Begin by scheduling your visit through the admissions office. Most colleges will allow you to schedule online. Often you will be given the opportunity to attend an information session, possibly presentations by particular departments or schools, and a campus tour.
Don’t try to skip the official visit and substitute a do-it-yourself tour instead. Some colleges track “demonstrated interest” and may consider the fact that you’ve visited campus when making admissions decisions. Additionally, the information presented in the session will help you decide whether admission and scholarships are likely, possible, or a reach at this school.
What you are able to see on the day of the tour will depend on your schedule. Here are some of the things I do every time I visit a campus:
1. Ask questions. Ask your tour guides and take time to talk to people you meet – students, professors, and staff. What do they like about the school? What would they change? Every school has flaws— knowing them ahead of time helps.
2. Take time to see parts of campus not shown on the tour. Does it fit in with what you were shown? How long will it take you to travel from one end of campus to the other? Where are the freshman dorms located?
3. Pick up a copy of the student newspaper. Find out what issues have students talking. Typical student papers feature complaints. Do you see standard complaints about tuition rates and campus politics or are there bigger problems?
4. Eat in the student cafeteria. Ask the admissions office to let you eat in the regular cafeteria, not the fancy food court they show you on the tour. Try to experience campus as you would as a freshman.
5. Visit the surrounding area. You may find a beautiful campus situated in a bad neighborhood. Are there places to eat? Could you walk there safely at night? Is crime a problem?
If you are serious about a particular college or university, you may want to make a more comprehensive visit. These take a little more planning, but are worth it as you try to decide which school is right for you. On a more in-depth visit you may:
1. Meet with a professor in your department. The admissions office can help schedule this. Find out what undergraduates in the program experience. If possible, talk to current students and ask what they like and dislike about the department. Do their classes and requirements meet your goals?
2. Stay overnight. Some schools offer weekends for admitted students in the spring and sometimes the admissions office can help you coordinate a visit on your own. You can stay in the dorms, eat in the cafeteria, visit classes, and get a better feel in 24-36 hours than you would with a traditional visit.
3. Interview or schedule time to speak to an admissions officer. Some colleges include interviews as part of the admissions process. If you interview on campus, you often meet with someone involved in making final decisions. Even if you don’t have an official interview, take time to meet with an admissions officer. Get your questions answered and show them you are serious about the school for the right reasons.
4. Visit the financial aid office. Usually this is a top concern for mom and dad. Find out more about aid packages at this school. Will your outside scholarships be applied to “your” contribution first or will they reduce the amount of aid the school offers?
5. Explore sports teams or activities where you will spend considerable time. If you are accepting an athletic scholarship, make sure you like your future teammates and the overall feel of the program. If you intend to spend a considerable amount of time with any activity, you need to do the same. Check out the program, talk to involved students, ask a lot of questions, and view it with a critical eye. Is this the place for you?
Campus visits are your chance to test drive colleges. Take time, ask questions, and try to get an overall feel for each school.