If you're a high school student, you know that choosing a college can be stressful and pose some very important questions like:
"Is the food good?"
"How big are the dorms?"
"You mean I'll want to take showers with my flip flops on?" (the answer to this will always be yes, by the way).
In all seriousness, some questions just can't be answered unless you go on a college visit. You've already discovered your career interests and matched them with majors — a campus tour is just the next piece of the college search puzzle. Depending on your field of study, you could be spending up to four (or more) years at that college, so you'll want to choose wisely. Do these six things to make the most out of your next college visit:
1. Time it right.
Ah, summer. It’s when college campuses are at their prime — sunshine, perfect temps, and the soft hum of lawnmowers in the distance. Sure, the summer months would be the ideal time to schedule a college visit, but here’s why you may want to reconsider: it’s so deserted that you could almost hear the echo of conversation bounce off the buildings. Just maybe — if you’re fortunate, you’ll spot the occasional summer student pass by on their way to class.
The typical school year is the best time to observe students, faculty, and campus when it’s most active, and will help you get a feel for the true student experience. Figuring out when to plan your college visit also depends on where you’re at in your college search process; an undecided high school senior might want to go in the fall, while a junior might visit in the warmer months of spring.
Don’t forget to schedule your visit through the school’s admissions office by either requesting a tour on their website or calling them directly. You can also check with your school counselor to coordinate a group visit with classmates who are also interested.
2. Bring the necessities.
Why not make your visit as seamless as possible? Here’s a few basic things you may want to bring with you:
- A backpack. You’re going to be up to your head in fliers, brochures, and folders by the end of your visit. Carrying all these materials is bound to be a nuisance, so save yourself the hassle by storing them all in a backpack. Bonus: you’ll blend right in with the college students around you.
- An umbrella. Even if the local climate has a 0.001% chance of rain, it’s always a good practice to prepare for the worst. Walking around all day in rain-soaked clothes can really put a damper on the whole college visit experience.
- Other weather-combatting gear.
3. Prepare questions.
Squeeze as much information out of your tour guide as possible. Remember, a college will be your home away from home, and that’s some serious stuff. There’s no such thing as a trivial question during a college visit, whether it range from academic programs to what’s being served up in the dining centers. Here’s a brief list of questions you may want to ask:
- What’s the typical class size or professor-to-student ratio?
- What is the average lecture hall size? Can you show me a lecture hall?
- What’s your graduation rate?
- What’s the average job placement rate after graduation?
- What are some college traditions or unique campus facts I should know about?
- What are some typical on-campus employment or work study opportunities?
- How do I join a club or participate in intramurals? Can you provide some examples?
- What amenities are offered to students? Gyms, academic centers, tutoring, health centers, etc.?
- Are all buildings handicap accessible? How will faculty members accommodate my handicap?
There’s a strong chance your tour guide may even be a college student themselves. Don’t forget to ask them about their experience to get their take on college life.
4. Soak it all in.
If you’re particularly indecisive, choosing which college you want to attend could boil down to the details. Ease your decision-making process by documenting your experiences and collecting as much information as your backpack can hold (see, we told you it would come in handy). Take plenty of photos so you can remember what campus actually looks like — not just what you see in the brochures.
Afterwards, recap your experience by listing your key takeaways and pros and cons from the visit. Take time to weigh what matters to you in a college; are you content with a lackluster dorm for the sake of a quality academic program? Disliked the facilities, but loved the amount of professor engagement? Sit down with a parent, guardian, or school counselor to get their feedback about a certain college to aid your decision.
5. Take your visit off campus.
A college is much more than the campus — it’s also the community it’s part of. Take time either before or after your visit to explore what the surrounding area has to offer such as attractions, entertainment, and food scene. If you have time, go to a cafe, visit shops, or attend a local event. Also, make sure to research the factors which could play a role in your college decision such as:
- Crime rate
- Population and population growth expectancy
- Cost of living
- Public transportation
- Events, culture, and dining
- Local issues and news
Want to learn more about what makes a good place to live? This in-depth analysis by Livability provides more context into determining factors including demographics, infrastructure, and economic growth.
If you’re gravitating towards a certain college, but still undecided, schedule another visit! Spending more time on a campus allows you to gain a deeper understanding of what college life will be like there. This will give you a chance ask more thoughtful questions on topics your tour guide may have glossed over during your first visit. If you do decide to go again, here are some highly-recommended to-do’s:
- Meet with a financial aid advisor.
- Talk to a professor or advisor in the program(s) you’re interested in.
- Locate career, health, and academic services.
- Sit in on a class.
- Attend a campus activity, performance, or event.
- Take campus transportation.
Make the most out of your visit.
Don't forget to have fun! Remember, going on a college visit doesn't mean you have to commit to that particular college. Look at it as an opportunity to learn, compare, and explore. You can even test how much you've gotten out of your visit by downloading our College Visit Checklist Game. Print and take this checklist with you measure how much you got out of your visit. Good luck!
- college and career readiness