Campus Visits – An Insider’s Guide
For many students, the high school years 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 might 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?
Paul Willeboordse, first year admissions coordinator with University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), suggests that students select schools that vary in general characteristics. “Small vs. large, private vs. public, urban vs. suburban, distance from home, and majors/programs offered,” he says. “Each of these differences offer advantages and disadvantages to students, and identifying which schools meet your personal and academic needs can help you narrow your choices when considering where to apply. Experiencing these different types of campuses will give you an idea of what you like and, sometimes more importantly, what you may dislike at your future university.”
Caroline Madden, director of merit awards, compliance & residency in the Coastal Carolina University (SC) Office of Admissions & Merit Awards, agrees. “Visiting schools presents opportunities and challenges. If visiting schools is a strategy to narrow down the list of colleges to which you apply, begin visiting schools in your junior year. If you plan to only visit schools to which you are accepted, begin applying as soon as possible. Build college visits into pre-existing travel plans, such as vacations, and maximize your time on campus by calling ahead to coordinate with various offices or departments. Ask your colleges of interest if they have preview days, programs in your area or a virtual tour online, which may help you determine if a physical campus visit is warranted for a particular school.”
What to expect on your visit
“Each school you visit will likely offer a different tour experience, but be prepared to see a lot!” says Willeboordse of UNCW. “Most campus tours will incorporate many elements of life as a student, so expect to see a residence hall, an academic space and student life buildings, like the library or recreation center. Try to begin each tour as open-minded as possible and make a point to interact with your tour guides, students and other campus representatives to make your visit as memorable as possible.”
Alex Callis, a coordinator with the office of undergraduate admissions at Tennessee Tech University, says that while visiting Tennessee Tech, prospective students and their families receive an admissions presentation from one of the school’s counselors, a walking tour of campus led by a current student, and a residential hall tour. “Our admissions office also schedules each prospective student a departmental meeting of their choice. Upon registration, the student selects the major of their choice and we contact the department. Some offices are unavailable to meet at specific times, but we do our best to advertise that unavailability on the website ahead of time … We will also do our best to schedule any additional departmental meetings of the student’s choice (Honors, ROTC, disability services, etc.).”
Madden of Coastal adds, “A general tour of campus, usually guided by a current student or admissions staff member, is designed to highlight key features, including buildings, services and programs for students while covering a wide array of information. Expect to eventually forget what you hear and see. Details from even the most captivating campus visits will fade overtime, especially if you begin visiting early, so take pictures or videos, which can be helpful later when comparing campus visits.”
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.
“Visiting a school before enrolling or even applying is essential in my opinion!” says Callis of Tennessee Tech. “It is the best way to ensure you can see yourself as a student at that specific university. Walking around campus, seeing the buildings where you will take classes, seeing how busy or lively the campus is and talking with current students are all things that will help make the college-decision process easier. Unless you experience the university firsthand, you will not truly know if that college is the right fit for you!”
Madden of Coastal agrees. “It just feels right! The college visit is usually the deciding factor that confirms whether your research resulted in a college that is right for you. Most college visits help you visualize yourself as a student. Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to interact with current students, faculty and staff or to simply walk the campus grounds to ‘get a feel’ for campus life.”
“Schools can often feel very different compared to what they look like online, so visiting campus allows you the opportunity to experience campus and visualize what life as a future student might feel like,” adds Willeboordse of UNCW. “Admission offices take note of students who take the time to visit campus, and your initial interest can be a great start to your relationship with any school.”
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.
“Look for the college’s travel schedule on their website to see if representatives will be visiting an area near you,” Madden of Coastal suggests. “Do not hesitate to reach out for more information. Colleges want to engage with you—in person or by phone, email or social media—[so] stay connected.”
Before you decide not to visit because of financial reasons, check with the schools you’re interested in to see if there are options for you. Many universities provide travel assistance for students to come out and visit on a case-by-case basis.
“If there are financial restraints, distance concerns or other circumstances that hinder a student from being able to tour a specific university, I would recommend a few options,” says Callis of Tennessee Tech. “Go to a college fair near you or see if your high school is hosting a college fair. Find the admissions counselor for your specific high school/county and call or email them with all of your questions regarding that specific university. Go to that college’s website and see if they have a virtual tour online.”
Just remember, campus visits are there to give you insight. Don’t stress over them: just turn them into a fun adventure to help determine your future!
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.
- 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.
- Read the college newspaper or arts magazine.
- 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.