How can I make the most of my college visits?

Getting the most out of your college visits comes down to taking the road less traveled; in other words, go beyond the campus tour and seek out opportunities to connect with students, faculty, and staff to find out their impressions of the college and why they are there. One of my most memorable college visits was to a liberal arts college in Boston where I struck up a conversation with a dining service employee who was scooping ice cream for students. While my campus tour earlier that day was helpful, in the fifteen minutes I spoke with the employee, I really learned what made that college special in his eyes. His genuine love of the college and respect for its students made me come away with an even more positive impression of the college than I had after the tour.

Here are some additional suggestions for your college visits:

  • Visit no more than two colleges per day and leave plenty of time between visits, so you can see buildings or facilities not on the campus tour and also to have time to explore the surrounding area.
  • Take a tour first and then attend the information session; this will help you to visualize the campus when the admissions office speaks.

Visit a variety of schools. I went into the process knowing what I wanted, but I still tried to visit a few different types of schools so I had some options and that helped me validate the type of school I wanted. If you have no idea, try different types of schools early so you can see what you like and don’t like and then look into individual schools based on the things you did like.

—Allie

  • Eat lunch on campus and then observe the students. Do they seem happy? Eager to stay and converse or rushing off to their next activity? Are there faculty members in the dining hall?
  • See the library, the dining hall, a dorm room, and the student union. Visit the career planning office and find out about their services.
  • If possible, take a tour separately from your parents and then compare notes. Ask your tour guide and other students you run into why they chose the school.
  • Do The Quad Test: Stand in the middle of campus when you first get there and then again just before you are about to leave. Compare how you feel both times.
  • Visit one or two classes if you are touring during the academic year. Call the admissions office to find out if you need to make arrangements with professors ahead of time to do this.
  • If you are visiting in the summer and the college has summer admissions interns, talk to as many of them as possible. Ask them why they decided to attend their college.
  • Ask groundskeepers, security personnel, and lunch staff employees what the students are like and what they like best about the college. You will get an unbiased view of the college this way.
  • Talk to shop and restaurant owners in town and ask them the same questions.
  • What is the town or city like and what is the relationship of the college with the community? Spend time in the area and see if you are comfortable there.
  • Look lost: Stand in the middle of campus with a campus map and see if any students approach you to ask if you need help. Note how they greet visitors and how helpful they are.
  • Notice where the college houses its freshman. Is it in the middle of campus, on its edges, or somewhere in between?
  • Compare your impressions of colleges you visited with those in The Fiske Guide to Colleges and Princeton Review’s Best 384 Colleges, if they are included in these books. Are their descriptions of schools accurate? Did you feel the same or differently about the colleges you saw?
  • Keep a journal or email to yourself or a friend about your visits. How did you feel while you were there and when you left campus? What struck you about the students? How would you describe the college to someone who had never been there?

Definitely do all of your visiting before senior year. It’s too crazy during the fall of senior year to figure out what you want, visiting, deciding, and doing your applications. Have the visits done before senior year starts. If you’re going into your junior year, come up with a plan for which colleges you want to visit. I strongly recommend visiting during the school year because you do get to see the campus in a normal routine.

Similarly, as great as open houses are, I wouldn’t always recommend going to them.  They have some nice options, like sitting in on a class, eating a meal, talking with professors, etc. but since the day revolves around prospective students, you may not get the true identity of the school. Ask the admissions office about those extra opportunities when you visit; they’re more than likely to get you want you need/want, but it just won’t be organized for you like it is at an open house.

—Allie

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Sara is right—she could not have done this without you. You really made the process SO less stressful at least for us. You two made a great team.