Undoubtedly, the campus visit is the most important step in choosing a college. Regardless of what appears in a university’s website and brochures, the visit is certain to give prospective students a much more realistic image of campus life; trust me, even colleges in up-state North Dakota tend to represent their campuses with pictures of students studying outdoors during a warm summer day. Aside from this, college visits also increase a student’s chance of being admitted. Most schools track the number of times a prospective student has contacted the institution; thus, students who visit the school’s campus tend to appear more serious applicants than those who make no contact with the university. That’s not to say that it will work miracles. But in a competitive applicant class, a previous campus visit could tip the scale in your favor.
In planning your visit, the first thing you should consider is the time frame. Although it’s tempting to visit colleges during the summer, you should try to schedule visits during the academic year. A majority of your college experience depends on your fellow students. Thus, you want to see a college when those students are actually on campus. Also, you should avoid visiting several different colleges in a short amount of time; after awhile they all blend together.
Take note of the different options that a school offers for campus visits. All colleges offer guided tours of the campus. A student usually leads the tour, reciting a scripted account of campus life but perhaps speaking candidly at times. Often, a Q&A session with an admissions officer will follow. Most colleges offer tours nearly year-round Monday through Saturday. Additionally, many schools offer half-day and open house programs. These events usually include a tour, an information session, a meal in the student dining hall, and faculty or student panels. Some schools also offer overnight programs, in which a prospective student stays with a current student, sits-in on classes, eats at campus dining halls, and attends student events. Most universities only conduct open houses and overnight visits at certain times, so be sure to schedule these well in advance. Of course, prospective students also have the option of taking an unofficial visit, in which he or she walks through campus without a guide. It is best to mix both official and unofficial visitation. Attend official tours and Q&A sessions so that your visit is included in your admissions file; however, don’t let info sessions form your entire opinion. Be sure to walk around campus, taking note of activities and talking to current students about their college experience. Pick up a newspaper and flip through it. Look at flyers and the dates of campus events – if most parties occur on Wednesdays and Thursdays, there must be a reason, and it could affect your college experience. It is particularly important to have a meal in the college dining hall if possible; it allows you to get a feel for the campus’s social atmosphere. Observe how students act toward each other, whether everyone is studying (an inevitability during mid-terms and finals) or talking, and what they talk about. Almost every student will be happy to speak with you for a few minutes about campus life and their decision to attend that college.
To make the most of your visit, be sure to plan ahead. First, think deeply and decide what about a college matters most to you. Don’t find yourself in the middle of a tour thinking, “this college has a great Greek life… maybe I’ll like to party.” Next, be sure to take notes about each college you see. You don’t need to be “that kid” who transcribes the entire Q&A session, but you should take a few notes about the campus immediately after your visit. Note things that are important to you, these could include: the dorms (their condition and how many people share a bedroom and bathroom), how safe you feel on campus (whether there are blue phones or other safety mechanisms, whether parts of campus seem dangerous at night, and whether student transit runs during the night), how stressed other students seem, whether they share your interests, whether the college has mainly small classrooms or large lecture halls, whether the library has a large selection of books on hand or depends on an interlibrary loan system, whether or not undergraduate research opportunities are available on campus, the condition of campus athletic facilities, how far shopping outlets and grocery stores are from campus (you likely don’t want to live out of your suitcase for four years). Also, take down the name of your tour guide and the admissions officer with whom you spoke and send a follow-up email or thank you note. If the college’s application or interviewer asks about your previous contact with the college, use some of these names when recounting your visit; this adds authenticity to your account and makes you seem like a more serious applicant. For students with a laptop or smart phone, it is a good idea to make a spreadsheet that includes the college’s name, its contact information, the date of your visit, notes about the tour, information session, and other meetings, the names of the officials whom you have met, and notes about the campus. This allows you to better distinguish between colleges; without it, they all begin to blend together.
The primary objective of college admissions is not to find the “best college” but to find the best college for you. The visit is a pivotal step in achieving this, and a well-planned visit will help you with both picking the right college and being accepted.
Our Video on the College Visit
College Tracker Worksheet
Google Docs - (for your online spreadsheet)
Online Degree Programs