College Admissions: The Campus Visit

By on November 7, 2018

When it comes to researching potential schools, there is nothing better than the college campus visit. If time and distance allow, visit every college the student (and/or parents) is strongly considering. No website, guidebook or testimonial will give you the full picture of a school’s environment, culture or amenities better than by showing up and experience it for yourself.

Many students change their minds after a college visit — this is obviously preferable to changing their mind once they have enroll! Each college you visit will help you narrow your search down until you have developed a list of schools that might be right for you.

Start off with a casual visit or official campus tour, then venture out on your own to explore the campus surroundings or gather insight from current students and faculty; and finally, try an overnight or week-long stay for closer look at what to expect from the college before making a decision.

Here are a few more guidelines to take with you as you plan for college and visit campuses so you can choose a school which fits your needs and future goals.

When Should Students and Parents Visit Colleges?

Plan your college visits so they happen as early and see as many schools as possible. Even if a school does not appear on your list, but an opportunity for a college visit presents itself, spending time on its campus will give you valuable perspective for asking more-informed questions and making better decisions as you narrow down your list of potentials.

There are three types of campus visits: the casual tour, the in-depth research visit, and the overnight stays. Take as many casual tours as you can to see a wide variety of colleges. Then go back to the schools which you are interested in sending applications and finally, visit the schools you receive acceptance letters from so you can make a final decision.

3 Types of Campus Visits

  1. The ‘Casual’ Campus Tour (Junior Year)
    This casual visit is your initial college campus survey. Take a campus tour. Pick up any information packets available. The purpose of this visit is to determine if you want to keep the college on your list to send applications. Visit as many colleges and take as many campus tours as possible. Resist the temptation to make commitments right away. You may find a particular school excites you now, but there is much more to learn before you are ready to rule out other options. The best time to make these causal campus visits is during the summer before your sophomore or junior year of high school.
  2. The ‘In-Depth’ Campus Visit to Compare Potential Schools (Senior Year)
    Once you have made a few casual visits and narrowed down your list of prospective colleges to schools which truly interest you, begin planning a second round of more, in-depth campus visits. During these college visits you will want to learn as much about the school, the surrounding area and student life as possible — from the insider’s perspective. Visit the campus when the classes are in session. Take another campus tour and try to get an interview at the admissions office. Talk with students, meet with faculty and explore campus amenities (gyms, study halls, dining, etc.). Get inside the culture of the college but don’t forget to investigate off-campus amenities — especially those elements important to daily life (public transportation, grocery stores, nightlife, etc.).
    If finding the funds to pay for college is an issue, students and/or parents should meet with a financial aid officer during this visit. At this stage of your search, many financial aid officers will review costs with you and discuss sources of aid, scholarships and methods of payment.
    The best time to make these ‘in-depth’ campus visits is before the spring of your senior year of high school.
  3. The ‘Trial Run’ Visit Before Beginning College in Fall
    After visiting and investigating the schools on your list and sending out several applications, you will (hopefully) receive acceptance letters and financial aid awards from several colleges. To help you make a final decision you may want to make a final campus visit for an extended stay. Attend a week-long summer orientation or overnight program for accepted students. This will help you experience daily life on campus and in the classroom. How does it all feel? Can you get around easily? In most cases, the decision will almost make itself.

Here are 10 Tips and Questions to Think About As You Visit Potential Universities

1. Mind the School Calendar

Schedule your casual visits in the summer or winter, when school is not in session. And schedule your investigative campus visits while school is in session so you get a realistic idea of student life.

2. Take the Official Campus Tour

Although it’s the most obvious thing to do, the official campus tour gives the school a chance to show its best features, like a new science lab or football stadium, of which you may have never heard.

3. Venture Out on your Own to Tour the School

On the other hand, the official tour might steer you away of the school’s less attractive features, like an out-of-date gymnasium or windowless study hall. Walk around campus on your own. Get a sense of what’s going on on campus from the perspective of current students and staff.

