What to Do Before Your College Visit

By Patricia Gorden Neill - March 19th, 2013

“If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.”—Yogi Berra

By putting thought into your preparations for a college visit, you can ensure that you get the most out of the trip. It isn’t necessary to plan every step or stop along the way, nor is it advisable, as plans often go awry. Nevertheless, you want a broad outline of what you’ll be doing, people you’ll be seeing, questions you’ll be asking and an itinerary of your visit.

Most colleges recommend spending at least half a day on your visit. A half day could easily cover the official college tour and the hour-long information session, but will you have time for an interview with a professor, time to take a class or to eat lunch or dinner in a dining hall? Don’t be afraid to spend a full day on a college campus if you can afford the time. You and your parents might need to visit two colleges in one day in order to fit all five colleges you want to visit into the trip. Let the amount of time you spend on a college visit be fluid if at all possible. That way, you can spend more time if you think you need to, or less time for that matter. You might have chosen a college to visit that strikes you as not a good fit within the first half hour you’re there.

Which colleges on your list should you visit? Remember, on your list you have two reach colleges, where you might not get accepted, two target colleges that you think would be a great fit and a good chance you would be accepted, and two safe colleges you know would accept you. Visit your target and safety colleges first, seems the wise choice. Show these schools you’re interested and wanting to apply. Visit your reach colleges if you have the extra time, or if these are the colleges of your dreams. Depending on how selective the college is, even if you’re a straight A student with a high SAT score you still might not be accepted. Don’t make visiting your reach schools a priority. Use valuable visiting time wisely.

That said, here’s some specific advice on planning your college visits.

Do Your Homework

Research the college thoroughly by reading its Web site, brochure and course catalogue. Find out all the basic information ahead of time. Here are some of the things you need to know about the school:

  • Location and description of the college
  • College enrollment—GPA, ACT or SAT average scores, male female ratio, total number of undergraduates, student demographics (racial, regional, etc.)
  • College requirements—high school classes, foreign language, etc.
  • Tuition, room and board, other costs and fees
  • Financial Aid—merit scholarships, needs-based aid, grants and loans
  • Academic Offerings—study abroad, internships
  • Student faculty ratio
  • Majors with highest enrollment
  • Average freshman GPA

You may think of other information you need to know ahead of time. Study the college’s Web site to get as much data as you can. Everything you can discover before your visit will come in handy while you’re on campus. Don’t forget to check out the school’s social media presence and any blogs produced by faculty or students. You can find some unusual nuggets of information this way.

Schedule the Visit

Two to three weeks ahead of time, call the college’s admission office. You need to know when college tours and information sessions are offered. You’ll need the admissions office assistance in setting up an overnight stay with a student host, for meal tickets at the dining hall and to arrange times for interviews with an admissions and a financial aid counselor. If you wish an interview with a professor, you’ll need to set it up via email or phone with the professor, as well as schedule time for the interview and to take a class with him, if possible. Be sure to arrange for enough time for each segment of your visit: the college tour, information session, interviews, taking a class, overnight stay and some time for yourself to wander around the campus and get the overall vibe of the place.

Map Out Your Visit

Get out the maps and plan your trip. Find each city on the map and where the college is located. If you’re planning on visiting two colleges a day, map out where you need to be and when. Don’t forget to schedule a little downtime in between each college so you can process the information you’ve collected. Don’t forget meals and overnights. While you might stay overnight at the college, your parents need a place to stay off campus. The admissions office can recommend hotels close by for you.

Make an Itinerary

With your map and dates, plan out where you will be and when, how much time you’ll need and figuring time for getting from one college to another. Overall this is a bit complex, but broken down into baby steps makes it easy to accomplish. Get mom and dad to help with the planning as you’ll want their opinions on the entire process and various visits.

Prepare a List of Questions

For all the information you’ve discovered online, there’s still lots you need to discover. Prepare some questions for the admissions counselor, the financial aid person, the professor if you’ll be seeing one, the tour guide and for students.

Dress Code

Dress well, but make sure you’re comfortable. You want to make a good impression so it is important that you be presentable. Wear shoes that won’t destroy your feet after a couple of hours.

Items to Take Along

Be sure to bring a notebook or journal, a camera for taking shots of the campus as a memory aid and a checklist for noting your impressions of each college. This post-visit checklist should list pros and cons for each college, interesting facts about the college, the admission requirements (GPA, SAT or ACT score, letters of recommendation, etc.), deadlines for admissions and financial aid, what you might need to do to better your chances of getting accepted and most important, your overall impression of the school from extremely positive to downright negative or not for you. When you’ve filled out a checklist like this for each college, you’ll have a much better sense of which colleges are worth the time, effort and fees for applying.

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.