I want to make the most of campus visits. What should I do, look for, and ask while I'm there?
Short-term campus visit (1 day, over-night and weekend stay) only reveal so much about a school. It takes time AND real-life encounters to evaluate a school's suitability to the visitor. But you don't have an option. So, there are 3 questions that a visit should answer for a prospective student and the guided tour is perhaps the least useful except in providing an overview (which you can get online from the school's website):
1. Do I like the place, the facilities, the physical environment and the larger context enough to stay for 4 years (or more). Assume that you won't have a car so don't use "I can always drive away" to justify a less-than-desirable locality. If you are getting your money's worth out of the school, you can't afford to be leaving campus regularly to get emotional relief. Walk the campus, walk through all the buildings that you would most likely frequent and check your gut response. Beauty is important to some of us. For the rest, being able to tolerate it is good enough though I can't advise that. We all perform better in a place that we enjoy. Since the choice is up to you, why not choose a place you would LOVE to spend 4 years?
2. Do I like the social ambiance of life I feel in the classrooms, the dining hall, the student union, the dormitory. In smaller schools, there is a definitive prevailing spirit of the place, though there is of course diversity even within the community of a small college. To do this right, you must plan an overnight stay in the dorm and attend several classes. Many school provide this at no cost to you other than a registration fee to get a good head count estimate. Nothing like spending a day or two as a student gives you a feel what it's like going to school there.
3. If you don't already have an intended major, choose one that's close enough for the exercise. Make a point to schedule meetings with faculty and an administrator of the department, ask about graduation requirements, double majors, flexibility etc. to discern what is the central concern of the institution. Most schools evolve into bureaucracies set up to balance budgets and manage programs to run students through the curriculum and they don't like exceptions, variations. Then there are schools that boast about customized curriculum, independent studies, no walls between disciplines, etc. That can be a good thing for those rare breed of students who know what they want and the school doesn't offer it (so why are they there in the first place?). It can also mean that they haven't figured out what's an essential and necessary curriculum! Schools sell diplomas for a living or fulfill a vaguely worded tax-payer mandate. Then there are institutions who focus on their mission, which is to educate the young, and array or develop resources to achieve that end. You will get a good sales pitch from all the folks you talk to who are on the payroll. The insight comes from comparing your notes from what you hear from say 3 different schools. You sense the difference immediately.