College Visits 101: 8 Tips to Optimize Your College Trip

College visits are an essential part of finding the perfect school. Nothing can match the experience of actually stepping foot on campus, and, if possible, spending a night in the dorm. Figuring out how to plan an effective and efficient college trip that is both interesting and informative can help you make the right college choice when it comes time. The list of tips below can offer some guidance:

Tip 1: Visit when students are in session

Many colleges seem dead in the summers or during other breaks. Many students leave campus to go home or work, so the campuses appear quiet and empty. This gives a skewed view of what the school is actually like. A quiet school in the summer could be packed with students during the school year, pleasing those wanting more of a busy campus and turning those away who want more of a serene and relaxed environment. Don’t worry, though, there is an easy remedy! Visit schools when they are in session! Take a drive up to your local university on a school holiday, or check each school’s calendar to see if they are in session when you are on spring break. Schools around the country are on really different schedules, so chances are many will be in session during your breaks. This way, you’ll be able to see what everyday life is like. Plus, you’ll have more opportunities to talk to students, who can answer your question or give their perspectives on the college. Every college is a bit different, so experiencing different colleges’ energies and attitudes on a regular day can be quite useful when making your decision.

Tip 2: Visit schools of different types and sizes early on

Many students have an ideal college size or type. Knowing what types of colleges (liberal arts colleges, flagship public universities, mid-sized private schools, among others) to focus in on can prevent wasted time during college trips. For those who are open to many different types of colleges or for those who are not sure what their ideal college size is, seeing a small, a medium, and a large school before making a longer prospective college list can help narrow down the characteristics students are looking for in a school. Your state’s public flagship works as a great example of a big public university. Search out other smaller and mid-sized universities in your area to check out, too. After seeing those different types of schools, you hopefully will have more of an idea of what you are looking for in regard to school size. Every college is a bit different, so do not immediately count out a college because of its size, but now you can refine your list down to make planning future college visits easier. Perhaps you won’t find a perfect size or type? That’s totally okay! Keep checking out a variety of colleges. Many students can be happy at a wide range of schools.

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Tip 3: Prioritize schools that track interest

Many great schools factor an applicant’s demonstrated interest into the admissions process. Schools like Stanford, Williams, and MIT, do not consider interest in the decision making process, and schools like Rice, UT-Austin, and Northwestern do consider interest. While this probably is not the most important factor in the college admissions process, it never hurts to tip the scales in your favor. That being said, don’t avoid schools that do not track interest when planning itineraries. College visits create great starting points for supplemental essays or interviews. Just keep demonstrated interest in mind when planning your trip. (Note: Every college is a bit different when it comes to tracking demonstrated interest. A specific college’s policy can be found in section C7 of the school’s Common Data Set, which is available on the school’s website.) Remember, though, that colleges can always be visited during the spring of Senior year after you are admitted. This is particularly important for reach schools that do not track interest. Sometimes, it is better to save the money and time and visit if you are admitted.

Tip 4: Talk to a variety of students

Your tour guides are fantastic resources for learning about your school; however, it is good to hear a variety of opinions and thoughts on a school. Seek out a friend from a few grades above in high school, or maybe even a friend of a friend! Alternatively, strike up a conversation with the student in front of you in line while you order a coffee, or ask a few questions to a group advertising a club in the main quad. I’ve found that most students really like their school and that they like to talk about it. Take advantage of this unique opportunity while you are on campus.

Tip 5: Go to the department specific information sessions and tours

Many colleges sponsor special information sessions and tours for specific departments (ex. engineering, liberal arts, business, music, etc.). If you have an idea of what you want to study, these sessions can give more of an insight into the opportunities available to you. The information could cover student life, research, or the curriculum. If you are unsure as to what you want to study, these sessions can also help you figure that out. (Don’t worry, though, there is no rush!)

Tip 6: Talk to some professors

If there is a professor at your information session, introduce yourself and ask him or her a question or two about the school. Be quick, but still be friendly. It’s a good way to gauge the focus of the school and whether the faculty members are really interested in teaching. Plus, the faculty can give a different perspective that no student can. You might as well take advantage of all of the resources you can get!

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Tip 7: Make a smart plan

It’s important to make efficient use of you time during college visits. Make sure that you schedule enough time at each school to fully get a grasp of what it’s like to study and live there. Also, try and find a few colleges in a certain geographical area to visit to get more out of your trip without spending the whole time traveling. (The Northeast makes this easier than other parts of the country with so many colleges in such close proximity.) Still, though, don’t over-schedule yourself. It’s not worth it to rush through so many colleges that you don’t get anything out of your trip. Pace yourself. The saying “Quality over Quantity” really applies to college visits.

Tip 8: Have fun!

It may sound cliché, but having a good time on a college visit can have a huge difference on your opinion of the school. Most people can be happy at most schools, and an attitude plays a huge part in developing an opinion of a school. Enjoy yourself. Soak in the beautiful campus architecture. Savor exploring new environments. Sample tasty food. Meet interesting people. The college application period is an exciting period of change in your life, so take advantage of the many cool opportunities you will have when they present themselves.



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