Besides a home purchase, a college education is the single largest expense and investment you’ll likely ever make.
Just as you would never think to buy a home sight unseen, decisions on selecting a college shouldn’t be made solely on information gathered from a guidebook, a website or a school’s reputation. Seeing a college in the flesh, walking around the campus, getting a feel for the college culture and talking to students will enrich your decision-making process.
A college visit is typically comprised of an information session and a campus tour.
The information session is led by a representative from the admissions office and will answer questions about the student population, academic life, student life and the admissions process.
Campus tours are usually guided by a student ambassador, so it’s a great time to get a student’s perspective of the school. Some smaller colleges allow interviews, however, many larger colleges don’t have the capacity to offer interviews to prospective students.
Here’s how you can make the most of your visits:
- Plan ahead. Schedule your campus visit by going to each college’s website, under the admissions tab, to check availability. If possible, go when classes are in session; it’s the best time to check out the vibe you’ll get by being on a humming campus. An empty campus is not very appealing. Be aware that spring break is the most popular time to visit, and some schools have limited space for their information sessions and tours.
- Dress appropriately. Most tours will take place regardless of the weather, so be prepared. Don’t forget an umbrella. If it’s too hot, it makes great shade. If it’s rainy, you’ll stay dry. Wear comfortable shoes; you’ll be walking all over the college campus.
- Document your trip. Take notes from each session. Bring a camera. It will help you remember the schools when you return home.
- Grab a campus newspaper. Read through the latest issue, find out the hot topics and check out what people do for entertainment, as well as the sense of political activism on campus.
- Tune in to campus radio. It’s a great way to investigate the range of musical tastes, as well as political and cultural opportunities.
- Sit in on a class. Make arrangements ahead of time. Many colleges make it easy by providing an online listing of classes that welcome visiting students. Make sure you e-mail the professor requesting permission and arrive early to introduce yourself.
- Ask questions. Wander around. Ask students, not guides, what they love about their school, what’s the one thing they would change and why they chose this college.
- Eat on campus. Try the dining hall food and talk to students there.
- Check out dorms. Try to see a freshman dorm room that wasn’t shown on the tour.
- Look for consistency in the messages presented. Ask the same question of several people.
After the tour:
- Try not to be judgmental. Don’t hate or love a school because the food was terrible or you had a fabulous tour guide.
- Do your homework at home and ask good questions when you’re on campus. Don’t ask questions you can find out from the web.
- Stay in touch. Make sure to get the business cards of anyone you meet – admissions officers, professors, even tour guides. Send them thank-you notes and keep in touch.