Visiting a campus is a key component in a college search. It can happen Sophomore and Junior year when a student is building a list, and, most importantly when making your final choice. Since many of my clients find themselves in either situation, I wanted to share some thoughts and helpful tips on what to do and what to ask when visiting a college. Forgive me for this long post!
Obviously visiting allows you to get a sense of how comfortable you are on campus. No website, guidebook, or testimonial will give you a better feel for a school than seeing it for yourself. When planning your campus visits, make sure to allow time to explore each college. Try not to schedule more than 2 visits per day. While you’re there, talk to as many people as possible: college admission staff, professors and students. Note that some activities, such as meeting with an admissions officer or staying overnight in a dorm, need to be set up in advance. Ideally it's best to visit when school is in session, but sometimes that's not possible.
How to Schedule a Campus Tour
First things first, start by visiting the college’s website. Check the admissions page and see if you can sign up for activities directly on their page or through their tour link. You can also contact the admissions office by email or phone to get details and make a reservation. Remember to confirm the tour/activity time a day or two before you arrive just in case the schedule has changed.
If you are a senior who is visiting schools to make their final choice, you may be invited to an accepted student’s day or weekend. These are a wonderful option that allows you time to explore the school in depth. I highly recommend you attend and visit at least your top 3 choices.
Wondering what a college tour entails? Most college tours are a walking tour of the campus typically guided by a college student. The guide usually gives a brief description of the college and its’ history, the student body, activities, campus life, and student housing. Guides are usually eager to answer questions. Tours generally take 30 to 60 minutes and often start and end at the admissions office.
A campus tour will give you a general sense of the college, but you should keep in mind that your guide is only one of hundreds or thousands of students on that campus. In addition, the students giving tours tend to be happy with their college choice and may not always provide an objective opinion. Try to observe and talk to other students as well. While on tour, your main objective should be to gather information you cannot find anywhere else. If your schedule doesn’t allow a formal tour, walk the college yourself. Most schools have maps for self-guided tours.
In addition to campus tours, many colleges also offer information sessions either before or after the tour. They are conducted by an admissions officer and include presentations that focus on how admission decisions are made, statistics of students who are admitted, information about the faculty, admission requirements/criteria, and application deadlines.
Interviewing on Campus
If you are a junior, and applying to competitive colleges you might find that they require or strongly suggest that applicants interview either at the admissions office on-campus or with an alumni interviewer in the applicant's hometown or high school. How do you know if an interview is required or recommended? Visit the prospective student page, and research admission requirements, call admissions directly or contact me for a list of schools that require or strongly recommend interviews.
If you decide to interview, be sure to research the college thoroughly beforehand. By doing so you’ll be able to articulate what it is about that college that interests you and ask knowledgeable questions. In addition, you may want to schedule your interview after the campus tour, so you will have a better feel of the school.
You’re on campus…now what?
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. 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? Consider how you would get around campus particularly in the rain or snow.
- 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.
While on campus….
Eat in the cafeteria and watch student interactions. Look at the students themselves. Do you feel comfortable among them?
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.
If you aren’t interviewing, 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
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?
What percentage of the study body belongs to a sorority or fraternity?
How widely used are teaching assistants on your campus?
Is there tutoring on campus? Is there a writing center? Do students use these services?
Remembering Each College Visit
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:
Take pictures and notes either while on campus or as soon as you leave. List the pros and the cons of each school.
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).
Questions you can and should research from home before your visit:
A campus visit should be your time to learn things you can’t find answers to on the website or through research. It is also a time to feel and see the campus. Don’t spend all of your valuable time on campus finding answers that you can research at home. Listed below are questions you can find answers to on a college’s website, through a phone call, or on College Board or College Navigator.
How are advisors assigned to students? What is their role?
What is the registration process? How are classes selected? Are you guaranteed to get the classes you want or need?
Are students taught by full-time faculty members, graduate assistants, or teaching assistants?
Are on-campus and off-campus jobs available?
What is the procedure for selecting a roommate?
Are incoming students guaranteed housing? For how many years?
What percentage of student live on campus?
What are the college's policies for moving off campus?
What is your average financial aid package?
What is the typical breakdown of loans versus grants?
What percentage of financial need does the school typically meet?
What is the average merit award?
What percentage of students receive college grants or scholarships?
What is a graduate’s average debt?
What kinds of learning disability resources do you have?
What is the average class size of introductory classes and upper division classes?
What opportunities are there for undergraduate research?
How many students participate in undergraduate research?
Is there a culminating senior year experience: a thesis or capstone class?
Is there an honors college?
Retention, Success, and Career Services
What is the four-year graduation rate?
What percentage of freshmen return for sophomore year?
How many students at the college get internships?
What type of career services do you have?
Most importantly have fun on your visit. Take time to reflect on how you feel on the grounds of the campus as well in areas surrounding the school. Remember to take notes and pictures and ask yourself, “Can I picture myself here for four years?”. More information will result in an easier and sound decision, whether you are deciding on a college to add to your list or making your final college choice.
Questions regarding Campus Visits? Contact Michele at (714) 316-9246!