While on your tour take the time to do the following:
Take pictures, make quick notes, and ask questions!
Ask yourself: Can I imagine myself here?
Consider how you would get around campus, particularly in the rain or snow.
Figure out how you will get around. Will you have to take a shuttle to class, a bike, walk?
Evaluate the environment of the campus.
Is the campus too big or too small for you? Do you like the nearby town or do you feel isolated?
Picture yourself living in a dorm. Are you comfortable with where they’re located on campus, such as the proximity to classes or the campus center? (If possible spend the night in the dorm with a current student. Some schools don’t offer this option until you are accepted but it doesn’t hurt to ask!) This is a great opportunity to get a deeper sense of campus life and interact with your potential future friends and roommates.
Eat in the cafeteria and watch student interactions.
Do they seem happy, comfortable, at home? Do you feel comfortable?
Talk to a professor or two in your chosen major. Sit in on a class. Contact admissions to see if this is a possibility. Visiting a class will allow you to see the students and faculty "in action." Of course, one class or professor is not indicative of the entire experience at a college. If you have an opportunity to sit in on more than one class, select courses in different areas of study or ones with different course types (i.e. lecture, seminar, lab).
Observe the students in the class. Are they engaged? Is the professor enthusiastic? How does he/she interact with students? If you attend a seminar, listen to the students' perspectives. These bits of information hold subtle clues about a college that may be useful in forming your opinion.
Stop by the admissions office and introduce yourself. Let them know what interests you about the school so they can direct you to the best place for further investigation. Collect contact information and send a brief email thanking them for taking the time to talk to you. If there is a sign–up sheet, add your name! Many colleges keep track of which applicants have demonstrated genuine interest in the school. A visit is a great way to demonstrate your interest.
Meet with the coach if you’re considering playing a college sport. It can be an invaluable opportunity to get a picture of where you might fit into the program. Keep in mind that coaches have to follow NCAA rules for contact so connect with the coach before arriving.
Take your own un-official tour by wandering around campus. If there are any facilities that are important to you, find them and have a look for yourself. Check out the athletic facilities, theater, student center, library, the bookstore, etc.
Before leaving, walk or drive around the community surrounding the campus. Most colleges are located near a small town if not in close vicinity to a large city. Get off campus to explore. Check out the local shops, and transportation. You need to decide if the community is a good fit as well.
Questions to Ask
Ask about the local town, suburb, or city.
What is on-campus social life like?
What do you do in your free time? On the weekends?
How often do students go off-campus? For what?
Ask a student why they chose the college.
Ask about the food and residence halls.
Ask about campus safety.
Ask whether the campus has wireless internet and cable.
Ask about your tour guide's personal experience at the school. “ What have you done since coming to school here?”
Ask the tour guide what they would change about the school. What do they like about the school?
What are the dorms like? Which are the favorite among students?
Do most students go home on the weekend?
How widely used are teaching assistants used in classes?
Remembering Each College
At the time you visit, you may be convinced that everything you see and hear will remain fresh in your mind. But as soon as you visit another college or two or as time passes, you may forget or confuse some aspects of each school.
To help remember a college, I recommend:
Taking pictures and notes either while on campus or as soon as you leave. List the pros and the cons of each school.
To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single college in the country that monitors your behavior, or attire while on a campus tour. Be respectful and dress comfortably. (If you are interviewing wear business casual.) Tour guides don't usually have direct connections to the admissions office, and even if they do, everyone involved in this process knows how stressful it is.
Try not to base your opinion of a school on bad weather or one boring class.
There are bound to be sunny days and more interesting classes. Same goes for overnight visits—you might end up staying with a student who has very different interests than you do. At the same time, trust your gut. Sometimes it's love at first sight. Other times, something feels wrong (even if you can't put your finger on it).
Catch up next week for Part 3: Questions you can and should research from home before your visit.