Visiting colleges you are considering is a very important part of the college search process. For most of your life, what school you attended was not a big decision. Most students attended the closest public school. Other students went to private school, but even then, there were not many choices. However, college is different. There are thousands of possibilities, and for many, the first time they will be paying for their education.
The best way to make sure if a college is a good fit is to visit the campus. The pictures and descriptions in viewbooks and websites are beautiful, but they cannot tell you how you will feel on campus. The people of the campus also play a role in the personality of the college and this does not always come through in printed material. Therefore, it is important to visit to get the full feeling of a college.
There are many different ways to visit colleges. Here are some options you may be considering, as well as some pros and cons of each:
- Drive by or drive through visits. When in the neighborhood or on vacation in the area, many student choose to drive in or through the campus. Driving through campus will allow visitors to see the campus, buildings, and the surrounding area. Visitors may even been able to see some of the students. However, the drive through visit is somewhat similar to seeing the pictures in the viewbooks. They are only pictures and do not tell the whole story about the college. If possible, students should try some of the more thought out visits like the ones described below. If the visit is unexpected and unplanned, try to at least get out of the car, walk around campus, and possibly talk to the students. It may even be worth visiting the admissions office where they may be able to share some information and possibly add you to a guided tour of campus.
- “Individual” college visit. This is the type of visit students can schedule during the week and sometimes on weekends. This visit typically includes an information session about the institution and the admissions process, as well as a guided tour of campus. The number of visitors who participate in these events will vary depending on the college. Well-known colleges may have large groups, while smaller colleges could offer truly “individual” visits. While the information session and tour is somewhat scripted, everything else students see and experience on campus will be a real portrayal of the institution. A downside of individual visits is that students may not be able to see or meet everyone they want while on campus. For example, if a student want to meet a specific professor, it may not be possible because it is a regular day on campus and the professor may be teaching all day. Luckily, when students give admissions offices a lot of notice (at least two weeks, but preferably much more), they may be able to organize everything the student is looking to do while on campus.
- Open houses. Many colleges open their campuses to prospective students and their families every year. These events are usually huge orchestrated events that roll out the red carpet for perspective students. The goal behind these events is to impress students and encourage them to apply and/or enroll at the institution. Usually the entire campus is involved in these types of events, so students typically can meet anyone or see anything they want while on campus. Students may not be able to sit in on regular classes, but there will probably be multiple information sessions available to learn about many different aspects of the college, such as clubs, housing, and study abroad. A great thing about open houses is that many of the institutions incorporate current students into the event. Current students are very important for prospective students when researching colleges. Current students can give great information about what it is like to be a student on campus. In addition, open houses allow participants to meet other prospective students and potential future classmates.
- Overnight visit. Spending the night on campus usually happens in conjunction with one of the other visits. Students just add on a night in the residence halls so that they can live the life of a student. College is more than just about the classroom. It is also about everything that happens outside the classroom, including at night when classes are not in session. Spending the night on campus gives students extra time on campus to attend campus events, attend a club meeting, or spend more time with current students who can share about their experiences. Plus, spending the night in the residence hall will show students what it is like to live away from home.
- Virtual tours. This type of tour lets students see and experience the campus without leaving home. Virtual tours are in the same category as all of the fliers and pamphlets you will receive from the college. They are marketing pieces and the goal is to attract prospective students to the college. They will typically only show off the best of the institution. If the student cannot physically visit the campus before applying, the virtual tour will give students a good idea about the institution. In addition to showing moving pictures of the campus, they typically also introduce the audience to individuals associated with the campus. While everything in the virtual tour is scripted, it will show the audience some of the personality of the college and what the college values.
No matter how you visit, it is important that you do some sort of visit before making the final decision. College is at least four years of your life and will help you get to the next stage in life, such as a job or graduate school. With so many options, it is important to make sure the college feels right so that you enjoy your experience while getting a great education.