Guide to Visiting Colleges

How to Make the Most of Campus Tours

As students enter their junior and senior years of high school, deciding which college to attend is on the forefront of most minds. College visits can be a great way to narrow options, and this guide will help students feel like pros when they walk on campus for the first time. Gain insider tips from our expert and have some of your most common questions answered.

4 Reasons You Should Visit Colleges


  • See the campus for yourself

    No matter how many pages of a college’s website or brochure you read, nothing can replicate the feeling of walking on campus or meeting with students and professors. Aside from providing opportunities for one-on-one discussions, prospective students can also pick up on the subtleties of campus culture that may not come across on paper.


  • Get a personalized Q&A

    You can read all the FAQ sections on a school’s website, but what if your question isn’t frequently asked? By meeting with students, faculty and administrators, students can have individual questions answered and even provide insight about their unique financial or academic backgrounds that allow for more nuanced answers.


  • Personalize your application essay

    It’s not uncommon to be asked “Why do you want to attend our school?” on the essay section of college applications. A campus visit will help you provide a thoughtful, accurate reason why you would benefit the student body and vice versa. On the flipside, it can also help you realize why the school isn’t a great fit in ways you may not have recognized otherwise.


  • Let them know you’re really interested


    This reason is particularly relevant for students who have a “reach” school on their list and aren’t sure if their grades or extracurricular activites are enough to get them an offer letter. By touring a school and meeting with decision-makers, students are able to show more of their personality, determination and interest and are much more likely to stick with admissions officers than those they only know through applications.

Planning College Visits

Once students understand the value of college visits, the next important step in the process is figuring out how to make them happen. When done right, college visits can help students get a true sense of campus culture and feel like they belong even before moving boxes into the dorm. But they can also be expensive and take time away from high school responsibilities, so it’s important to go in with a game plan.

Your College Visit Timeline

  • May, junior year: choose which colleges to visit
  • June, junior year: sign up for tours, set up interviews
  • Late August and early September: visit campuses
  • January or February, senior year: return to campus for interviews (if necessary)
  • April, senior year: receive acceptance letters
  • May, senior year: decide which college you’ll attend

Planning Campus Visits in 3 Steps


  • STEP 1

    Choose which colleges to visit

    Narrowing down the options of which colleges to visit – let alone choosing one to attend – can be an overwhelming experience, especially for those students who plan to enter a fairly common major. The good news is that lots of organizations and services make it easy for students to get a broad overview of the educational landscape before zooming in on the specific traits they are looking for in a school.

    Go See Campus
    Allows students to do detailed college searches for institutions with specific majors, acceptance rates, cost, location, funding and student body sizes.

    National College Fair
    Brings hundreds of colleges and universities to various parts of the country so students can speak to representatives without having to travel to each one individually.

    Worldwide College Tours
    Rather than hosting nearby events, WCT brings college recruiters and admissions experts directly to high schools, thereby making it possible for prospective students to ask questions and get a sense of various schools without ever leaving their own campus.

    After researching a range of schools, learners need to narrow their list. Every student is different, but a general rule is that visiting only one school won’t give you a wide enough lens to make informed decisions. You also don’t want to live outside your means and visit more than is financially reasonable. That may look like three schools for some or six for others, but it’s a choice that should be made carefully and likely with family.


  • STEP 2

    Plan your trip

    Once you’ve decided where you’re going, it’s time to decide how and when to get there, and what you’ll be doing when you’re there. Depending on a student’s radius of interest, some trips could require public transportation or a car, while others may require a flight. If this is the case, it’s best to start planning early to get reasonably priced tickets rather than waiting until the last minute.

    Once travel arrangements have been sorted out, don’t forget to also think about transportation once you arrive in each place. Is there sufficient public transportation to take you from the airport to the college, and potentially around the city? Would it make more sense to take a taxi or rideshare for the short amount of time you will be there? Or would it be better to rent a car? Are there multiple schools you can visit on the same trip?

