It’s important to set up your college visit in advance. By calling ahead you can arrange an overnight stay in the dorms, sign up for the tour and set up interviews with professors and college officials. Bring along a notebook or journal so you can keep notes of answers to your questions and jot down any thoughts you have. Take pictures as a memory aid since you’ll probably be visiting more than one campus per trip. A list of some of the important things you’ll want to do on your visit follows.
1. Take the official tour
Keep in mind that this is one of the many ways a college sells itself to parents and students. You’ll see the college facilities, library, computer labs, student commons, dining halls and the quad. You’ll see the best the college has to offer, guided by a student who loves the school and is proud to go there. You’ll learn lots of interesting facts about the school, so listen up and enjoy the tour.
2. Visit the Admissions office
Do yourself a favor, and give the admissions people a face to go with your application. Make an appointment for an interview with an admissions counselor, and feel free to ask any questions you still have about the process. Even if you don’t learn anything world shaking, you’ll have a chance to let them get to know you as more than a piece of paper, and that could make all the difference. Remember to pick up business cards so you have contact information.
3. Visit the Financial Aid office
Have a list of questions to ask these folks that you and your parents have prepared ahead of time. The financial aid counselor can tell you about financial aid packages, scholarships and estimate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Be sure and ask about merit-based aid and need-based aid, and any forms you might need in applying for financial aid.
4. Attend information sessions
Most colleges host information sessions for potential students and their parents. Admissions personnel will tell you about the admissions process and requirements, undergraduate curriculum and student life. These sessions usually last an hour and you’ll learn a great deal about the school, so be sure and attend.
5. Meet faculty in your academic department
Take the initiative and set up an appointment with a professor in the department you’re considering for your major. Be sure and do your homework first by reading the department Web site, the professor’s bio, publications and course list. Explain why you want to meet. Are you deciding between two majors or do you have a particular scholarly interest in what the professor teaches? Be clear in the email and ask for an interview when you’ll be on campus. You may be able to use this interview on your application. All professors like it when students take a specific interest in them and their work, and the college admission counselors will take note as well.
6. Attend a class
Colleges and professors are open to visiting high school students attending a class or two. You’ll be able to note the size of the class, professor to student ratio and get a sense of the academic quality of the college. Consider yourself as an observer and watch the professor and students to see how they interact. Be sure and introduce yourself to the professor before the class and thank him afterwards for the opportunity. Make sure ahead of time that you’ve scheduled enough time to take the class during your visit.
7. Talk to students
Take advantage of one of the best sources of information about the college, the students. Keep it informal, but ask them why they chose that college to attend, what they like about it and what they don’t. Talk to at least four or five students, so you get different opinions. Of course, don’t stop a student who seems to be hurrying to a class. Ask those who are sitting around and talking or studying. Ask about crime on campus and if they feel safe. Ask what they do on weekends and how many hours a week do they study. Give your curiosity free reign and see what kind of information you can discover.
8. Stay overnight
Call ahead of your college visit and see if you can stay overnight in a dorm room with a current student. You’ll get a good idea of what to expect from dorm life with even one night’s visit. You’ll be able to talk to other students, eat at the cafeteria and see what students talk about at night. Usually, only seniors who are prospective students can stay overnight.
9. Eat in the dining hall
The admissions office can arrange for you and your parents to catch a meal at one of the college’s dining halls or cafeterias. You’ll get a sense of what the meal offerings are, if there’s a salad bar and if the cooks know their stuff. Look around while you eat and observe the professors and students on their downtime.
10. Wander around on your own
Tell your parents or whoever is with you that you’d like to explore on your own for a while. Walk through the library and see yourself studying there. Walk around the grounds and talk to the students you meet. Look at posters and bulletin boards and see what exercise classes or lectures or concerts are available. Find a comfortable place to sit and take notes about your experiences during this college visit.