7 Important Tips for Your College Visit

If your parents went to college, then they likely never visited campus before hauling their suitcase into their freshman dorm. Today, students have many more educational options available, so choosing a college is largely a consumer choice that merits careful comparison. A campus visit is an all-important step toward a truly informed decision.

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“If you can afford the time and money, the opportunity to really feel a school’s vibe is important. And selective colleges are paying attention to demonstrated interest as part of the admissions process,” says Marie Bigham, director of college counseling at Greenhill School in Texas. “It’s becoming a new data point for admissions.”

Finding the right fit is much easier when you spend some face time on campus, so follow these tips to maximize your college visit:

Time it right. Visit colleges in the second half of your junior year, when you’re ready to focus on specifics, according to the book “Admission Matters,” by Sally Springer, Jon Reider and Joyce Vining Morgan.

Call in advance to schedule your visit. “Make and appointment wherever you go. It’s very difficult to walk on and expect to be seen,” says Lisa Sohmer, director of college counseling at Garden School in New York. “Admissions officers will show you around in a way you can’t show yourself, getting you into buildings and really seeing the workings of the college.”

Learn what to expect and prepare for it. If this is a formal visit, then consult the agenda carefully. Find out if you will receive a tour, if you can meet with faculty, coaches and financial aid experts, if you can sit in on classes and what your parents can do during the visit, says nonprofit education group Colleges That Change Lives.

Capture the moment. “Take pictures and make sure the first is of something that says the name of the school,” Sohmer says. “It’s simple, but it helps you remember.”

Don’t leave disappointed. You will be in a general tour, but don’t hesitate to ask questions specific to your goals and expectations. If the guide doesn’t know the answer, then ask to be referred to someone who can answer your questions.

Divide and conquer. If you are visiting with your parents or friends, then attend separate tours to get many different perspectives, Bigham says.

Absorb. Eat on campus, visit off-campus student hangouts, pick up and read a student newspaper. Read bulletin boards. Talk to students. Visualize yourself as a student on this campus. Explore. Have fun.

Mind your manners, especially on overnights! Remember that you are a guest, and your actions may be noted if you enjoy yourself too much. Have fun, but don’t go crazy, Bigham says.

If a visit is out of the question at admissions time, then try to walk the campus before you make your final decision about attendance, Sohmer says.

“No student should enroll in a college that they haven’t visited, no matter how far away,” Sohmer says. “The day you figure out it’s not what you thought should not be the day you are there with your luggage.”

– Claire Charlton