    The other significant question to be answered is what you’ll be doing once you get to the school. Are you at the stage where a group tour will suffice, or would you rather shadow a student, sit in on classes and/or stay in a dormitory for the night? These activities take more planning, so again, begin thinking about your goals for the trip well in advance.


  • STEP 3

    Collect the info you need

    When packing for a college visit, it’s important to keep in mind what you’ll need and what’s better left at home. A few ideas include:

    • A list of questions for various campus representatives you’ll meet (e.g. tour guide, current student, faculty, staff)
    • If you want to take notes, consider bringing a recorder or making sure your phone has space to record details from an info session. That way you can focus instead of scribbling notes furiously the whole time.
    • A campus map. If you have individual meetings that aren’t part of the group tour, the last thing you want to do is show up late because you couldn’t find the right building. Most school websites have printable maps.
    • Appropriate clothing. Aside from looking professional (we’ve got tips on that later in the guide!), remember to bring weather-appropriate clothing in case it rains.
    • A camera. You’ll want to remember all the different buildings you saw, so either bring a standalone camera or use your smartphone.
    • A form of identification. This may be needed to enter specific buildings, so keep it close by just in case.


Your College Campus Visit

Before heading out for a college visit, there are lots of things students need to consider and prepare to make sure they’re at their best. The following section takes a look at some of the most common things students wonder about leading up to their visit.

Checklists for What to Do & See on Campus

What to see on campus

  • Dorms
  • Classrooms
  • Dining hall
  • Sports facilities
  • Student center
  • Academic departments of majors you’re considering

Who to talk to

  • Current students
  • A professor in your prospective major
  • Admissions advisor
  • Financial aid administrator
  • Sports director
  • Faculty advisor to any student groups of interest
  • Alumni

What information to collect

  • Details about available financial aid
  • Syllabi from classes you would be interested in taking
  • Any changes coming to your intended major in the coming years
  • Graduation and employment data

Questions to Ask on College Visits


  • Questions for your tour guide

    • How large are most classes?
    • Do professors make themselves easily available outside class?
    • Do undergrads have the opportunity to work with professors on research projects?
    • How hard is it to change your major?
    • Are computer labs available?
    • Which extracurricular activities are most popular?
    • Is community service emphasized?
    • Are a variety of dormitory styles available based on individual student needs?


  • Questions for current students

    • Where do students tend to spend their time when they aren’t in class?
    • Do you find the campus to be diverse and accepting?
    • Is it easy to get around school and the surrounding areas without a car?
    • Are there ample opportunities for part-time employment?
    • What’s a typical week like?
    • If you could change anything about the school, what would it be?
    • Do campus administrators and faculty take into account student surveys and requests?
    • What is it like to be a freshman on campus?
    • Did you find it easy to make friends?
    • Are your classes sufficiently challenging?
    • Do you feel like your degree and experiences at the school are preparing you for personal and professional success?


What to Wear on College Visits

Deciding what to wear when setting foot on a college campus for the first time can be confusing, especially if you’re ticking off several meetings all in one visit. While group tours are typically more casual in nature, official interviews often demand more formal attire. A few tips to keep in mind:


  • If you’re doing more than one

    Often group tours include lots of walking, so it’s important to dress comfortably. While you should avoid gym clothes or anything too informal, a pair of jeans with a nice shirt is often completely acceptable. Tennis shoes, flats or other footwear that won’t give you blisters is perfectly fine, provided they are clean and not overly worn.


  • If you’re meeting with other students

    The rules of the group tour still apply, but you might want to consider wearing better jeans or a pair of nicer pants just to be on the safe side. It’s possible that you’ll have the opportunity to talk to professors or administrators in an informal setting, so you want to be prepared.


  • If you’re having an official interview

    When meeting with an admissions officer or any other employee of the college who could decide your fate in terms of admittance, it’s important to put your best foot forward. That doesn’t mean wearing anything flashy. Instead, students should aim for business casual attire. Think pant or skirt suit with reasonable shoes, all of which should be in a neutral color such as blue, black, beige or grey. Some schools may provide guidelines, which you should follow.


