College visits are some of the most exciting (and terrifying) things about being an upperclassman in high school. Trust me, I should be an expert on this topic. I went on 12 college tours from New York to Tennessee to Florida. Yes, that means a lot of road trips, a lot info sessions, and a lot of brochures.
But they were a lot of fun too! Getting to walk around a college campus and imagine what my future there could look like was so surreal. Today I’m sharing my tips for getting the most out of your college visits!
1. Do your research.
University of Maryland- College Park
I had a master spreadsheet that was absolutely insane. I finally deleted it a few months ago, but I wish I kept it so I could show you what I mean! Start early and make a relaxed list of any school that catches your eye. Read through those brochures you get in the mail and scroll through lists of schools that fit your basic criteria (I used collegexpress for a lot of my basic research. It’s free and super helpful!). My first spreadsheet round had information on about 60 schools (yes, I know that’s crazy)!
After you have a good number on that list, filter it down to a list of top 20 based on location, cost, and general reviews you’ve seen online. From there, get it down to a top five or six you’d like to visit and start setting dates for tours. Do this as early as possible! We used my spring break, Fridays off from class, and a lot of the summer for traveling to the various schools on my list. Know what you’re looking for and what you still want to find out about each school before you get there. In other words, make sure you’ve researched enough that you’re committed to considering this school for an application.
It’s also important to visit your “safety schools.” Visit the school your parents seem to be pushing. After all, they’re the ones driving you to all of these campuses! At the very least, humor them and check out a school that’s important to them. If you want to go out-of-state, still visit one or two in-state schools. I had absolutely no interest in going to UMD at College Park or Baltimore, but my parents were insistent that I still apply and give it a fair shot. You can’t truly rule out a good school until you’ve been there!
2. Drive around.
University of South Carolina
You’re going to want to leave campus sometimes right? Girls night out? Weekend festival? Catch a movie? Find food that’s not from the dining hall? Your lovely college city/town is where it’s at!
See what’s available in the shopping centers/strips near campus as well as what the downtown area has to offer. If the school is in the middle of nowhere, that’s something to consider, especially if you won’t be bringing a car to school with you. Take note of bus stops and get a general idea of where they can take you. Crime rates are also something to consider, but don’t let city stats scare you. Cities during the day/early evening are often a lot better than what the nightlife may seem like on paper!
3. Take notes.
You can’t get your first reactions and impressions back. After being on a few tours, you aren’t going to remember your thought process when walking through each campus. Pick up a little notebook and bring it on every visit. For me, it was easiest to give each school its own page where I could do a brain dump as soon as we left. I wrote down everything from admissions statistics to number of undergrads to what the dorms looked like to what the area had to offer. When I was deciding where to apply, these notes helped me remember what I liked and disliked about each school and organize those thoughts into a pro/con list. Yes, I used a pro/con list. Yes, it helped. Don’t judge me. 😉
I actually still have that notebook- here are my notes from my tours of the four schools I ended up applying to! Ignore the mess, they were functional.
4. Visit the library, a classroom, and a dorm room.
Florida Institute of Technology
These are probably where you’re going to spend the majority of your time, so make sure they’re up to your standards! What ended up making my final decision was actually the quality of facilities at the two schools I was considering.
Take note of printer availability in the library and decide later whether you would need to bring one with you. Get a general idea of average class size from the different classrooms if you absolutely hate lecture halls. Think about available space from the model dorm and get some decoration inspiration as well!
5. Ask questions.
University of Delaware
Let me repeat this- ask questions! You are on a tour to get information, so make sure you actually get all of the information you need to make an application (and final) decision. Because tour guides are trained current undergrads, they are knowledgeable about both student life and admissions/fast facts. Ask them anything and everything- that’s what they’re there for!
Most tour guides are pretty good about this, but be sure to work your way to the front of the group once or twice to get to know your guide and be able to ask them more individualized questions. Don’t, however, be that one family that is always up talking to the tour guide at the front of the line. Nobody likes that family. Let others work their way up there too!
6. Eat in the dining hall.
University of Maryland- Baltimore
I only did this once or twice (and hated my dad for making me do it), but eating with the students provides you with so much information. Not only do you get to see how good the food is (which, let’s face it, is pretty important), but you also get a feel for the student body. What kind of conversations do they have? Does anyone say anything to you? Are they pushy and on-the-go or more relaxed?
What kind of people do you want to be around?
7. Talk to students.
University of Connecticut
What better way to get the inside scoop on what the school is really like than by talking to current students! Ask them why they chose their school. What they love about it. What they would change. I love talking to prospective students because I love NC State so much. Literally anyone could stop me while I’m walking to class and I would give them a whole lecture on why State is so amazing and why they should come here.
This allows you to get a good feel of the community. Do they come off as stuck-up? Condescending? Or are they incredibly friendly and go out of their way to help you? Which student body do you want to be a part of?
8. Meet with faculty.
University of Virginia
If you can, set up a meeting with a faculty member in your intended department to get a better understanding for curriculum and academics relating to your desired major. See how personable the professors are and whether that’s the kind of person you want teaching you for four years. I did this a few times and it was really beneficial to be able to go over the different curriculum/plans, see what classes I would be taking, and see how one department at one school is geared towards a different path than the same department at another school. For example, if you’re interested in bioengineering (like I was), does the department seem more geared towards students looking to go to med school? If you’re interested in animal science, is the department geared towards wildlife or a veterinary path?
If you aren’t sure what you want to study yet, this could definitely give you some insights!
9. Go when classes are in session.
It’s hard to get the full college experience during summer when campus is empty. I know it can be difficult to schedule visits that are further away during the school year, but take advantage of breaks and days off. I did a lot of my tours during the summer, but it would’ve been nice to see all of the students out and walking to class. It makes it feel more real, you know?
What kind of students attend that school? Is it a diverse campus? What kind of community are you looking for? You can feel the energy of the school and see whether any organizations are tabling (there’s always someone out at State). You can also see if areas get congested really easily, which isn’t too important but it’s something to notice.
But. Don’t go during finals. That’s when everyone’s dying and we look really sad. #protip
10. Read the latest student paper.
Rochester Institute of Technology
This is a great way to see what issues are concerning the student body, both worldwide and on campus. It can show whether the campus is more techy, more artsy, or a good balance of both, depending on what you like.
It can also give you a wider variety photos to take back home with you to give you a different perspective on what goes on in daily campus life!
11. Come back at night.
North Carolina State University (aka second home)
A campus can be completely different at night, especially if you’re at a public school. Try and get a feel for how safe it seems. Are paths well lit? Are there a lot of people around or is it empty? Drive around the ‘border’ of campus as well, especially if it’s in a city or near a busy street. Are there places you could walk to? How close is a grocery store/target/drug store/post office? Are people getting drunk and wandering the streets early? Any suspicious characters hanging around? This may not make or break your decision, as most universities have some part of town in which you shouldn’t be alone at night, but it will help solidify whether you can see yourself as a student there and if it still feels like home.
12. Look lost.
I actually found this tip not too long ago and I think it’s so funny, but really beneficial!
“One of the best tips I have ever heard comes from Joe Greenberg, a regional director of admissions at George Washington University. The best way to get a sense for the culture and community at a college, he said, is to stand in the middle of campus with a map in hand, looking completely bewildered. It is very telling to watch how passers-by respond to a stranger who looks lost.” via
The party doesn’t stop when the info sessions and tours are over. Continue exploring campus and the surrounding area on your own and find your new home!
~What schools are on your short list?