College Visits: Tips Before You Go

Now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing, many colleges have resumed offering admissions visits, which typically include two elements: information sessions and campus tours. But before you go, here are a few tips for making the most out of your college visits.

If you are just getting started on the admissions process, consider visiting colleges close to home first to help you narrow the type of school you want to target. For example, if you live near a major metro area, you may be able to visit a large university with 20,000 or more students, and a small liberal arts college with 2,500 or fewer students. Which size is a fit for you?

In addition, you may be able to visit colleges within an easy drive that are city schools, embedded in the urban hubbub of a major city, or suburban campuses, in the outskirts of a metro area, or still other universities in a rural setting surrounded by nature. This can help you better understand whether a college in an urban, suburban, or rural environment is right for you.

Next, consider the reasons for visiting a college campus: to confirm that a school is a fit for you, and to confirm that you are a fit for the school. Before you go, make sure you have registered with the admissions office for the information session and tour. These events can be “sold out”. While it is ideal to visit during the school year when classes are in session, summer visits are still valuable and worth taking advantage of.

Try to limit the number of schools you visit to two per day. Transit between college campuses, even those that are close together, takes time and you don’t want to feel rushed. If you are visiting several schools in succession on a road trip, make sure to take notes, even if these are informal memos on your phone. Colleges can easily blur together in your mind weeks or months later when you are deep in the application process. Many schools may ask you to complete a supplemental essay such as, “Why do you want to attend SCHOOL NAME?” if you have taken personal notes, you will have ready content at hand.

So, what should you look for? First, can you imagine yourself on this campus? While the typical college tour will include a walk through the main quad of the campus, pass by academic buildings, the arts and athletic centers, as well as a dorm, don’t be afraid to supplement your tour with your own walkabout.

If you have a specific academic interest, try to visit the buildings where the classes for that major are held. Do the students you see seem like ‘your people’? Have lunch or a snack in a dining hall to confirm that a college is a culinary fit with your tastes, and observe students in their ‘natural setting,’ relaxing and sharing a meal.

Check out campus bulletin boards or even pick up the college’s newspaper to glean a bit more detail on what students care deeply about, as well as what kind of extracurricular activities are available.

To address the question of whether you are a fit for the college, note that larger universities and those that receive a large number of applications typically do not heavily weight or even consider ‘demonstrated interest’ when evaluating a candidate for admission. When in doubt, you can always email the college admission office and ask (which in itself is a way of demonstrating interest).

Furthermore, there are many ways to show interest beyond visiting a college in-person. You can attend a zoom information session, or contact the college’s admissions representative assigned to your high school to discuss your interest. And while your inbox may be inundated with spam from a myriad of universities, it is worth opening the emails from the colleges that  particularly appeal to you, since most schools track these interactions.

Last and maybe most importantly, relax and enjoy yourself. To memorialize the trip, take silly selfies on each campus, or purchase a t-shirt, a key chain, or other memento from the student bookstore at each college you visit.

And try to be patient with your mom or dad, who may seem especially over-earnest. For parents, taking their teenager on college visits is a bit like watching their fledgling baby bird fly for the first time. Soon enough, you will be leaving their nest.