  • If you’re doing more than one

    It’s always better to err on the side of being overdressed, so if you’re taking a campus tour before an interview, plan to either wear something nice all day or, if possible, bring a change of clothes.


College Visit Do’s and Don’ts


  • DO´S

    Research the school before you visit.
    Not only will this help you pinpoint questions to ask, but will also show that you’re sincerely interested.

    Introduce yourself to an admissions officer.
    Do this even if you don’t have a meeting as it will help them to put a face with the name when your application arrives.

    Send a thank you note.
    After your visit, send a brief note (through email is fine) to anyone you met with or spent time with.

    Turn off your smartphone.
    At the very least, put it on mute or vibrate to avoid any embarrassing alerts during meetings.


  • DON´TS

    Forget to arrange a visit.
    You could end up being there on a day that tours and/or information sessions aren’t scheduled.

    Neglect to build in time to explore campus on your own.
    Campus tours typically stick to general areas of campus to accommodate groups, but you’ll likely want to go see areas of the school that correspond to your specific interests.

    Wear out your welcome.
    It’s fine to ask a few questions and chat with faculty and staff, but remember that they have places to be.

    Ask generic questions.
    Not only can you find this information easily, but it won’t be impressive to any campus representatives you meet.


Expert Tips for College Visits

Jordan F. Slavik has spent the last eight years working in admissions and higher education. During this time Jordan served as an admissions adviser, student tour leader, orientation director and admissions board member at Saint Louis University and the University of Maryland. Jordan currents teaches and serves as an administrator at the University of Maryland – College Park. 

What are some things that parents/students may not consider when visiting a college campus?

When visiting a college campus, prospective students (and their parents) most often inquire about one of three aspects of life on campus – classes, extracurricular activities and residence halls. While these constitute the bulk of a student’s time in college, there are many details of college-life that are overlooked.

It’s important for students to consider less tangible aspects as well. Students should ask about the minute details that will cause them to love or hate their experience over the next few years. Is the food lousy? Do I have multiple food options? Is parking a nightmare? How strictly do they enforce it? Is the campus lively after dark? Are there safety concerns? Will the college meet my religious needs? How late are the gym and library open? Does the campus feel like large? Does it feel small? Which do I prefer?

What are the most common mistakes they’re likely to make on a group tour or in an interview for admission?

Many prospective students assume their parents will ask any important questions about campus, but what is important to a parent is often radically different from what is important to a student. I have found that many students are so enamored of the idea that they are going to college, they forget they still have a good deal of choice in the matter.

It’s important for students to remember that certain college campuses will fit their personalities better than others. Some students will have a more enjoyable and successful time at a state school or a community college rather than at an ivy league, regardless of talent or intelligence. The only mistake a student can make is to ignore what is best for himself/herself.

In a similar vein, the most common mistake for prospective students to make on a group tour or in an admissions interview is to forget that the admissions process is bilateral. While students have to in some ways “audition” in order to get accepted, the reverse is true as well. The school needs to attract students and convince them that their institution is worthy of attendance.

Prospective students, then, should be confident and sincere in asking tour guides and interviewers what unique benefits the school has to offer them. Confidence and sincerity have long been the keys to successful interviews.

How can students make the most of their time on campus?

The best way for students to use their time on campus is by taking time to explore the school and discover whether they like the feel and atmosphere. While tours are informative, much of this information can be found online or in brochures. Students should instead ask more probing questions of the tour guides, seeking their honest opinions on the pros and cons of the university.

Current students will often be candid in their responses, admitting to the drawbacks of the school. Once outside the purview of the “campus tour” students can often make a more genuine search for what the college is like.

One of the best ways students can also do this is through programs in which they spend the night with current students on campus. This allows prospective students to see behind the curtain, as it were. In doing so, however, students should remember that their experiences will be closely tied to the quality of their hosts.

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