College Visits: 21 Tips to Capitalize on Your Trip to Campus
February 6, 2017
21 Tips to Capitalize on your College Visits
What to do on your college visits
College visits are the best ways to learn about a given school - the culture, classes, student life, majors, location, and yes, the weather! There is only such much information that can be gathered from the internet and marketing brochures. Arriving on campus, speaking to administrators and students, and seeing things for yourself can provide valuable information otherwise unobtainable.
Here are some tips on how to make the most of your college visits:
1. Pick a strategic date to visit.
The best time for college visits is during spring break of your junior year. By this time, you should have a better understanding of what you’re interested in studying, extracurriculars you’re interested in pursuing, and a general sense of your academic record to date. Hopefully, your spring break takes place while the college campus is still in session, so that you can see the campus in action. If possible, you should also visit during the school week rather than the weekend.
2. Arrive ready with questions.
Arrive at college visits with a list of strategic questions to ask students, college employees, and admissions officers. The answers to your questions should help you evaluate the culture and vibe of the campus, student life, academic programs and resources, and career prospects. Here is a quick list to get you started, but your questions will need to be tailored to you:
- What was your Tuesday like?
- What was your Friday night like?
- Why did you choose this college?
- Why did you choose major X?
- Who is your favorite professor and why?
- How has the school helped with your career development?
- What are 3-4 things you would like to change about the school?
- How would you summarize the campus culture?
3. Look at the school’s supplemental essays before your college visits.
One day, in the not-so-distant future, you will have to answer supplemental essays that are very school specific. For many college applications, you will have to answer “Why School X?” or similar variations (“What encouraged you to apply to School X?” or “What about School X’s mission makes you a good fit for our program?” or “What will you add to the School X campus?”). Research these questions in advance, keep them in mind as you’re walking around campus, and revisit them as you evaluate the school post-visit.
4. Talk to the students.
You want to talk to students, see what their daily life is like, and find out what they like (or don’t like) about the school. You will get the best information about a school by talking to current and past students. Essentially, they are in the shoes you (maybe) want to be in one day! So talk to them.
5. Sign up for a campus tour.
Campus tours will take you to classrooms, libraries, dining halls, gyms, dorms, and more. They are designed to be efficient and give you an overview of the entire campus. These tours are also usually led by students, so it’s another great way to interact with the student population. Each school provides visitation dates on their website during which tours are provided. Ensure that you are visiting on one of those days and that you register in advance.
Some schools have campus tours devoted to specific majors or areas of interest. For example, Yale has a “Science Tour,” led by Yale STEM students, and which takes visitors to the science facilities, focuses on undergraduate research, and highlights special science programs. UCLA has a Theater, Film, and TV tour for students who want a closer look at the facilities at the theaters, soundstages, TV studios, and costume shops for students studying the arts/media. Columbia has an Engineering tour. These tours are meant to supplement regular college visits and give you a behind-the-scenes look into life in your particular area of interest.
6. Explore the city.
Taking a campus tour is not enough! Make sure to explore the city and neighboring areas. Not only are you evaluating where you are going to school, you are also evaluating where you are going to live. What kind of restaurants do they have? How far is the grocery store or pharmacy? Would you need a car? Is it a city with lots of options or a small town with nothing but the campus? What is the weather like and will you need a winter jacket (like I did moving from Los Angeles to New Haven!)?
7. Sign up for an information session.
You should definitely attend a group information session during your college visits, which will most likely be led by an admissions officer. No, this is not your time to hijack the room full of 50 people and make a case for acceptance; it is, however, a chance for you to learn about majors offered, academic resources, distribution requirements, the application process, financial aid, undergraduate life, and more. It’s also an opportunity for you to get the answers to frequently asked questions, and to ask questions (the answers to which don’t apply only to you).
8. Sign up for a student Q&A forum.
Some schools offer student forums, which are informal, non-evaluative sessions between prospective and current students. No parents or admissions officers allowed! These sessions are an awesome way to connect with students and to ask questions about student life at a given school. The student-only format of these sessions creates a stress and pressure-free zone for you to get answers to the questions you’ve always want to ask, but perhaps felt too awkward doing so.
9. Attend a class.
If possible, this is a must-do! You are, after all, going to college to go to class and get an education. You need to see firsthand what the classes are like - content, teaching style, student:professor ratio, difficulty level, requirements of students, engagement level, etc.
Make sure to remember the name of the class and professor. If you bring your class visit up during an admissions interview (you should!), you need to show that you were paying attention. So, know the name of the class, Google the professor, and have thoughts and opinions on the content of the class.
10. Meet a professor who teaches in your field of interest.
If you have an idea of what you want to major in, try to setup an appointment or drop by office hours to speak with a professor who teaches in this field. This is a great way to network, demonstrate your interest, gauge the approachability of the faculty, and to find out what kind of research you can get involved in on campus.
