Consistently, when I ask seniors what they wish they’d done differently when it comes to college application season, they say they wish they’d visited more colleges.
A college visit is hands down the best way to get an accurate feel of the place. Look at enough websites and college brochures, and they all start to look the same, but step foot on campus and it may take only 15 minutes to know whether this is a school you can imagine yourself attending.
When I was in high school (we won’t think about how long ago that was!), visiting a college was intimidating–we had to call the admissions office and coordinate a time, and shy young Jodi did not feel comfortable doing so. I was essentially a first-gen student and my parents had no idea how to help me. They didn’t know college visits were even a thing. So did I do any? No, I did not. I listened to my friends talk about college visits in envy as I applied to the two schools I was only remotely familiar with. Hooray for the internet and electronic bookings! No human-to-human contact necessary.
A typical college visit generally consists of an information session hosted by the admissions office and a tour of the campus given by a student tour guide. Depending on the size of the college, this tour can range from just your family and the guide to a large group driving around campus on a bus as the guide talks through a microphone.
Even better than a simple visit is attending an open house. These are usually held on Saturdays in the fall and spring, and, as larger, more heavily attended events, you’ll find increased opportunities for gathering information. Info sessions are usually more extensive, and you’ll have the opportunity to talk to professors in the areas you’re considering, attend a class or go to department presentations, and eat lunch on campus.
To schedule a visit or attend an open house, find the admissions page on a college website–there’s usually a “visit” tab or button, and this will take you to the sign-up.
A few tips:
- Take pictures! After three or four visits, colleges start to blend together.
- Dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes!
- Come with questions already in mind. I’m often surprised by how often I’ve heard a tour guide ask prospective students if they have any questions, only to be met by awkward silence. This 45-minute tour may be the only chance you have to learn firsthand about the school, so don’t waste the opportunity. See my list of suggested questions for both students and admissions counselors HERE.
- Pay attention to bulletin boards, posters, and student newspapers. These are great ways to learn about campus life and activities.
- If you plan to play a sport or participate in music or theater, email the admissions office beforehand to ask if you can meet the coach/director. This person will be a huge part of your college experience, so you want to make sure you’ll work well together and they’re a person you’ll enjoy learning from.
Not able to travel to a college due to scheduling difficulties or distance? See if they offer virtual open houses and tours. These aren’t nearly as effective, but they’re better than nothing. You can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook (EMHS College Counseling) to see pictures of the visits I go on each year. Or ask me for my notes on the colleges I’ve visited in the past. I’m always happy to share!