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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.

Meet the Expert

Jordan F. Slavik

Teacher & Administrator, University of Maryland – College Park

WRITTEN BY:

Katy McWhirter

4 Reasons You Should Visit Colleges

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

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.

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

  • 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?

  • 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:

College Visit Do’s and Don’ts

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.

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.