College visit: open house or individual visit?


When it comes to the college search, visiting colleges is necessary to get a real feel for the campus. Many students can only visit college campuses once, especially if the campus is far away from their home. This leaves students questioning what option is best for them: open houses for prospective students or individual visits. Open houses are typically big events for prospective students that happen once or twice a year. Individual visits, on the other hand, can happen almost any other time when it is convenient for the student. Each option is a great way to visit a college campus and comes with advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it is up to the student to determine what is the best option for them when visiting colleges.

Open houses will feel like the college is “rolling out the red carpet” for prospective students. The campus and everyone associated with the college will be at their very best. It is the day for the college to persuade prospective students to choose them. Open houses will look a little different depending on the college, but they typically will include similar features. Prospective students can expect to take a campus tour and have opportunities to hear from professors, staff, and current students. There might also be information sessions about campus resources, student activities, and specific academic programs. Open houses will be a great showcase of the college and students will learn a lot about the institution.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about attending an open house for prospective students on a college campus:

  • The campus will be well manicured. The lawn will be freshly mowed and the gardens will look fresh and clean. The physical campus will look amazing.
  • Many colleges will make sure prospective students will have a place to park their cars while on campus.
  • Most of the people on campus will be very welcoming and available to answer questions. This includes professors and staff who can answer questions from prospective students, such as admissions counselors, financial aid officers, and academic advisors.
  • Current students will probably participate in the events. However, the students selected to speak at the event will probably have been hand-selected by the people in charge, and possibly prepped on how to answer certain questions. The students who usually participate in events like these are campus leaders and students who love the college. Current students who are quiet or dislike the college will probably not be involved in the event.
  • The food will be great on the day of an open house. The menu for the day will probably be selected to show off the best options or student favorites.
  • There will be a lot of prospective students on campus, making it a great opportunity to meet future classmates. This is especially helpful for students considering colleges where they may not know anyone. Connections made at the prospective student events could turn into future friends and roommates.
  • A lot of information will be packed into the day. The day was carefully designed, and sometimes scripted, to ensure prospective students learn and see most everything they need to know and want to see.

Individual visits are opportunities for prospective students to visit college campuses on days that are convenient for them. These visits will typically include a brief information session from the Admissions Office and then a campus tour. Many colleges also allow students to add on other features if the student is interested, such as sitting in on a class, meeting with a coach, or spending the night in the residence hall. While the Admissions Office will do their best to show off the best of the college campus, some things will be out of their control during the visits. Here are some things to consider about individual visits:

  • College campuses do not close during the year. Therefore, construction, painting or lawn care might be happening while visiting.
  • Parking may be an issue. Many colleges have specific parking spots for visitors, but if those are taken, prospective students will have to search for an open spot. On many college campuses, there are more students and staff then there are parking spots. Parking is an issue on many college campuses.
  • The professors or people prospective students need to talk to may be unavailable. Visiting on a regular school day means that professors are teaching classes and attending to other duties. Therefore, they may be unavailable to meet with prospective students.
  • There will be no special meals for prospective students. If prospective students eat on campus they will get to eat the regular dining hall or food court options.
  • Students will be able to sit in on real classes, allowing them to see what the academic atmosphere is like at the college.
  • Outside of the information session and the campus tour, the rest of the visit will not be scripted. The student will get to blend in on campus and just be another student.

Open houses and individual visits will have a different feel and offer different things. Open houses will give prospective students all access to everything they want and need while they are on campus. However, it is scripted and designed to show off the best aspects of the campus. Individual visits, on the other hand, give students a real look at the campus. This also means students might see the blemishes on the college campus, as well as not have access to people and places they may want to see. Open houses are large and allow shy students to stay quiet and blend in with the crowd. Individual visits, however, vary in size. Some colleges may see 20 students visiting in a day and other colleges might have one visitor a day. These smaller visits are a great opportunity to get one-on-one time with an admissions officer to discuss admissions questions, but may be uncomfortable for someone who is shy.

College visits are a must when researching colleges. However, how students choose to visit colleges is up to them. Open houses and individual visits have their own advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, students must decide what is the most important to them: an all access showing or a real day as a student on the college campus. Either option is great and will allow the student to get a feel for the campus.

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