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Making the Most of College Campus Visits

Once you’ve chosen an initial list of 20 to 25 colleges, you’re ready to start narrowing down your choices and ranking the colleges in order of your preference.

While a college's catalog and website can provide valuable information about a college, they’re not sufficient sources of information on their own because they present a biased and incomplete perspective on the college. Visiting colleges is another way to learn about colleges and get a sense of how comfortable you are on campus.

When to Visit

We recommend visiting 1-2 colleges near your home in your freshman or sophomore year to get first-hand knowledge what to expect on a college visit. Then, in your early sophomore or junior year, start visiting colleges on your initial list, so you can start narrowing down your list. Starting your visits early, will allow you to focus your college search, learn of any special admissions requirements, and establish contacts with coaches and faculty. Of course, you may have to visit additional colleges or re-visit some of the colleges during your senior year or after you are accepted, but subsequent visits should be very targeted.

In terms of what time of year to visit, we advise visiting when the college is in session and students are attending classes and not taking midterms or final exams. By visiting when it’s “business as usual,” you’ll get the most realistic feel for the campus and may have the opportunity to meet admissions officers, coaches, faculty and students. Of course, it may seem difficult to avoid visiting during a college’s vacation when you’re planning to visit during your high school vacation. The good news is that colleges tend to have different vacation schedules that may vary by several weeks, so with careful planning you may be able to schedule your visits when classes are in session.

Remembering Each College Visit

If you’re visiting a number of colleges, you’ll want to ensure that you remember each college. At the time you visit, you may be convinced that everything see you and hear will remain fresh in your mind, but as soon as you visit another college or two or as time passes, you may forget or confuse some aspects of each college. To help remember a college, we recommend taking notes either while on campus or as soon as you leave the college. You may also want to take pictures or videos of the campus. Make sure the first picture is of the college name on a sign or building to jog your memory as to where the pictures from that college begin. If you get brochures or catalogs from the colleges, keep these materials in folders with the names of each college (of course, most information should also be available online, eliminating the need for physical folders). As you narrow down your choices, simply throw away the folders for the colleges you are no longer interested in.

Campus Tours

Most colleges offer campus tours, a walking tour of the campus typically guided by a college student. The guide usually gives a brief description of the college and its history, the student body, activities, campus life, student housing and the layout of the campus. Guides are usually eager to answer questions. The tours generally take 30 to 60 minutes and often start and end at the admissions office.

A campus tour will give you a general sense of the college, but you should keep in mind that your guide is only one of hundreds or thousands of students on that campus. In addition, the students giving tours tend to be happy with their college choice and may not always provide an objective opinion. Remember to take individual biases into account and try to observe and talk to other students as well.

Planning is the key to being able to go on a college tour without endless waiting. Most colleges have a limited number of tours during the week and often fewer tours on the weekend. If you do not plan in advance, you may find when you arrive on campus early in the morning that the next tour is not until early afternoon. You may have a difficult choice of skipping the tour or hanging around the campus for longer than you had anticipated and possibly missing visiting another college in the afternoon. We recommend confirming the time of the tours a day or two before you plan to arrive in case the posted schedule has changed.

Information Sessions

In addition to campus tours, many colleges also offer information sessions. These sessions provide different information from that which you get on a campus tour. They are generally conducted by an admission officer of the college and held in a room at the admission office or in an auditorium. The sessions often include audio visual presentations and focus on how the admission decisions are made, the statistics of students who are admitted, information about the faculty, admission requirements and criteria, and the deadlines in the application process. These sessions generally last 30 to 60 minutes and allow time for Q&A.

Since you will probably have an admissions officer at your disposal, we recommend preparing some questions to ask of these 'experts' who have first-hand experience with the admissions process. For additional advice, see Questions to Ask While on Campus below.

Again, planning is the key to ensuring that you can participate in an information session and campus tour without spending most of the day or even two days on campus. Make sure that you confirm the times and dates of the information sessions that you plan to attend a few days before your scheduled date of arrival. It is not unusual for a college to modify time and dates of the information sessions without posting the changes. Such schedule changes are common during college vacations and finals weeks.

Overnight Stays

One of the best ways to meet students on campus is to plan an overnight stay. Many admissions offices will arrange overnight stays if you call in advance. Staying overnight allows you to see the college for what it is. The tours set up by the admissions office are somewhat 'staged.' They’re designed to show you the nicest parts of campus and paint the college in its best light. On the other hand, staying overnight allows you to go where the students go, see how they interact, and see what a typical day is like. You have your host student and his or her friends to answer your questions. When you ask them what they like best about the school, be sure to ask them what they like least, as that information can be even more valuable.

Interviewing on Campus

Many competitive colleges require or strongly suggest that applicants interview either at the admissions office on-campus or with an alumni interviewer in the applicant's hometown or high school. If you’re visiting a college, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity of being on campus by scheduling an interview. You will need to contact the admissions office in advance to arrange an appointment. Even if you’re not sure whether you’ll be applying to that college, if you are remotely interested in a college, we recommend scheduling an interview while you are on campus, since you may not have another opportunity to interview on campus. And if you do decide to interview, be sure to research the college thoroughly before your interview, so you’ll be able to articulate what it is about that college that interests you and ask pertinent questions. In addition, you may want to schedule your interview for after you go on the campus tour, so you will have a better sense of the college.

Meeting with Coaches

If you’re considering playing a varsity sport, we recommend scheduling a meeting with a college coach. Such meetings can be invaluable for getting a picture of where you might fit into the program and what materials and statistics you need to submit to be considered for a place on the team. For example, most Division I, II and III college coaches like to see videos of high school or club play and skills drills. A discussion with a coach can help you discern what the coach is looking for in the tapes. Many coaches also like to see their prospect play in a high school game or club tournament. This requires significant planning, particularly for winter and spring sports, whose seasons are late in the application process for seniors. Make sure that you start the college selection process early, so you can make early contact with coaches of your top choice colleges.

Attending a Class

If you have the time, colleges offer most visitors the opportunity to attend a class or two of their choosing. Visiting a class will allow you to see the students and faculty "in action." Of course, one class or professor is not indicative of the entire experience at a college. If you have an opportunity to sit in on more than one class, select courses in different areas of study or ones with different course types (i.e. lecture, seminar, lab). Observe the students in the class. Are they engaged in the class? Is the professor enthusiastic? How does he interact with the students? If you attend a seminar, listen to the students' perspectives. These bits of information hold subtle clues about a college that may be useful in forming your opinion about a college.

Questions to Ask While on Campus

Talk to students, professors, admissions officers, tour guides, campus security officers, and the librarians. Don't be shy. If they have time, people are usually eager to offer their opinions. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • How are faculty advisors assigned to students? What is their role?
  • How do you select classes? Are you guaranteed to get the classes you want or need to take?
  • Are students taught by full-time faculty members, graduate assistants, or both?
  • Are on-campus and off-campus job available?
  • What is the procedure for selecting a roommate?
  • Are incoming students guaranteed housing? For all four years?
  • What are the college's policies for moving off campus?
  • What is the on-campus social life like?
  • How often do students go off-campus? For what?

Visiting campuses should help you narrow down your list of colleges. See Applying to Colleges once you’ve decided where you want to apply. Go4Ivy can help ensure that your list includes an adequate number of reach, likely, and safety schools based on your chances of admission.

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