Campus Visits – Your Questions Answered
With video and interactive online tours a college’s website is a great way to start your initial search for your future alma mater. After all it wouldn’t make sense — or be financially feasible — to begin planning for campus visits without so much as a skim through the schools’ homepages!
But visiting a campus does give you the best sense of what it feels like to go to school there. You’ll see if the students stroll and chat casually between classes or walk briskly with virtually no eye contact. When you talk to students and ask questions you’ll get a feel if they are friendly or standoffish. You’ll get to taste the cafeteria food feel the humidity (or wind chill!) and see a typical dorm room which may serve as your future home for at least a year or two.
Nova Southeastern University Director of Undergraduate Marketing Liza Romansky says it’s important for you and your parents to visit the colleges you’re thinking of potentially attending. “It allows the student to picture themselves on campus and it gives a peace of mind to the parents knowing they can have their child safe and at a college they feel comfortable at.”
Visiting the school also gives you the chance to get the real scoop on things like dorm living the Greek system and how much time you’ll need to spend with your nose in the books. After all college and university websites are going to give you the “public relations version” of campus life. The school website is likely very selective in terms of what photos and videos they’ll share. A chat with someone who lives in the most sought-after dorm or a fraternity can give you an insider’s perspective. Likewise talking to a freshman who’s studying in your field of interest can give you some insight into how much coursework you’ll get or which professor’s classes are the best.
When should I go?
Visiting schools during your senior year of high school is perfectly acceptable but the earlier you start the process the more schools you can see.
“My recommendation is that you start this process in your junior year so you have an opportunity to attend as many campus visits as possible,” advises Troy Miller, Associate Dean of First-year Admissions and Scholarship at New York Institute of Technology. “As a junior you’re gathering information to help you make a more informed decision.”
Although the jury is still out on whether it’s best to go junior or early senior year most admissions officials agree that visiting a college during the summer spring break or the holidays won’t give you access to as many professors students or classes. It also means you won’t get an accurate vibe on the school’s typical feel. And while weekends may be the only time your parents can take you consider that Sunday will feel very different than Wednesday.
“In order to make the most of your time plan on visiting during the week and while school is in session,” advises Romansky. “This will allow you to see exactly what it means to wait in line at the dining hall or how easy or difficult parking is.” As for whether to visit schools before or after you’re accepted that decision will largely depend on time and finances. If you’re tight on either (or both!) you might want to wait to see which schools accept you then plan a visit to (at the very least) the school you think is your first choice.
How many schools should I see?
There are a lot of factors that will affect how many campus visits you’ll make; the amount of time your parents can get off work (if they’re taking you) the cost of travel your high school schedule (school sports church work) and the proximity of the schools to your home–-and to one another. Of course if you have to limit the number of schools you’ll want to visit those in which you have the most interest. And just because colleges are clustered doesn’t mean you can squeeze them all in on one trip. Make sure you allocate enough time to fully visit each school.
Tanya Scarborough, guest Coordinator for Admissions at William Peace University says that a little preparation can help you leave campus with a lot of information. “Though the number of schools a prospective student will visit varies … it’s important to talk to the admissions counselors faculty and current students. It’s easy to forget what you wanted to learn on your visit when you arrive; we suggest outlining questions you want answered prior to your visit.”
How do I prepare for the visit?
Whenever possible call the university in advance to schedule a tour. You’ll get access to people and buildings that you likely wouldn’t get on your own and a personal guide to answer your questions. “If it’s available look at the agenda prior to arriving and map out your day by asking ‘What’s a must-see for me?’,” says Miller. “Go to the website to find information and then think of questions to which you can’t find answers … Make a list of questions and things that are important to you and to your parents.”
Scarborough agrees that asking more than the general questions will give you the best information. “Drill down to what happens every day on campus (academic and student life) how classes are set up how students utilize resources on campus and more,” she says. “If you are visiting during an open house take some time to stroll around campus after the event and tour sit in the student union and observe. Can you see yourself sitting there as a student? Head over to the dining hall and grab a meal imagine yourself sitting at the table with your friends talking about how your classes are going what is happening on the weekend and counting down the days to finals (or break).”
Romansky recommends “While on tour feel free to randomly ask students you see why they chose to attend the university. Often the student tour guide is someone who works for the admissions office and has a great answer but it is the random interactions that you cannot plan for and [that] will give you a true sense of the student body.”
What are some other specific things can I do on my visit to get a true feel for the school?
1. Sit in on a class in your major.
2. Spend some time without your parents (for a more true-to-life experience).
3. Take notes.
4. Take photos. “You can use them to help you remember what you’ve learned and seen on your visits,” says Miller. “You can share them with others and get feedback. You can combine them with your notes to get a complete picture of the campus.”
5. Talk to students and faculty particularly professors in your intended major (if you have an idea of what that will be).
6. Check out what kind of activities and social life are available to students. “Take a look at what’s around.” says Scarborough. “What’s posted on bulletin boards can give you an idea of life on campus after classes clubs and organizations.”
7. Stay overnight.
8. Eat meals on campus.
9. Talk to an R.A.
10. Read the college paper.
Remember while you should consider what you hear from others you’re the one who will be attending college for the next four (or more) years so you have to draw your own conclusions.
Scarborough offers this advice to evaluate each school: “When you leave campus pay attention to your feelings – what is your ‘gut’ saying right now? Are you excited to leave the campus or are you feeling something that you cannot explain something that wishes [or gets excited] you could have asked one more question or sat in one more classroom? As you drive away are you on Facebook telling your friends about the visit updating your status or connecting with the people you just met? Pay attention to your actions the next few hours and reflect.”
It’s your life so you need to choose your school. And don’t get too stressed about making the wrong decision. Your first instinct is usually the right one. So just relax take in all the information and you’ll be able to decide the best school for you.
Gracie Stevenson is a freelance writer in Colorado.