Written by Chris Hernandez
In college admissions, there’s a saying “you have to go to know.” Despite the fact that most students cannot afford to visit every single college match, they should still try to at least plan a virtual visit before committing to study there.
We highly recommend the students being able to envision themselves studying there for the next four years as well as possible because switching colleges is costly and can make students fall behind. However, this doesn’t mean that switching is always a bad idea. Sometimes students become passionate about something different and we actually recommend the transfer.
Visiting campuses is important as it can get students thinking about what they prefer for their future- whether it be campus or class size, whether they like the people they will meet there, or if they want to get involved in clubs or fraternities/ sororities.
Even if you are planning on attending solely because of a top-ranked program, these are all factors you need to consider, as you may very well change your major and end up at a school you do not really like.
Before you go, you must answer this question: why are you visiting this college?
This may seem like a silly question, but deciding on your purpose will help you ask the right questions, see the right things, and meet the right people. This can make all the difference, which is why it is so important to consider it carefully.
Some questions you may ask yourself are: are you researching colleges early to find the type or size that best suits you, is it similar to those you have on your list, or will it help you make any final decisions?
Even though the idea of college is far and abstract, 8th and 9th graders get a lot out of college visits. Many times, schools offer field trips that include college visits. This is a great way to expose your child to the excitement of college and works as an excellent motivator to start their planning early. While these may not be schools your child is particularly interested in, visiting can still be beneficial as they will get to see different campus and class sizes in addition to student life. This will help them narrow down the colleges they apply to down the line. If you are lucky enough to have campuses near your home, start there.
Students in 10th and 11th grade should visit different types of colleges, but they should be more narrowed down to schools they actually want to go to or have a chance of getting into. Visiting colleges you’ll never apply to is a waste of time as you get closer to actually applying.
Seniors usually visit their top choices- colleges they are seriously considering applying to and want to learn more to help them with their application, or schools to which they’ve already been accepted, to see whether that school is a good fit for them.
Wherever you are in your academic career, you should still expand your knowledge of the college you plan on visiting.
If you look through the website of the school you plan on visiting, you will most likely find a schedule for tours. Sign up as you do your research, kill two birds with one stone. If you are planning on going during a school break, make sure to schedule a tour in advance, as slots fill up quickly around these times.
If you are from the South and are accustomed to the heat, plan your visit around winter so you can get a real idea of what it will be like to live there and get to class in the snow every day. Likewise, if you are from the north, make sure you can handle the heat before signing the dotted line.
Talk to people, feel out the school.
Make sure to talk to people- tour guides or just anyone friendly on campus- and ask them about student life, academics, and extracurricular activities. Asking them why they decided to attend and if they think they made the right choice may provide insight that can help you make your final decision. These conversations will be far more beneficial than reading about the school’s ranking online.
Visit with an admissions counselor, the housing office, and someone in financial aid. If you are visiting with your parents, let them take the lead in financial discussions. Make sure to ask about scholarships, grants, and other resources available to help pay for college.
If you are an artist, athlete, or have a special interest, be sure to make an appointment with a coach, department head, or any other faculty that will be able to tell you more than the tour guide.
The specific college of your major may not be included on your tour route, meaning you will have to seek it out. Seeing the actual school’s building and classrooms, you can start to visualize yourself there more.
A great way to build connections is by sitting in a class or visiting a specific professor. See if your college offers these kinds of opportunities on the admissions website or by emailing the department heads or professors directly.
To accurately envision yourself as a student of that university, take a look at the freshman dorms, eat at the dining hall, visit the library and other notable places on campus. Ask yourself questions like are the facilities clean and well maintained, is everything well connected, do you feel comfortable on campus, do students look happy?
Though you will spend much of your time on campus, you must also think about what there is beyond the walls of your university.
Seek out things you like- whether it be museums, shopping plazas, outdoor activities, entertainment venues, etc. Take note of grocery stores and find a realistic way to get to any from campus.
It is also important to consider the city’s job and internship opportunities. These are crucial to your expertise and offer tremendous opportunities for growth and will benefit you early after completing your degree. Could you envision staying there after four years?
Lastly, check out transportation options available. Is public transportation offered in your city? Are there any airports nearby?
For whatever reason it may be- time, financial, or personal- you can always take a virtual tour or demonstrate your interest in other ways.
You can find tours on their websites, YouTube, and You Visit: a secret treasure of free virtual college tours.
Display your interest by signing up for the college’s mailing list to stay up to date and participate in other events. Correspond with admissions staff and introduce yourself to college representatives at school or local events, if possible. Make it clear that you are serious about attending to show interest.