4. Keep Track of Every College Visit and the Info You Receive

Keep track of the details by jotting down a few notes after every college visit. This may seem pointless, however, after visiting the ninth or tenth school, you will have a hard time remembering which ones had a interesting major or great library. Your notes will be helpful when you decide where to apply.

5. Meet the Students

Talk to the current students — if they have a problem or grievance, it may soon be your problem or grievance. If they love their school, they won’t be shy about it either. Their answers to your questions are likely to yield far more interesting (and helpful) answers.

6. Stop at the Admissions Office – Interview if You Can!

While you’re on your campus visit, put a face to your application and make an appointment to meet with an admission counselor. Show them that you are more than a list of grades, test scores and activities. You can learn a lot during the interview, and it might be difficult to get back to that school again.

7. Meet the Department Chair of Your Major or Dean of Your School

If you have any idea about what major or degree you want to pursue in college, you should make an appointment to meet with the department chair or dean during your campus visit. The chairperson will be thrilled to meet a potential major, and you may learn about valuable academic opportunities that your school and potential major will offer.

8. Assess the Housing or Dormitory Situation

There is a pretty good chance you will be in your dorm room most of your free time between classes. Ask to see the freshman dorms and dining halls.

9. Check Out the Surrounding College Town

When you first visit a campus you are inspired by the historical buildings and remodeled dormitories. The last thing you think about is the proximity to grocery stores, social events and public transportation. There is plenty to learn about a potential new home before making a decision.

In addition to concerns like local nightlife and grocery stores, don’t forget to explore experiential opportunities like volunteering, internships, cooperative education, part-time work. Remember, your time at college will not only propel you toward the career you wish to pursue, but it will also help define the person you will become.

10. Ask About Overnight Visits, Summer-Orientation and Jump Start Programs

Some schools sponsor overnight programs in which you can stay with a current student or with a group of prospective students. This is a great opportunity to get a deeper sense of campus life and perhaps meet future friends or dorm-mates. Additionally, many colleges offer summer-orientation or major-specific jumpstart programs to help prepare accepted students for their freshman year.

Even if you don’t stay over, most schools will allow you to sit in on lectures. Browse the course catalogue before you arrive, or ask the admissions office what classes would be appropriate to visit.

Here are some questions to ask students, administrators, professors and locals during your campus visit:

  • Academics – What did you find out about the classes and programs of study or majors at the college? Do they offer a major or program in your area of interest? How many students are the classes? How much contact is there between students and professors?
  • Residential Life – What did you find out about residence life and the dorms at the college? Are students required to live on campus? Do most freshmen live on campus? Is there guaranteed housing for freshmen? What’s the off-campus housing situation like?  Is there a health clinic on campus?
  • Extracurriculars, Social Activities, Clubs and Gym Facilities – What did you find out about clubs, activities and athletics at the college? What is there to do on the weekends? Are there greek or academic fraternities and sororities? Is there a gym to help you stay active and healthy? Are there study abroad programs offered?
  • Finances – How much is tuition? What additional costs can you expect (room and board, fees, computers, etc)? What types of scholarships or financial aid packages are available? What do you need to do to apply and what are the deadlines?
  • Applying – When are applications due? Is there an early action or early decision option? What is the college looking for in an applicant?
  • After Graduation – What percentage of students receive jobs in their field of interest after graduation? Is there a job or career placement program? What internship programs or opportunities are available?

The more campus visits you make, the easier it will be to narrow down your decision and pick the ideal college for your needs and goals. As you compare schools, you pick up on the aspects you like and the aspects you’re not so fond of, ask the right questions, and delve deeper to ensure you have as much knowledge as possible to make an informed decision.

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About Amanda Jensen

FSN college advice columnist - Amanda gives parents and students knowledgeable advice on college planning, tuition financing and scholarships. With up to date and accessible information covering everything from personal finances to federal government policies, she is determined to make the college experience a painless one for all party's involved. You can find Amanda on !

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