There’s no substitute for seeing a college campus in person. Interacting with students and checking out classrooms is a big part of figuring out whether a school is the best fit for you.
But, visiting campus isn’t just about showing up. You’ll have to prepare if you want to do it right. Take time over summer break planning for fall tours!
• Map it out. List the colleges you’re interested in and plot them on a map. Your parents can help you find the most logical way to see them all.
• Visit before you apply. “Use the campus visits to narrow down your list of colleges,” advises Gus DiStefano, associate director of undergraduate admission at the University of the Sciences (www.usciences.edu).
• Try to avoid the summer. Summer vacation might seem like the perfect time to visit campuses because you don’t have school. But, most colleges have summer break too. You’ll probably see fewer students and more construction projects. “Professors may not be available during the summer. There won’t be events on campus,” says Rebecca Whitehead, assistant director of campus visits and engagement at Winthrop University (www.winthrop.edu).
• Check your school’s calendar. If your school has a fall or spring break, take those days to visit colleges that are in session. Admissions consultant Kiersten Murphy says the best time to start visiting is in late winter or early spring of your junior year. If you take the PSAT, you’ll have your scores by then. That will give you an idea of the schools you’re likely to get into.
• See if you can take off from school. Some high schools allow a few days of excused absences so students can visit colleges. Ask what your school’s policy is.
• Don’t do too much. Plan one or two visits each day.
• Peruse the college website. This is where you’ll find facts and figures like whether a school offers the major you want, how many students are on campus and how much tuition is. Know this before you go and you’ll have better questions for the visit itself.
• Call the admissions office. Schedule your visit at least two weeks in advance, Whitehead says. Ask when tours take place, where you should park on campus and whether you’ll need a parking pass. Print out a map of the college. If you’re taking a car with a GPS unit, plug in the address of the admissions office.
• Inquire about special tours. Murphy says bigger universities sometimes have more than one tour. Do you want to see the residence halls or the academic buildings where you’d spend a lot of time? Ask before you go!
• Make appointments. Know what you want to major in? Ask to see a professor or observe a class. Want to play hockey or volleyball? Meet the coach. The admissions office may be able to help set up appointments with people you want to see.
• Set up a chat with an admissions counselor. “The counselor you talk to will probably review your application, especially at a smaller college,” DiStefano says. Make sure to talk with him or her, even informally. Counselors travel a lot, so make an appointment.
• Bring your transcript and test scores. Admissions counselors like to see these. If you have printouts, you won’t have to guess your GPA.
• Read the college calendar. Most schools post online event calendars with campus events. You could find a lecture or play taking place the day of your visit.
GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR CAMPUS VISIT!
• Arrive early.
• Dress in comfortable, conservative clothes and shoes.
• Position yourself toward the front of the tour group.
• Take notes and pictures. Write down your impressions.
• Be ready to tell an admissions counselor why you would be an asset on campus.
• Observe how clean and well maintained the buildings are.
• Check out the student newspaper and fliers on campus bulletin boards.
• Ask detailed questions: e.g., How does academic advising work? What types of computers do students need? What college traditions do students have?
• Get names and email addresses of everyone you talk to. Send thank-you notes when you get home.
• Explore campus on your own once the tour’s over. See current students, administrators or professors? Go up to them and ask questions.
• Stop at the campus coffee shop or grab lunch in the dining hall.
• Walk around the neighborhood.
• Show up without telling the admissions office.
• Park in the wrong spot.
• Let your parents ask all the questions! You’re the one who will be spending several years there. Plus, participating on a campus visit shows maturity.
• Act as if you don’t want to be there. That means no texting!
• Compare the school to other
colleges you’ve seen.
• Ask the tour guide where else he applied, what his test scores were or how much financial aid he got.
• Behave like it doesn’t matter what your student tour guide thinks of you. If your behavior stands out during a tour, good or bad, it might get back to someone in admissions.
Rebecca VanderMeulen has a degree in journalism from American University (www.american.edu).