The Lowdown on College Visits

By Patricia Gorden Neill - February 28th, 2013

College visits rank very high in your overall preparation for college. Being on the campus when other students are around will give you a good sense of whether you like the place or not. Your dream college might be set in a large city, but when you get there and sense the harried, hurried city life of the school, it might put you off entirely. Or you thought Vermont had the perfect college, but somehow you forgot how cold it gets in winter. You didn’t think you would like the little liberal arts college, but the campus utterly charmed you and the current students seem to love it there. These are all possible reactions to visiting a college for the first time. Walking around on campus will allow all your five senses to explore the place and see if it feels like it could be home. The reason college visits are so vital is because the college you choose will be home for the next four years. Choosing wrong and transferring to another school will set you back in both time and money, so it’s a good idea to choose wisely the first time.

Here’s a few things to start thinking about when you’re getting ready to visit the colleges on your list:

Junior Year College Visit

If it’s possible, consider a quick campus visit during your junior year in high school. If you go during the summer, you can do a quick visit to campus just to get a feel for the place. In the summer, the admissions office people are less busy and can give you some undivided attention. If your family is heading out on a summer road trip vacation, stopping in at various colleges along the way for quick visits will help you prepare your college list and give you a feel for what’s right for you. If you call ahead, you can arrange to walk through the dorms, check out the student commons and see some of the college’s facilities such as the computer lab and library.

Senior Year College Visits

In your senior year, go for a longer visit when campus is in session, spring or fall. Call and arrange to join a class, eat at the dining hall and stay overnight, if possible. Most seniors visit in September and October, when school is in session and the campus is jumping. This visit calls for an interview with both admissions and financial aid personnel. You’ll have a list of questions prepared, and feel free to ask away. Take the official tour and take pictures along the way to help you remember the college, especially if you’ll be visiting many college campuses on one trip. Wander around a bit on your own. Picture yourself as a student on the campus. Do you feel comfortable?

One more thing on visiting: if you’re thinking of a school far outside your own bioregion, visit the college when its weather is what you’ll have to endure. That is, visit the University of Maine at Orono in late fall and the University of Mississippi in late spring. Will you really be OK with mountains of snow and shivering cold or tropically hot and humid? Remember that you’ll not only be taking classes and studying there, but living there as well.

Talk to Students

One of your best sources of information is current students. While you’re on campus, stop and talk to four or five students at random. They’ll probably be more than willing to rate their own school for you. Ask them their favorite thing about the school, the thing about the school they really don’t like and how they picked this college to attend. Ask them what the dorms and social scene are like, and finding time to study. Ask if the school is a party school and if that causes problems. You have a list of questions to ask the admissions and financial aid people, you should have a list of questions to ask students as well.

Check Other Media

Besides talking to current students, be sure to check out bulletin boards and the school newspaper. You’ll find list of activities such as concerts, lectures, art shows, club meetings, yoga classes and other things to do. The newspaper will have ads for film series, movies, town restaurants and current news about the school. You’ll learn how life on campus will unfold while you’re there.

Pick up a copy of newspaper of the town while you’re at it. The local paper can give you an idea of town issues, such as local crime and the sports scene. You’ll be able to check what other resources and businesses the town has available in case you’ll be looking for a part-time job during school.

In Summary

The thing you really want to get from your visit is the sense that you would like to live and study at this college for the next four years. That’s why a college visit is vital. You’ll spend some exciting and challenging times during your college years. You’ll meet new friends that you’ll keep for the rest of your life. You’ll study hard and most likely play pretty hard too. Feeling at home is important and even if you don’t feel it the moment you step onto campus, it will grow on you.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.