One of the biggest decisions that young adults face fresh out of high school is which college will they attend for their post-secondary learning opportunities. Narrowing down the selection and planning visits to the college campuses is an important piece of the selection process. Merely stopping by and taking a glance at the campus will not give you enough insight to make an informed choice. Here are a few tips for getting the most valuable information out of your college visits.
Your Guide to College Visits
I know what school I want to attend, is it really necessary to visit?
Absolutely! Just because you fall in love with a school because of the academic options they provide, or because you cheer on their football team each season, you need to spend some time physically on the campus to ensure that it is the right choice for you. The atmosphere on campus may be much different than what you see on television or hear about from visitors. And secondly, visiting a campus to tailgate before a big game or rally behind a team is much different than visiting to consider living there for a number of years while engaging in higher learning.
Is there anything to do before the visit?
Depending on how many schools you plan to visit, making up an individual checklist and taking notes of specific policies, procedures, pros, and cons will be helpful when you get home and have to make a final decision. Your own checklist may include some of the following:
What is the school’s policy for freshmen living on campus? Must they stay in dorms or can they live in other campus housing? Will you be able to keep a car? If so, where? If not, what transportation options are available?
What are the dining policies like? What about the menu? If you have any special dietary or personal preferences, are they readily available? Add any other issues or questions that you specifically want to find out about each campus you plan to visit.
Another thing you may want to do prior to your visit is to talk to anyone you know who is currently attending or has attended each particular school. Ask them questions about their experience or if they have any tips they want to share.
What do I do once I arrive for a visit?
Where will you be spending your time? That’s a great place to start.
You will want to look at the living quarters and see what the atmosphere is like in the dormitories. If there are more than one option, consider looking at both of them. The honors dorm may be entirely different in ways that you may (or may not) appreciate.
Check out the library. Are there places to study privately? What about with a small group? When you ask a question, do the librarians or students working in the library seem helpful and willing to point you in the right direction?
Are you able to visit classrooms in your area of interest as well as those “general” requirements that every student needs? The classroom size and atmosphere may make a big difference based on your particular learning style. The large auditorium classroom with hundreds of students offers a more impersonal approach that may appeal to some students. On the other hand, small personal classes with a lot of student/instructor interaction may be more appealing to others.
Take a look at the dining halls, the local restaurants, shopping facilities, and campus amenities that you may frequent as a student. The bustling downtown location may be ideal because everything is easily accessible with a quick hop on a city bus. Those campuses that are more remote may offer fewer options, but provide a “small town” type of atmosphere that makes the campus feel more like home.
Talk to students and faculty any chance that you get. Even if it’s as simple as walking up to
someone in the dining hall, or speaking with a secretary in the admissions office. Conversations with as many people as possible will give you more insight to the general “atmosphere” of the campus.
Go off on your own for a while! The formal tour will include the highlights and features of the campus that the school wants you to see. They will steer you clear of any downsides such as the gym with antiquated equipment or the sketchy neighborhood that borders the north side of the campus. Taking the time to explore on your own, getting lost, and hopefully finding your way again will provide you some invaluable campus experience.
How much time do I really need to spend checking out a campus?
The answer is that this will vary depending on how much time you have available and how much you wish to really get a good feel for the campus life. Stopping by for an hour and trying to fit four college visits in one afternoon is definitely not the way to go. Plan to spend at least ½ a day (at a minimum) at any school you are serious about attending. Any less than that and you will not gain enough valuable information to make an informed decision.
Some schools offer an option to visit and stay overnight in the dormitories with a current student. This can certainly be a bit awkward as you spend the day with a total stranger, but honestly, moving in with a stranger in the fall is going to be happening anyway. Why not take the plunge and really get a good feel for what this campus is like? Beyond the awkwardness, you will definitely gain some excellent insider information that you will never find in any of the educational literature.
Campus Life: Is this the right one for you?
Perhaps the single most important factor of the college campus visit is to get a strong feel of the atmosphere of each particular school. Is this where you envision yourself fitting in for the next four years? Does this place make you feel good about the college experience? Sometimes these things won’t be something that you can specifically identify, but you can recognize the feeling (good or bad) you get during the visit. Whether it be the in-depth discussion you had with a band director or coach, or the students you met playing a game on the lawn outside the dorm, the more time you spent on campus during your visit will help guide you toward the right decision.