Campus Visits – An Insider’s Guide
For many students, junior year can be a mix of excitement and total chaos. On top of studying for standardized tests, participating in extracurricular activities and finishing your homework, researching colleges might sometimes feel like overkill.
On the other hand, possibly one of the most fun and exciting parts of the college search is getting to scout schools in person. If you have the ability to do it, a campus visit could be the most useful key to unlocking what you’re truly looking for in a college. Here are some tips on how to plan for and make the most of your campus visits.
Start with a look at the website for each school you’re interested in to get an idea of what the campus looks like.
But how do you narrow down your list of schools? Adam Berry, assistant director of admissions for Lawrence Technological University (MI), suggests applying your requirements, such as major, affordability, athletics/activities and location. “You should schedule a meeting with a guidance counselor or college advisor in your high school to talk about your preferences and which schools you are researching.”
Carlo Fierimonte, assistant director of admissions events and operations at Wentworth Institute of Technology (MA), agrees that academic offerings should be weighed when considering schools. But he adds, “Visit schools that you have applied to or plan to apply to. If possible, visit the schools you have been accepted into, which will help you make your final decision.”
Grace Talian, a transfer/readmissions counselor at Georgian Court University (NJ), has a slightly different take. “Many students pick schools due to their intended majors, but I would encourage students to branch out from this. Due to the overwhelmingly high rate of students who change their major, incoming freshmen should consider other factors, such as clubs, activities, sports and overall campus life,” Talian suggests. “I would also recommend touring both large and small schools, as students may learn which environment is best for them upon stepping foot on campus. The dynamics of … students and the overall campus become evident on tours, and may play into college decision making.”
Planning Your Visit
After you explore the college’s official website and social media pages and review any materials the college has sent you, contact an admissions counselor to tell them you’d like to visit.
“To get a full picture of what a day-in-the-life looks like, visit on a normal school day,” advises Kalyn Fullbright, admissions counselor at Oklahoma Baptist University. “It’s hard for students to compare two campus visits back to back. If possible, try to visit campuses on separate days.”
Cornell LeSane, vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions for Allegheny College (PA), recommends visiting schools twice: once during the spring of junior year to get a sense of what you’re interested in, and then again during your senior year to help you make the right final decision.
What To Expect On Your Visit
“A basic campus visit will typically include a tour, a visit with an admissions counselor and an opportunity to sit in on a class,” explains Fullbright. “If you have extra time, try to schedule a meeting with a professor or eat lunch on campus.”
“Stand at the front of the campus tour,” suggests Lauren Scott, associate director of admissions at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “You have driven all this way to learn about the college, so ‘sit in the front of the class,’ if you will.”
“If you are doing a campus tour, you should expect to walk, and sometimes you will walk for quite a while, depending on how large the college is,” says Berry. “Be prepared to learn that a school may not meet your expectations. It is important to understand that a major reason for a visit is to learn not just which college you want to go to, but also which colleges don’t match your goals.”
Some tours might also end with an interview with your admissions officer. “Come prepared to ask questions that are pertinent to your expectations of your college experience,” advises Berry. “I love when a visitor comes with a list of questions prepared. I may not be able to answer all questions right in the meeting, but will follow up with a phone call or email after the visit when I have researched the answer for the student.”
After the official visit is over, allow plenty of time to wander around and get your own take on things. Talk to current students about life on campus and the college. Walk through the student union. Check out the freshman residence halls. This is your chance to get a feel for student life and see if this college is a place where you will do well.
The Importance Of Visiting
Now that most schools offer virtual tours and direct access to admissions counselors, you might think it’s fine to save time and money by skipping an in-person visit. But if you can swing it, it really can be worth it.
“When you visit a school, you gain understanding of what it’s really like to be a student at that specific university,” says Talian. “Visits allow students and their families to receive a personal guide to college admissions, which is especially great for first-time college families!”
If You Can’t Visit
Sometimes a student just isn’t able to visit a campus because of the distance or family circumstances. If that’s the case, you can still go the extra mile to show the school your interest.
“A lot of schools have virtual campus tours,” explains Fierimonte. “Or see if the school is hosting an online chat. This is an opportunity to speak with admissions staff and current students and to get your application-specific and student-life questions answered. You should also follow the school’s social media accounts and see if the school will be attending a college fair in your area.”
Another way to demonstrate interest is to ask if there are alumni in your area who you can meet. “Ask alumni about their experience,” Scott says. “Would they go back? What type of return on their investment did they get? Hearing alumni reflect on their college days can be powerful.”
Before you decide not to visit because of financial reasons, check with the schools you’re interested in to see if there are options. Many universities provide travel assistance for students to come out and visit on a case-by-case basis. “If there’s ever a student who wants to visit but isn’t able financially, always reach out,” LeSane says. “We can have conversations about assisting with travel costs.”
How to Get a True Feel for the School
- Make a list of questions you can’t find answers to anywhere else. Don’t ask the questions that are addressed on brochures and websites, unless you need clarification on something.
- Once on campus, talk to different students, and if possible, visit their dorm rooms during public hours.
- Meet with someone in the financial aid office. Financial aid officers at each school can provide you with information about scholarship deadlines and help you make a timeline.
- Read the college newspaper or arts magazine.
- Attend a sporting event, concert or any sort of cultural activity the university has on the schedule for the day.
- Look at the bulletin boards around campus to see what sorts of clubs and activities are popular.
- Research a professor in your field of interest. Before your visit, request an appointment to stop in during his or her office hours.
- By the time you get home from your college visit, you might forget what the university was like. Take some photos and specific notes of moments or places you really loved or that intrigued you.
- Follow students or faculty members on social media to stay updated about events going on at the school.