- College Search
Ahh…the college visit. A chance for universities across the country to roll out their version of the red carpet and for parents across the country to embarrass their teenagers with endless questions about co-ed dorms and campus security. Seemingly, high school students are visiting more college campuses and doing so earlier in their high school careers than ever before. With so many attractive options available, it’s no surprise that all of the colleges on your list can start to run together. Conversations in the car ride home often end up as tangled webs of information.
“Wasn’t the four-year graduation rate higher at College B, or was that College D?”
“Now didn’t College A superscore on the ACT, or was that only at College C?”
How can you keep all of the information straight in your mind? And how on earth are you supposed to make a decision after spending a grand total of 3-4 hours on a campus? As a college admissions counselor, allow me to give you a few pointers on how to best utilize the campus visit to ultimately help determine what university is the best fit for you.
1. Plan ahead
I list this piece of advice first because it is absolutely key to making the most of your visit. First, take a look at the university’s academic calendar to make sure that classes are in session when you’re planning to visit. Otherwise, you might show up during a school break when no students or faculty are around. I guarantee the campus will feel like a ghost town, which is probably not an accurate representation of the campus culture! Another part of planning ahead is doing research beforehand and having a list of questions to ask. One of our pet peeves as admissions counselors is when a family requests a meeting and then we sit down and they say, “What questions should I ask you?” *face palm*
2. Take advantage of additional opportunities
Most campuses will be happy to accommodate additional requests such as class observations, faculty meetings, and overnight visits. Find out what is offered and how to set up these appointments. Don’t hesitate to ask your admissions counselor for help or suggestions!
3. Don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path
Have lunch in the dining hall, strike up conversations with people in the elevator and hallways, pretend to be lost and ask someone for directions. The structured portion of your visit is absolutely necessary to get the information you need, but getting away from the production will allow you to gain an authentic sense of whether or not you like the campus vibe.
4. Allow extra time to experience the city
A lot of students forget that they are not only choosing a college, but also a new city to call home for the next four years. The reality is that you are not going to spend 24/7 on campus, so you want to make sure you actually like the city you’re in and that you can see yourself feeling at home there. Ask for local restaurant suggestions, stay in town for a concert or sporting event, and check out the major neighborhoods around campus.
5. Journal or take notes of reflection immediately after you leave
You’ll thank yourself later! Even if it’s just a few notes about what really stuck out to you (good or bad) during your visit, having all of your thoughts organized from each different campus will allow you to go back and compare. This will be especially helpful if you visit a long list of colleges and find it difficult to differentiate them in your head!
6. Make a list of your personal “Like its, love its, & gotta have its”
For any Cold Stone Creamery fans, you know what I’m talking about! As you learn more about colleges in general, you can start to come up with your very own wish list based on what you want out of your college experience and the things that are most important to you. Your “like its” are things that you would enjoy having at your future college, but are not deal breakers. Examples for you might include new residence halls, yummy dining options, or free parking. Your “love its” are things that you really don’t want to compromise on unless absolutely necessary. An example is a certain club or intramural sport that you are passionate about continuing in college. Lastly, your “gotta have its” are personal deal breakers. These could include things like a strong program in your academic area of interest, internship opportunities, and diversity on campus. As you establish and solidify your wish list, it will be very easy to cross colleges off your list that don’t offer what you’re looking for.
7. Schedule a second visit after you have narrowed your list
Once you’ve visited all of the schools on your list and narrowed your choices down to 2-3 colleges, I highly recommend scheduling a second visit before making your final decision. This second visit is your opportunity to ask any follow up questions in person and schedule any additional appointments that you didn’t have the chance to your first time there. Visiting a second time will also allow you to get a feel for the campus atmosphere during a different time of year!
One other piece of advice I’d like to include is specifically for students who may not be able to visit all of the colleges on their list (after all, you don’t have an unlimited number of excused absences and travel can be expensive!). If that’s the case for you, try to check out any virtual tours available online, set up a phone call or email with a current student to hear their perspective, or visit the institution’s website and social media to get an idea for some of their events and traditions. Even if you can’t see the campus in person, you can still do a lot to educate yourself.
That’s it, folks! If you are just beginning your college search, don’t let it overwhelm you. The campus visit is arguably the most fun part of the whole process and should be enjoyed. At the end of the day, it’s true what they say – you will definitely have that “feeling” everyone talks about when you visit a college campus you love. Take note of these suggestions and, above all, trust your gut!