You probably know it’s important to visit colleges before applying. But do you know the best time to make those college visits or what to do when you get there? Do you even know why you should visit? It’s not as simple as you might think. Here’s what you need to know to make your college visits count.
One reason to visit a college is, of course, to check it out and see if you like it. But there are other important reasons too. One is to allow the college admissions staff to check you out and see if they like you. Another is simply to let the college know you are interested…interested enough to make the trip. Many colleges will only take your candidacy seriously if they believe you are serious about them. Be sure to let them know you are.
When to go
If you’re visiting colleges during your freshman or sophomore year of high school, there’s no harm in stopping by unannounced during summer vacation. Assuming you like the college enough to apply, you’ll be wise to return again during junior or senior year.
When you’re visiting as a high school junior or senior, you should view it as a mutual introduction—while you’re meeting the college, the college will be meeting you. At this stage, you should plan your visits carefully.
Before you go, check the college’s website to ensure you’ll arrive on a date when campus tours and information sessions are offered. At some schools you’ll need to register in advance for them.
It’s also a good idea to visit while classes are in session. At these times, there will be lots of activity on campus and you may even have a chance to sit in on classes. Check the academic calendar for each college you plan to see. It may be quite different from the calendar at your high school.
Ideally, seniors should visit during the fall semester—before applications are complete. This may require that you take off a few days from school. If the college is near the top of your list, it’s probably worth it. But think twice about visiting safety schools during this busy time in your life.
Attend an information session
When you arrive at a college, be sure to go to the admissions office and sign in. If possible, attend an information session and listen carefully to what the admissions officer says. That person will be sharing valuable tips about what sort of students will be happy at this particular school and what it takes to gain admission. If you have questions, be sure to ask them.
Do the campus tour
Take the official campus tour, if you can. It’s another important way to learn about the school. You’ll see the high points of the campus and have the opportunity to ask your student guide some questions. But don’t place too much stock in that student’s personality. Remember, your guide is just one, among hundreds or thousands of students.
Seek an interview
Some colleges—often the smaller, private ones—offer interviews to seniors who plan to apply. If a school offers this option, take advantage of it. It will help you learn more about the school at the same time the school learns more about you. If you’ll be having an interview—either on campus or off—dress appropriately. That means “business casual.” Sweat pants and flip-flops won’t telegraph a serious attitude, so—even though you may see students on campus dressed that way—leave your beach attire at home.
Sit in on classes
If you’re visiting the campus while school is in session—and that is the best time to go—try to sit in on a few classes to get a feel for the academic environment. You’ll need to check out the class schedule ahead of time. Then contact the professors to ask permission. If they allow you to visit their classes, sit quietly in the back of the room and don’t use electronic devices. Be sure to thank them afterwards.
Talk to students
Look for opportunities to talk to students and ask them how they feel about the college. You may be able to meet people in the cafeteria or the student lounge. Or you might make contacts before you arrive, through your high school network of friends and alumni.
Consider an overnight
Some colleges are willing to schedule overnight stays for high school seniors. This allows you to have an extended visit. It lets you meet students and get an inside view of college life. But slots for overnight stays book up fast. Check early with the colleges on your list to see if they can fit you in.
Conserve time and energy by planning ahead
Visiting colleges can be time consuming, tiring and expensive. Do yourself a favor, and don’t just jump into the car and hit the road.
Before you start visiting, think carefully about what sorts of schools would be right for you. Then research each one to see if it meets your criteria. Scratch the ones that don’t off your list right away. An hour on the Internet could easily save you days of traveling.
For more information contact The College Strategist