How to Make the Most of College Visits
You can take hundreds of virtual college tours and browse through multiple electronic guidebooks, but there’s no better way to see if a college is a good fit for you than by visiting the college and talking face-to-face with the people who make up the community.
To make the most of your college visits, it’s essential that you plan ahead.
To ensure that your college visit is both enjoyable and profitable, before you go, you need to prepare. While on campus, you want to keep your eyes and ears open. After your visit, you need to document your visit and follow up.
The tips below will give you advice on how to prepare for your college visit, how to make the most of your time while visiting, and what to do after you visit.
Before you visit:
- Make sure to schedule your visits when the colleges are in session. There’s no way that you can get a sense of the “personality” of the college if you visit during the summer or when students are on break.
- If the college offers visiting students an opportunity to interview, schedule an interview for your visiting day. During the interview, make an impact by showing off aspects of yourself that are hard to convey in the written portions of your application (transcript, application essays, letters of recommendation).
- Contact the admissions office and see if there are lectures or classes that you might sit it on the day you visit. If so, register for one (or more).
- If you are going to attend a class or lecture, send an email to the professor before you visit. In the email, briefly introduce yourself (one sentence max!), briefly explain your interest in the subject area (one to two sentences max!), and ask if you might have a minute to speak with the professor after class. If the professor agrees, make sure to prepare intelligent questions before attending the lecture or class.
- If you have a learning difference (LD) and will be applying for accommodations, make an appointment to speak with an officer in the office of disabilities services.
While there, ask specific questions about the accommodations you will be requesting. How will my requests for accommodations be received by faculty? How will my accommodations be enacted on a day-to-day basis? If the college agrees to provide extra time for exams, will I take the exam in the classroom or other distraction-free environment or will I take the exam in a noisy lecture hall? If you read recorded books, ask about the process for accessing books and other required reading materials. Who is my contact person if a professor is reluctant to provide accommodations? The officer’s attitude and the answers you receive can make or break your decision to apply.
- Bring a list of questions that you would like answered by admissions officers and your tour guide. The best questions are the ones the college doesn’t generally address in their published materials. In other words, don’t be shy about asking tough questions about the social scene at the college and the campus culture.
During Your Visit:
- Sign in.
- Attend the information session. The information session is designed to dazzle you so it’s a good idea to look beyond the hype and glitter and to “close read” and analyze the presentation. What is the speaker emphasizing? The prestige of the college? Post-graduate employment numbers? Number of students per class? One-on-one time with professors? What is not being talked about? Use this information to help make your decision about whether or not to apply.
- Have your parent go on one tour while you go on another. While on the tour, both of you should ask questions of your tour guides. After the tour, compare answers. Do the answers jibe? Also, while walking around, take note of flyers posted on kiosks and boards, what’s in dorm rooms, what students are talking about. If the college publishes a print version of the college newspaper, pocket one to read at home.
- Get an insider’s view of the college. Campus tour guides are paid to give you a favorable perception of the college. To get an insider’s look, talk to other students. (The student center and dining hall are comfortable places to approach students.) Walk around after the tour and ask random students what they like and don’t like about courses, workload, clubs, sports, internships, the party scene, drug use, and drinking. Ask if there’s anything they’d like to tell you that’s not apparent in the college’s public materials. Don’t be shy. Most students love sharing their opinions. At home, use this information in conjunction with the “official” information provided by the college when deciding whether or not to apply.
- Get lost, or at least pretend to. Seriously, walk onto the quad or some other popular public place on campus and look confused and, well, lost. See what happens. Get lost again in another part of the campus. What happens, or doesn’t happen, can reveal a lot about a college’s culture.
- If the college offers potential applicants an opportunity to stay with a current student overnight, strongly consider this. What happens or doesn’t happen overnight can be very revealing and help you decide whether or not to apply.
- Eat in the dining hall. You’re going to spend a lot of time there.
- Test out the local pizza and burger joints. You’re probably going to spend a lot of time there too.
After Your Visit:
- Thank everyone you spoke with by email. All the admissions officers, the professors, even the students. Consider this the beginning of your networking campaign with the college. How your correspondents continue or don’t continue corresponding with you will also reveal something of the college culture.
- Document your mental notes. After you’ve visited all the colleges on your list, compare your notes. You’re sure to feel more favorably about some colleges than before you visited. Start creating your lists of reach colleges, match colleges, and safeties.
- If, after visiting a college, you decide you want to apply, consider returning for more visits. Many colleges keep track of the number of times applicants visit the campus; the more your visit, the more the college perceives interest. If you do revisit a college, make sure to sign in.
Ready to get started? Call me.
Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.
About The Author
Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.