By unigoofficeIf you’ve ever purchased a large ticket item, like your first car, chances are you spent some time shopping around, making sure you got the right color and model, not to mention all the bells and whistles, before you plunked down your hard-earned cash. Well, shopping for your future college is very similar. It’s a long-term investment, and if you buy before taking it for a test drive, you could wind up with a lemon. But, unlike car dealerships, it’s not wise to just drop in on a college campus. To ensure you get the most from your campus visits, a little preparation goes a long way. Start your planning early. You don’t have to wait until the fall of your senior year to take a tour. In fact, we suggest beginning your research no later than your junior year. This way, you’ll have time to narrow down your list of potential colleges (saving you money on application fees!) and have additional time leftover to revisit, if needed. Choose between 5 to 10 colleges at the top of your list and follow these guidelines:Be PreparedTry to schedule campus tours while classes are in session. Why? You’ll get a better feel for the campus and may have an opportunity to sit in on a class or two. It’s also easier to meet with the admission staff and participate in an overnight stay (if available). If you are interested in athletics or would like to meet a certain professor, this is also the best time to schedule an interview. Before you arrive for your tour, prepare a list of questions you may have about the campus, academics, social scene, and more. This will help you make an informed decision and not one simply based on campus aesthetics.Give Yourself TimeTo avoid the ‘hard sell’ from campus ambassadors, allow yourself enough time to wander the campus on your own after the ‘official’ tour has ended. While guided tours are great, they typically only scratch the surface of what a campus truly has to offer. And, just like car salesmen, tour guides may only show you what they want you to see. Instead, hang out in some of the common areas, like the student union or cafeteria, taking time to talk with current students who aren’t being paid to sell their campus to you. It’s also good to see how the campus feels both during regular class hours and after hours. After all, it’s going to be your home for the next few years, so be thorough.Take NotesIt’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of being on a college campus, so be sure to bring along a pen and paper. You’ll want to keep track of important people you have met and their contact information, especially if you have any follow-up questions later in your college planning process. Also, bring along a camera. Take pictures of everything and put them on a Pinterest board or computer file. This will help you visualize the different spaces and compare campuses later in your decision process. Be sure to ask about transportation on and around campus, student facilities (gym, pool, restaurants), and dorm availability. Typically, the guided tour includes a look at a freshly painted, newer dorm room, but this may not be where you’ll end up. It’s always smart to see all available options, if possible.Choosing a college could be one of the biggest decisions in your life. It’s important to plan ahead and give yourself ample time to explore all your options. Just like making a decision about purchasing a car, you’ll want to ‘try before you buy’ and take your future campus for a test drive. But, don’t rely on marketing brochures or campus ambassadors to show you everything a campus has to offer. Get behind the wheel and decide for yourself which campus will ultimately provide you with the best experience. If you make the right decision, you’ll be in for the ride of your life! Not sure which colleges may be right for you? Check out the college search tool at Unigo.com!