Trying Colleges On For Size with a Campus Visit
Trying a few on is the only way to get a sense for a school, its students and life on campus. As the time nears to start making decisions about colleges, try some on for size before you apply. And the best way to do that is to visit the campus.
When is a good time to plan a campus visit?
It’s best to see a campus when it’s hustling and bustling: people heading to and from classes, students hanging out, buildings alive with activity. That’s how you’ll know what it would be like if you were in school there yourself.
Try to visit a campus on a weekday during the school year, when classes are in session. Though it may be more convenient to visit colleges on a weekend or over the summer, how a campus looks, feels and functions can radically change during such “off” times. The summertime can be especially deceptive, when the leaves are on the trees, the grass is green, and people look fabulous. But in much of the country you’ll be in school during the colder months, when the trees will be bare, the grass is brown, and everyone is bundled in sweaters and parkas.
What schools should I see?
Depending on where you live, you may wish to plan a short trip to visit several campuses on the same day.
For example, Philadelphia is home to over 50 colleges and universities, and the Lehigh Valley, about 90 minutes’ drive from there, has nearly a dozen more. Such collections of colleges located near one another exist in regions throughout the country. Take a day off to visit a few in an area near you. This allows you to easily compare schools while they’re fresh in your mind, and efficiently see as many institutions as possible.
How do I get the most out of my visit?
A campus tour is a good way to quickly get a feel for the school. But remember, tour guides only show the parts of the college they want you to see. They’ll show you the library or the student center – but they may not show you a dorm room (or if they do, it will be one of the nicer ones in pristine condition), a typical classroom or anything off-campus. When the tour is over, try to explore other parts of the campus and its surrounding area for yourself.
One word of caution: Don’t be fooled by the weather. If you visit a college on a cold, dreary, rainy day, an otherwise lively campus could feel gray and cheerless. Try to be open-minded if you see a campus on a day when the weather is lousy.
Finally, look around – do you see other kids like you? Do you see people you’d want to be friends with? Could you live there? Is it crowded? Desolate? Big? Small? You won’t know unless you walk around with your eyes and ears open. There’s a good chance that when you visit the “right” campuses for you, you’ll feel it.
Finally, talk to some students. They’ll usually be pretty honest in telling you what they like and don’t like about the school. However, remember that most students wouldn’t be there unless they liked the school, so ultimately you need to take in all the information and come to your own conclusions.