Updated: Feb 21
When it comes to determining if a college is right for you, there is nothing that compares to spending time on campus. Attend an information session, take a tour, and explore the surrounding area. If possible, sit in on classes, have lunch with a student, or Covid restrictions, permitting, stay overnight in a freshman dorm. See how you feel. Are you most excited to be one of the 30,000 undergrads to head to “The Big House” at the University of Michigan to cheer on the football team? Or are you happiest as you imagine yourself sharing one of the traditional Gothic houses with as few as ten housemates at Smith? You may want to consider the economic and racial diversity when choosing a school or what health services are available. Your ideal college list will be based on figuring out your own priorities and values. A visit is the most effective way to get a sense of whether a particular school could feel like home.
Make the most out of your college visits. Here are some tips to make your visits count:
1. Have fun! You are there to see the college but enjoy the surrounding area. Getting away from the everyday hustle and bustle of school, work, and scheduled activities can be a nice break and a chance to relax and spend quality time together as a family. Discover new places together and appreciate this opportunity. Try a local restaurant, go on a hike, or check out some local culture or sporting event.
2. Research in advance: Check out the college website before you go. Learn about what you want to see and do while you are there. The more you know about a school, the more you will know what questions to ask and what to look for.
3. Plan ahead: Be sure to book an information session and tour on the college website before you go. During high school holidays, tours fill up quickly. During the pandemic, colleges adhere to both their state and their own restrictions. Make sure that you are aware of them before you go. You may be able to get into a tour by winging it last minute but it will be less stressful if you have it figured out and set in advance.
4. Schedule Wisely: If possible, the best time to visit a college is when it is in session. You can still get a good idea of a school over the summer or during a college break but nothing gives you a sense of the atmosphere of a college like watching its students in action. Try not to overschedule yourself too much. Although it is tempting to try to see two colleges that are close to one another in one day, and it can be done, it takes a fair amount of planning.
5. Be spontaneous: Although we recommend planning your visits in advance, sometimes the best visits of all are unexpected. Don’t underestimate the power and fun of a college visit while you are out of town, visiting family, or away on vacation. You may see a college that you hadn’t thought of and learn that you want to explore it further.
6. Consider fit before you visit: Visit all kinds of schools to learn what you value most and where you could be happy. Of course, visit schools that you think will be a good fit academically, but, parents, before you visit, think about whether it is a place that makes sense financially and geographically for your family. Consider not just the cost of tuition, but factor in the costs of transportation and cost of living. If ultimately, you will not want your student to be too far away, keep that in mind before you hop on a plane to visit a college. It is better to determine this in advance rather than dealing with disappointment later.
7. Meet and spend time with students: Talk to current students. They are the ones who may be your future classmates and friends. They will tell you the straight scoop about what they love and what they don’t like about their school. Ask questions, observe, and listen. Is this a place that feels like home for you with people you see yourself connecting? Some schools sponsor student programs where you will be hosted by a current student. Or reach out to someone from your high school and talk to them about what life is like at their college.
8. Immerse yourself: You will learn a lot in the standard info session and tour but often, from this alone, it is hard to distinguish one college from another. If permitted, attend classes, meet with professors if you can, check out the dining hall, the athletic center, or the student union. Go do the things at the college that you are most excited about. This will help you determine which colleges are the best fit for you.
9. Let them know you are there: Once you sign in and attend an admissions information session and tour, this will be noted in your admissions file. But take the extra step of stopping by the admissions office and introducing yourself. Ask any questions you may have and let them know what you are interested in at the college. They will likely direct you to other areas of the college. Collect their contact info and follow up with a brief, but personal, thank you email thanking them for the time they spent speaking to you.
10. Keep track of every visit. Take notes of your impressions, your questions, and pros and cons of each college. If you visit several schools, your memories will start to mesh together. Take notes or record thoughts on your phone or just write it down in a notebook with a page for each college. When you have questions in the future or when you are writing about the colleges that you are applying to, these notes will be invaluable.
Visiting colleges is one of the most meaningful and important parts of your college admissions journey. Contact info@InterviewMama.com for help planning your college visits and creating your best fit college list.