One of the most enjoyable aspects of preparing for college are campus visits. While many students feel that it is better to tour a school after your application has been accepted, there are many reasons you should consider a visit before you even send in your paperwork.
In this article, we look at the advantages of seeing a school in person and how to prepare for your college visit.
Why You Should Visit in Person
Campus visits allow you the opportunity to see what things look like and how the overall atmosphere feels in person. While many universities look great in photos, you can’t really get a sense of the school community and culture from a brochure or website.
You would not rent or purchase a house without taking a detailed look at the property, right? The college you ultimately attend is where you will be hanging your hat for the next four years. A lot of time and money will be spent on this experience, so you want to be someplace comfortable and enjoyable. You will be learning, working, playing, eating, and sleeping in your new surroundings, so it’s crucial that you are happy once you get there.
Try to recall your travels—even locally—and notice how different locations have a certain “feeling” to them. Even a diverse neighborhood across town can feel entirely different than your own. Conversely, if you have traveled abroad, you know there is an unmistakable “feel” about a place that makes it unique.
The same goes for colleges. Each has its own blend of history, community, and quirks that combine to make it distinctive among others. An internet tour is purely theoretical. Once you arrive on campus, it’s an entirely different experience.
If you have to travel many hours for your visit, you will experience first-hand what the trip itself will be like in the future and know the distance from home. This alone can be a point that makes or breaks your decision. Will you need to make the long drive alone several times a year, or will you be flying? How easy is it to get a flight on short notice? Is the school close enough to any medical or professional services you might need? These questions can be answered better by making the journey in person.
What about the climate? If you are accustomed to living where it is warm year-round and you choose a school in the Northeast part of the country, how will you fare when cold weather arrives? Many a student has found that while a snow-covered college looks lovely in a photograph, a seven AM trek across campus when it’s only 15 degrees outside is not so pleasant.
Conversely, those who are used to the cold may find the heat in the southern part of the country unbearable and feel confined indoors to air-conditioned spaces.
If you are thinking about attending school in a location where the weather is dramatically different, you might want to visit during a time when you can experience the conditions first hand.
Showing Demonstrated Interest
Another reason to visit a college in person is to show that you are genuinely interested in attending. Surprisingly, over 20 percent of all colleges place at least moderate importance on a student’s demonstrated interest in their institution.
What does this mean exactly? At many schools, admissions officers track how much a prospective student engages with the college during the application process. Students who visit in person show their enthusiasm and interest better than those who do not.
In addition to showing that you are excited about being part of the college community, visiting in person allows you the chance to connect with individuals who may have a hand in the college acceptance process. You will be able to get some of your questions answered, and they will have a face to put to your paperwork. It’s a win for both parties.
Preparing for a College Campus Visit
Now that you know a few of the reasons why visiting a college in person is so important, it’s time to start planning your visit. In this next section, we will talk about how to get ready for your excursion.
Research the College
You’ve probably already done a bit of research on the school you are interested in to see if it will be a good fit. However, you might be shocked to learn how many potential students show up at a tour and know very little about the college itself. Proper planning for college begins with adequate research.
To get a complete understanding, you need to know what it is about the school that makes it appealing to you, and research is essential. Study the brochures and literature you have as well as the university website. Familiarize yourself with the names of key faculty members, the school’s history, mascot, and other information that can help you if you meet with admissions officers. Get a copy of the school paper and read it cover to cover.
One great way to get an impression of a school’s culture and the atmosphere is to visit its social media sites. Interactive platforms like Facebook and Twitter can give you a good idea of how a school interacts with its students and bring you up-to-speed on important news and happenings around campus.
If you are interested in a specific major, make sure it is offered at the school. Research everything you can about the program that interests you and find out where classes are held so you can check them out during your tour.
You will also want to find out about the types of resources and services offered at the college. If you have a chronic condition or disability, this is the time to find out which schools are best equipped to cater to students who might need special accommodations.
Find out what events are happening around the time you want to visit. You may want to schedule your visit to coincide with something exciting like a football game or festival so you can see what school is like when everything is in full swing.
Schedule Your Visit
Depending on the college, information sessions and tours can fill up fast, so it’s essential to plan your visit as far in advance as you can. Try to call each school you want to visit at least three weeks ahead of time. If you can, tour the campus while school is still in session. This will give you a much better overview than if all of the students have gone home for vacation. After all, it is the student body that makes up a school’s vibe.
Find out the email for the staff member who is in charge of traveling and scheduling tours. If for some reason you are unable to schedule an in-person tour, contact them to tell them about your situation. If finances are the issues, some schools have special programs to help offset or even cover the costs of travel.
Other colleges have special weekend programs that cater primarily to potential incoming students. During these visits, you might partake in some of the community, cultural, and extracurricular activities of the school and even be matched with a current student who can show you the ropes and act as an ambassador during your trip.
Schedule an Admissions interview whenever possible and be prepared! Come armed with a list of questions and be ready to talk to an admissions officer about why you want to attend their school. First impressions count, so make sure you are well-rested and are looking your best.
What to Do When Visiting the Campus
Prominent universities usually have a staffed visitor center where you can participate in group sessions and tours. During these sessions, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and get more information. Smaller schools often have a scaled-down version of these activities. Usually, a tour lasts around an hour, and you will get the chance to see the student center, library, classrooms, dorms, and dining hall.
Bring a notebook so you can jot down any questions you have or make a note of anything unusual that stands out during your visit. Take photos as well. If you will be visiting more than one college, this is important, as they can quickly start to run together after a while.
If permitted, sit in on a class. Most colleges will allow this if you plan ahead of time. You will want to make sure you show up to class on time and stay for the entire session. If there is a campus club or organization you are interested in, you might get the chance to attend or at least meet with a member of the group who can give you more details.
If there is time before or after your tour, it’s a good idea to do some unstructured exploring. Let yourself get a feel for the atmosphere and reflect on why you are there. You might want to have a meal in the dining hall or start up a conversation with some of the current students.
If the school is located in a community, take a mini excursion for dinner or shopping to get a sense of what the town or city is like. Go to a local museum or landmark and observe how it feels to be there.
Before you go, be sure to get the names and contact information of any faculty, staff, or students who helped you during the tour. You will want to connect with them later.
What to Do After Your Campus Tour
During the trip home, you should take a few quiet minutes to contemplate and write down your impressions and thoughts about what you liked and disliked about the school. Really think about the whole experience and ask yourself how you feel. What does your gut tell you about the school? If you were being dropped off today to start four years of education, would you be okay with that?
Send a brief thank-you email to each person you spoke with. After you are back home, send handwritten notes to make a more lasting impression.
Once you have been accepted into a school, you may want to revisit the ones you are considering for a second look before you make your final decision. Some colleges even have prospective student days scheduled for this purpose. Because you have already visited, you will have a much better handle on where to go and what to do. You can refer back to your notes from your first visit to see if anything has changed or if there is something you want to learn more about before you make your final decision.
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