Now that we’re past pandemic protocols, the college visit is back in a big way. Typically, it happens during a student’s junior year of high school, and it’s really the only way to get an accurate gauge on the classroom experience, the campus vibe and the overall dynamics of student life.
For obvious reasons, it’s best to have a short list of schools set before hitting the road (or the air). Some students narrow it down by deciding on a major or determining whether they prefer an urban or rural setting. And though many college visits happen over spring break and during the summer, it’s better to come when classes are in session to experience the hustle and bustle. Nothing beats walking the grounds and taking in all the action.
Types of visits vary depending on the school. Colleges with larger applicant pools may offer general info sessions and a tour, with smaller schools often providing a more customized experience. Either way, prospective students get a valuable look at the place they may call home for four years.
Most tours hit the highlights on campus, including dorm rooms, dining halls and libraries. Most students will be living independently for the first time, so a good tour guide should emphasize how resident life works at the college—for both the student’s benefit and parents’ peace of mind.
First-time visits can be overwhelming, so it’s best to come with an open mind and some questions planned. Don’t hesitate to inquire about the student experience on campus. And ask about class size, internships and co-ops, clubs and other on-campus activities. Parents should also chime in with their own arsenal of pointed questions. One example: “What differentiates your program from the other schools that are out there?”
Professors often make themselves available to prospective students, especially those in the field they wish to pursue. Some institutions offer one-on-one meetings, and admitted students sometimes sit in on classes. Both options need to be planned several weeks in advance.
Also keep in mind that a campus visit can serve as a tool for ruling out a school. After all, not every campus environment resonates with every student. For those interested in attending, schools commonly make financial aid and admissions officers available during visits, whether it’s for informational interviews or to go over the options. Keeping in mind that the sticker price isn’t always the bottom line at most institutions, it’s always wise to have an idea of the financial aid required beforehand.
Prospective students can also benefit from wandering the campus independently and perhaps even discovering some of the town or city beyond. If possible, hang out for a few hours in the student union or attend a sporting event or theater performance. And while it may not sound that glamorous, the dining hall is a great place to immerse yourself in everyday student life, overhear a conversation or two and tap into the on-campus energy.