College Visits – 12 Insider Tips
One of the best ways to find out which college is a good fit for you is to visit. You will gain a sense of the size, setting, culture, and vibe of the college. While college visits have become common for many families with high school students, it can sometimes be a daunting task to try to get a sense of a place when you only have a few hours.
- Colleges offer information sessions and tours. The former is a slide show and Q&A given by admissions while you sit in a room. However, much of that information is available elsewhere, while a tour lets you experience a college’s culture and see their facilities. Make a reservation at least a few weeks before your visit; you can also do a self-guided tour! And beware the tour guide you don’t like: even the best have an off day, so don’t let that influence you.
- Many colleges track demonstrated interest, so be sure to register inside the office of admissions.
- Grab a bite or beverage in the student center. These are excellent opportunities to observe campus culture! Observe students doing what they do, how they dress, how diverse they are, whether they look stressed, balanced and/or happy, whether they interact with each other or seem withdrawn, etc. Lunchtime is ideal, as is the changing period between classes.
- Pick up a copy of the student newspaper to get a sense of the college, and any major issues on campus!
- Look at the posters on campus: Concerts, guest speakers, movies, clubs, road trips, political leanings.
- Ask a few random students questions: Insider tips, what would they change, why did they enroll, 1-2 hot topics.
- The town: Is it within walking distance? What’s available: movie theatre, restaurants, cafes, pizza, gift shops, pharmacy, shops, arts, bakeries, park? Does it look safe, alone, after dark? Try to drive completely around the perimeter of campus too, in case you entered via a less-nice neighborhood that’s undergoing development, overlooking the rest of the perfectly fine surroundings.
- Buildings to visit: Not sure where to go on campus? Vist some of the following buildings: Library, student center, cafeteria/coffeehouse/cafe, athletics, a department or two of interest, a residence hall or two, bookstore, chapel, and/or the performing arts center.
- Clues from the parking lots: Far-away state license plates indicate more geographic diversity. It’s worth to look at bumper stickers, as they can indicate culture: politics, causes, religion/not, activities, vacation destinations, humor, favored sports teams, etc.
- Weather: Beware the rainy day visit, which can spoil a college that on a sunny day would feel like your dream destination.
- Take pictures! Colleges will blend together in your head, so capture memories: architecture, landscaping, surroundings, building interiors, historical landmarks, unique features.
- Most importantly: Immediately after your visit, write down your thoughts. Your notes will help you distinguish the colleges you visit. More importantly, many colleges ask why you want to attend, and your notes will later help you with this.
Written by Brad Ward, College Counselor at Alto
Brad has almost 20 years of college counseling experience. The former college admissions office at Bucknell University, PA, currently serves on the Executive Board of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC). Brad has visited over 300 colleges in the United States and spends time every year to explore and revisit colleges.