11. Read the student newspaper.
Student newspapers offer honest and real opinions/summaries on campus life and beyond. Writers talk about the cool things their fellow classmates are doing, report on what’s going on in-the-moment on campus, and are not scared to talk about controversial issues on campus and facing students. You will get an unfiltered sense of the campus and student population. You’ll also find out if you’ll spend most of your time cheering or being sad at sporting events!
12. Eat in the dining hall.
You’ll most likely be eating three meals a day, every day, for four years here. Find out if the food is good! You should also check out how the students interact with each other in the dining halls. Do they look happy? Stressed? Busy? Nice? I personally spent a lot of time studying and hanging out with friends in the dining hall, and think that “life in the dining hall” is definitely worth evaluating.
13. Check out the dorms.
Again, you’ll be spending a lot of time here - sleeping, studying, socializing, etc. During your college visits, ask to see the dorms. Look around and see what it would actually be like to live there. How big (or most likely, how small) are the rooms? Is it suite-style living or long hallways with individual rooms? What’s the bathroom situation? Do they have any cool features - basements, ping-pong tables, dance studios, theaters?
14. Check out other campus facilities - gym, libraries, and bookstore.
If you like working out, you’re in luck! Most colleges have awesome fitness facilities that are free for all students. You’ll be able to take different kinds of exercise classes, play sports, make friends, and yes, get/stay in shape!
You should also tour the libraries during college visits to see where you’re actually going to be studying. You’ll probably see many different types of libraries - ones inside which you have to be completely silent, ones with mini classrooms that facilitate group studying, and more social/casual libraries with couches and maybe even a cafe. Find your learning scene!
Get familiar with the bookstore, as this is where you’re going to get your class books and supplies. You might also pick up some swag while you’re at it.
15. Attend a student group meeting or sports practice.
If you’re interested in playing a sport in college or participating in a specific extracurricular activity (think: debate, newspaper, consulting, dance, theater, choir), you should attend a practice or meeting. See the level of competition and participation, talk to the team/group leadership or members, and really try to envision yourself as a participant one day. How does it look?
16. Contact, then meet school employees.
Try to meet people who work in the career services office, major advisors (i.e. pre-health, pre-law), coaches, and/or program directors (i.e. music, debate) while you’re on campus. Email them a few weeks in advance to schedule an appointment. In this email, you might want to include a resume. If you are trying to get recruited for a talent, then developing relationships coaches or recruiters is a great way to boost your candidacy and increase your chances of admission
17. Meet with the financial aid office.
Visit the school’s financial aid office to learn more about their resources and how they can help you fund your college education. These offices are filled with people devoted to helping students afford their tuition, so they will be happy to speak with you and help you prepare!
*18. Setup an interview with the admissions office.*
Many schools offer interviews as part of the application process. There are two general kinds of admissions interviews: Informational and Evaluative.
- Informational Interviews: Informational interviews are designed to allow you, the student and applicant, to learn more about the school. They are helpful for two main reasons. First, they allow you to learn more about the school or program to which you are applying. Second, schools that offer these informational interviews usually keep track and see that you're taking the time to do them as a sign of “demonstrated interest”, which will make them more inclined to admit you, all things being equal.
- Evaluative Interviews: Evaluative interviews are designed to assess your candidacy. Based on what kind of responses and impression you make on your interviewer, they will report positively or negatively back to the admissions committee, and their report will be given some (but usually not much) weight in the final decision on your application.
So, if optional, recommended, or required, setup an interview! Give yourself the chance to make a case for your candidacy in person. And if you have the option, try to set it up for the end of the visit. This will allow you to get to know the school first, so that you have more content to share, discuss, and highlight with your interviewer.
*And yes, we have tips on how to make a great impression during these interviews, but this blog is long as is. Be sure to circle back for upcoming blogs or contact us!
19. Don’t forget your manners...say thank you!
Follow up with your interviewer, host, or tour guide to say thank you. In this note, include specific aspects you liked about the college and how you can see yourself fitting in/contributing to the campus one day. If you are writing to the admissions office, keep it short, to the point, and formal. Use “Dear Ms. Smith” instead of “Hi Lauren!”
20. Take pictures.
This is more for fun, so feel free to skim. If you’re going on a big college tour and visiting a lot of campuses, taking pictures will help you remember the individual schools. It’ll also help you keep the memories!
21. Journal your thoughts.
Perhaps most importantly, reflect on your college visits and track your thoughts. Immediately after each campus visit, sit down and write. Do NOT wait or forget to do this. Your tours and visits will start to blend together after just a few college visits, so you must write down your impressions while they are fresh in your mind.
There are several ways to do this: chart the pros and cons, create a spreadsheet with columns for different aspects of the schools and rows for different schools, text your friends or email your parents after each visit, keep a sticky note on your laptop or notes in your smart phone. However or whatever you decide, just make sure that you write...stuff…down!
Soon enough, you’ll be applying to colleges. Come time, you will be tasked with building a college list and tailoring supplemental essays to specific schools in order to demonstrate your interest and show school fit. These visits, and the ensuing notes, will prove very helpful!