How to Get the Most Out of Your College Campus Visits
Each spring, tens of thousands of high school students flock to colleges for campus tours. Practically a rite of spring, the campus tour is your family’s chance to ask questions about admissions and financial aid, check out the facilities and the food, sit in on classes, and talk to current students. Perhaps most important, it’s a chance for your student to find out if the college feels right.
Whether you’re joining the spring migration or planning to visit later, Connections Academy’s school counselors have a few tips to help all of you get the most out of the experience.
Before You Go
Campus visits can be fun and exciting. But they can also be time-consuming and costly if you have too many schools on your wish list—or if those schools are widespread and far from home. So, before you go, make sure the colleges on your list meet your top priorities. (You’d be surprised how many prospective students are disappointed to find that their “dream” school doesn’t offer the major, activity, or type of community they want.)
Here are some of the questions we ask students to help them narrow down their choices:
- Do you already have a college major and a career goal in mind? Is your target school respected in that field?
- Do you think you’ll be more comfortable at a large university or a smaller college? Urban environment or smaller town?
- Do you want to stay close to home for college or spread your wings? Do you want to live on campus, at home, or in off-campus housing? (NOTE: Many universities do not allow freshman to live off campus unless they are living with family.)
- Are certain sports, artistic, social, religious, or volunteer activities essential?
- Are costs and available financial aid critical factors in your decision?
- Have you reviewed the admissions criteria for the school? Do you meet the minimum requirements for GPA and standardized test scores?
With your priorities defined, review your target schools’ websites carefully to see if they meet your most basic standards for admissions criteria, size, location, housing options, costs, and available majors. Then dig a little deeper using our list of college planning resources.
Once you’ve narrowed down your college wish list, get ready to tour with these simple tips.
6 Tips for a Successful College Visit
- Choose the best time to visit.
To get a true feel for campus life, you’ll want to visit when classes are in full swing. Check the academic calendar on the college’s website and try to avoid: final exam week when students may be too busy to talk, vacation or holiday breaks when the campus is deserted, or major school events when dorms and area lodging may be booked to capacity.
- Schedule your tour in advance.
Many colleges offer regularly scheduled, student-led tours Mondays through Saturdays throughout the academic year. You can usually sign up for these tours on the college website. Some schools also allow you to schedule a meeting with the financial aid office online, but available appointments may be limited. If your target school doesn’t offer online tour booking, a group tour, or a financial aid appointment that fits your schedule, simply contact the admissions or financial aid offices for help.
- Be prepared. Know what to expect.
Campus tours often begin with a short presentation from admissions staff where you can ask general questions about financial aid, admissions, graduation requirements, and housing. Then you’ll follow a well-informed student around campus for 90 minutes to two hours. You’ll typically visit: dining and athletic facilities, the library, lecture halls, labs, classrooms, and often—but not always— residence halls. (For security reasons, some universities no longer include residence halls on group tours. At these schools, you can often take a virtual tour of dorms or arrange an overnight dorm visit with a student host. Contact the admissions office to inquire about overnight visits.)To get the most out of your group tour:
- Plan to arrive fifteen minutes early so you don’t miss anything.
- Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. You may be doing a lot of walking. (For students or parents with special needs, make sure to contact the admissions office before the visit to make arrangements.)
- Be prepared to ask questions that weren’t answered on the school’s website or through your own research. Don’t be shy about asking about: campus safety, student social life, and student services.
- Take notes and photographs, especially if you’re visiting multiple campuses. After a while, they can all blur together. You may even want to create or download a campus scorecard like this one from the College Board to help you keep track!
- Take a self-guided tour.
Guided tours are useful but they’re also scripted to show schools at their best. Take the time and initiative to go “off-script” for your own self-guided tour. Wander around. Talk to the students, ask them tough questions, and visit their campus hang-outs. Ask about the quality of classes, faculty, and student life. Read the campus bulletin boards and student publications to take the pulse of the campus.Don’t forget to explore the surrounding community as well, checking out available local transportation, shopping, recreation, and cultural or religious options that may interest your student.
- Sit in on classes.
If you’ll have time during your campus visit, you can also arrange to sit in on classes through the admissions office. If you know your likely major, try to attend both a freshman-level class and an upper-level class in your expected major. The typically large, lecture-style freshman classes can show students what to expect the first year, but the upper-level classes can show the quality of interaction to expect between faculty and students later.
- Schedule an overnight visit in the dorm.
Many, but not all, universities also offer opportunities for prospective freshmen to stay overnight in a dorm with a student host. If your student has time, these sleepovers can give him or her a real feel for what it’s like to live on campus. Not part of the standard tour, these overnights can get booked up during prime spring touring season, so make sure to contact the admissions office as early as possible to book a slot. If you just need to stay overnight in the area, you may be able to save on lodging costs. Many local hotels and motels offer discounts for visiting prospective students and their families, so make sure to ask.
What Comes Next?
After visiting the colleges on your short list, make sure to follow up with any additional questions for the admissions staff or the students you met. If your student has narrowed the choices down to one or two schools, you may want to schedule another visit, connect virtually with the schools’ students and faculty for more information and unscripted conversation, or dive into the application process.
Are you planning to tour college campuses this spring or summer? If so, tell us in the comments below where you’re heading and what you hope to discover on your travels!