I encourage all of my students to visit as many colleges as possible. Books, websites, and anecdotes from friends and family can tell us a lot, but only an actual visit can give us first-hand impressions of the students, facilities, programs, buildings, surrounding city, etc. Certain colleges have a very distinct “feel” to them and, in return, we often have very strong responses to them – responses that aren’t always predictable. Sometimes a college looks awesome on paper and we think we’re in love with it, but something just doesn’t feel right when we actually see it in person: maybe the buildings look gloomy, or the students don’t seem lively, or the surrounding city just isn’t what we imagined. Other times we think we only have lukewarm feelings for a school but completely fall in love with it when we see it in person.
When to Visit
Although summer is often when it’s most convenient to visit, it’s best to go during the normal school year, as this is when the university will be in “full swing.” During summer, many students simply aren’t around and many facilities may not be operating at all or may only be operating at a partial capacity. To get the best representation of the school, try to go during the fall or spring.
Although it’s not at all necessary to visit a college in order to decide whether to apply to it, visiting is nevertheless incredibly helpful.
- Try to sample a wide range of campuses: public, private, small, large, suburban, rural, etc.
- Most admissions offices will offer year-round tours. Call a month or more ahead of time and book an official tour.
- Research the school and the surrounding area ahead of time. This will help you plan out the details of your visit (buildings you want to see, restaurants you want to eat at, etc.). It will also give you great questions to ask your tour guide.
The Visit Itself
- Take an official tour
- Try to sample as many things as possible: the student center, the library, the gym, a classroom, the dining area, the dorms, etc. It’s often fun to simply wander around (and doing this will allow you to see quite a lot!), but if there are specific things you want to see, make sure to plan things out ahead of time.
- Talk to as many people as possible, whether that be the tour guide, a random student who happens to be sitting next to you during lunch, or one of the dining hall workers.
- An important component of any campus is the surrounding town, so don’t forget to take a lap around the outskirts of campus to get a feel for what life is like right outside the campus bubble.