I’m a big fan of campus visits – they are hands-down the best way to learn about a college. Most people start with the official campus tour, which is great. However, if you really want to make the most of your visit, the campus tour should just be the beginning. To truly maximize your time, plan to spend at least a half-day there, or even more for the schools you are strongly considering. I promise, it will be worth it!
Here are 6 tips for making the most of your campus visit:
1. Explore on your own
The campus tour will give you an invaluable overview, but remember that the tour guide will only show you what the college wants you to see. You’ll get a better sense of the school if you spend time on your own – sitting in the quad, exploring the buildings and eating in the dining halls. Find a good place to sit and simply observe; take in the sights, the sounds and the overall vibe of the campus. Try to picture yourself as a student there.
2. Talk to students
By far, the BEST way to learn is to talk to those who know the school best – the current students! It takes a little confidence, but will reveal so much that you can’t learn from the tour guide (who is paid to make the school look good to prospective students.) So don’t be shy – find some students who look friendly (and not too busy) and ask them for the inside scoop. Most students LOVE to talk about their college.
3. Stay the night
Many private colleges offer an overnight stay in the dorms for prospective students. You’ll be paired with a host student who will set you up in their dorm room overnight, and might also take you along to their classes and clubs. This is a fantastic way to get to know a college. Check with each college’s admissions page to see if this option is available.
4. Attend a class
Many colleges will also arrange for prospective students to sit in on a class. Sometimes you can even attend a class in your major of interest. This is a wonderful way to get a sense of the academics of a college – the quality of the professors, the teaching style and the engagement of the students. But don’t get discouraged if you feel lost in class; the students are a few years ahead of you, and you’ll most likely be able to understand it by the time you get there!
5. Check out the community
You likely won’t spend all your time on campus when you are a student, so find out what’s nearby. Walk through the places that students hang out, eat at a local restaurant, and get a feel for the surrounding community. Are there fun things to do there? Can you see yourself there on a Friday night?
6. Plan ahead
I can’t stress this one enough! Failure to plan can turn a valuable learning opportunity into a waste of your time (just ask me about my botched visit to UC Berkeley back when I was an applicant!) So before you go, spend plenty of time on the college’s Visitor Information page. Reserve a campus tour well ahead of time and make arrangements with the admissions office for any other activities you wish to do. Print out a campus map. Get directions and parking information, especially if you are visiting a large campus (ask me about my recent crazy UCLA visit!) Research the local community and decide where you want to go.
Not able to visit a campus in person? Check out this post about a cool website for virtual campus tours.