Visiting colleges is an integral part of the application process. It’s hard to truly want to go somewhere unless you’ve been there in person and can visualize yourself as a student. Being at a college can give you a feel for its student body, ethos, and social and academic atmospheres, lessening the chance of disappointment once you do start attending. Consider the following aspects as you plan your college visits.
1. Request an overnight stay.
Most colleges welcome prospective students and have plans in place. Prospective students are paired with an existing student, usually a freshman or sophomore, and stay overnight in that student’s dorm. They can sit in on classes, eat in dining halls, attend club fairs, and meet other current students. Lacking the structure and sterility of a tour, and away from supervision, these visits provide a more realistic window into what it’s like to attend a school. They generally occur in fall, when classes are in session. Contact the admissions office of the college to see what the options are.
2. Think about visiting clusters of colleges in specific geographic areas.
It’s more cost-efficient to visit several colleges in one area, and then move on, instead of going back and forth. When you’re planning a trip to one college, look up other institutions in the area. Even if you don’t want to apply there, it’s worth a visit to see what a neighboring college looks like and what the college town looks like. Also, consider starting out in cities: cities tend to have many more colleges in one area, whereas rural and suburban universities are more far-flung.
3. Check the tour schedule and, potentially, the on-campus interview schedule.
An informal tour is fine, but a real tour will give you more insight into the college. Make sure you time your trip in accordance with when these tours are given. After that, you’re free to wander campus as you see fit. If you’re in 12th grade, and have already applied, or want to, it may also be worthwhile to see if the college provides on-campus interviews. Especially if you’re traveling some distance to get there, it’s a great opportunity to seize.
4. Ensure to visit all the facilities of the college: dorms, recreation, dining, academic.
How up-to-date are the facilities? What kind of housing is provided for students? Is housing in close proximity to campus, or far away? Is there Greek life? Do different types of people live in different areas of campus? Do the dorms encourage socializing? How are the gym facilities? What is the quality of the food? Take note of all these things, because they will become integral to your daily existence as a student there.
5. Use the Q&A section of the tour to ask questions about anything you consider important to your well-being.
If you require special accommodations of any kind, make sure to ask what the college provides. For that matter, it’s a good idea to ask how the college supports its student body in general. If there are any identities that are important to you (religious, LGBT, dietary, ethnicity, and so on), see what on-campus resources are available. Some schools even provide special, identity-centric housing, for those who want it.
6. Don’t just focus on quality of life as an undergraduate student, but also provisions for life after undergrad.
Does the college have a career center? Is it a small liberal arts college, or is it part of a large research university? Depending on what you want to do, certain places will be better fits for you. Some colleges have graduate schools, and you could take graduate-level classes in your final years at undergrad. Universities will also provide the opportunity for you to conduct research with professors. A school in a city gives access to off-campus internships. Make sure to think about the trajectory of what your whole four years will be, not just your first.
7. Reflect on the college after you leave.
Bring paper and pen, and afterwards, write down your impressions. What did you like? What did you dislike? How does it compare to another school? Writing down your thoughts in the immediate aftermath is good because the memory is still fresh, and you can return to it later, when you’re finalizing your list of where to apply.