conversation with your guidance counselor. Colleges have special programs for guidance counselors, so many of them have visited campuses, especially those who are close by.
Don’t forget to send thank you notes to any admissions representative or professor you spent time with.
Students and families who have successful college visits know what they want to do and make arrangements and plans ahead of time. You have a short window once you’re there and you want to experience as much as possible.
College visits are often what finalize a student’s top choice in school, so plan them carefully and enjoy the experience.