Many high school students talk to a counselor – and friends and parents – for suggestions on which colleges to visit over the spring and summer. Really though, you don’t need to be told how to visit colleges. You might be surprised to learn that a bit of strategy is involved when it comes to making the most of your college visits.
First, you should be sure to make “official” visits. What does this mean? You need to sign in with the admissions office or visitors center before you sit in on an information session or take a tour. Don’t assume you know everything about a particular university just because your mom or dad went there. A lot has changed since their time there. Gain your own perspective and make your own judgments by taking a tour and info session from a current student or admissions officer. In addition, many colleges want to make sure you’re truly interested in attending (if admitted). So, it’s important to sign in to demonstrate interest.
You should also consider the following:
Sit in on a class. If you visit during the spring or fall semester, hop from class to class – just ten minutes in one class, twenty minutes in another, and so on. If it’s a very large lecture, just walk in and find a seat or stand in the back. See what the students are like, see what a lecture feels and sounds like. If it’s a small class, then be sure to ask the professor first if you can observe for a few minutes on the periphery of the room. Or, at the visitors center/admissions office, ask if there’s a list of classes that you can attend – some colleges have a list of courses that welcome visitors.
Eat in a dining hall. Sure, you’ll want to see that the food is good – or, at least edible – but you’ll also get to see what the interactions of students are like. Can you see yourself fitting in here?
Talk to random students. Don’t be shy – talk to random students in passing outside or in the hallways. Perhaps one will show you his or her dorm, if this isn’t part of the tour. You’ll get an unbiased answer – the student does not work for the university and will typically be happy to share his or her experiences. Maybe talk to more than one student, just to get a few perspectives.
Stay overnight. Many colleges have hosting programs where you can stay in a dorm room with a freshman or sophomore – that student (or others in the dorm) might take you to class the next day, eat with you in a dining hall or give you a guided tour of favorite hotspots on campus. Overnight programs are typically for seniors in the fall, or for admitted students in April. Check with each college on your list.
Take notes and pictures – and ask lots of questions. You’ll be visiting lots of colleges and they may all start to seem the same if you don’t keep an organized list of what you like, or don’t like, about each school.
Visit virtually. Can’t visit some schools on your list? Hop online. Take a virtual tour, read student blogs, learn about colleges’ admissions standards, academic programs and costs.
Follow these tips to ensure successful college visits. (And be sure to bring an iPod for the car ride.)