From time to time, parents tell me that they are planning to visit colleges only after their teen gets accepted. While I understand that it is costly, as well as time consuming, when it comes to making a decision about whether or not to apply, there is nothing more important than a college visit. Why? Well, there are several reasons. One is all colleges tend to look the same in their glossy promotional materials, but they often look different in person. Two, students often have to write an essay addressing why they want to attend a college or university, and that is much easier if you have visited. And three, talking to current college students gives you valuable insight into student satisfaction.
Though conventional wisdom suggests that it is better to visit during the fall, winter or spring semesters, a summer visit can be also be beneficial. Plan to visit one or two colleges per day, and don’t forget to take notes and pictures of each school, to refresh your memory when you return home. Here are some tips that should help.
The Top Ten Things to Do on a College Visit
1. Schedule your college visits through Admissions.
It’s really easy to schedule online. Just go to the “Admissions” section of any college website and you will notice a “Visit” link. Most schools have a tour calendar posted and you can see what dates and times are available.
2. Investigate the area around the college/university.
Where will you shop for groceries, dorm supplies, clothing, toiletries, etc.? Where will you grab a meal when you get tired of campus dining? What is within walking distance of the campus? Do you feel safe in the community?
3. Check in at the Admissions Office
It is extremely important to listen to the admissions presentation and take the campus tour. You will also be asked to fill out an information card. Colleges take note of students that visit, so they can keep track of “demonstrated interest,” (how much you contact the university) and this contact can be a helpful admissions factor.
4. Visit the dorms, research facilities, clinic, library, student center, athletic center and career center, if you don’t get to see these buildings on the tour.
Since you will be picking a dorm, you should understand your options. How well equipped are the research facilities are and what research is currently being conducted? Find out where the clinic is, in case you get sick. What kinds of study areas are available at the library? What is available in the student center and the athletic center? Finally, visit the career center, and ask them for statistics on college alumni. After all, the prize at the end of your education should be your ability to get a job.
5. Schedule an appointment with a professor and/or a coach
If you know your major interest, talk to a professor in the department about course requirements, internships, research, and job prospects in the field. On a college visit this year, a student discovered that the program she was interested in was being discontinued, but that information was never published on the website. Needless to say, she decided not to apply but she wouldn’t have known this information if she hadn’t visited. Also, if you are interested in being recruited, talk to the coach and tell him/her about your interest in playing for the school. Check out the athletic facilities.
6. Eat the food
You will be eating the food on campus for at least a few years, so try it now. It’s also important to see what food options are offered, especially if you have special dietary preferences, i.e. vegetarian, kosher, etc.
7. Read the student publications and bulletin boards
Both can tell you what’s happening on campus. What are student concerns? What activities are being held? What is the campus culture?
8. Schedule an interview with an admissions representative, if possible.
Some schools offer, recommend, or require a college interview, so they can get to know you a little bit. If the college/university is far from your home, it’s probably a good idea to schedule the interview during your visit. Make sure you prepare yourself by researching the school and answering some mock interview questions.
9. Sit in on a class
Let’s face it. You are supposed to be going to school for an education, so check out a class or two to see if the education they are offering is interesting to you. Class visits often have to be scheduled ahead of time, so call admissions for more information.
10. Talk to other students
Nobody will be more honest than the students that attend the college/university. Make sure you ask the students about specific majors, their likes, dislikes, and why they picked the school.
So, don’t procrastinate, get out your map of the United States and plan your college visits now. You will be happy you did.