For many soon-to-be high school seniors, the decision about where to go to college is a difficult one. Several factors influence into the final decision -- cost, degrees offered, extracurriculars, and of course, location. Before committing thousands of dollars to one college, it’s important to get a feel for its campus. Even with Google and virtual college tours, nothing can compare with actually stepping onto a college campus and getting a feeling for its environment and people.
Before you even hit the road for any campus visits, narrow down the schools you want to visit. If you’re considering a dozen choices, you certainly can’t visit them all. So do some research beforehand and look at the school’s programs, the degrees they offer, and search around for what students or alumni say about it. Select a handful of colleges to visit that you are seriously considering.
To make the most of your college visit, follow these tips:
1. Choose the right time
Most college visits usually occur during the summer after graduation, but it’s not a bad idea to get a head start. Consider taking a family road trip during your teen’s junior year in high school. Also, make sure you schedule a visit while school is in session so you get a realistic idea of campus life. Mondays through Thursdays are the optimal time to visit because the campus will likely be at its most normal and you can get a sense for student life.
According to the College Board, the late summer and early September before senior year are the most convenient times to visit colleges because many schools begin their fall semester as early as mid-August. You might also consider making a campus visit on a high school holiday because many colleges are in session on those days and you won’t miss any of your classes.
2. Ask questions
Come prepared with any questions that you might have. Ask about campus life, academic programs, or any opportunities and activities that you might interest you. Be thoughtful and specific about the questions you ask. You’ll meet a bunch of people, including current students at the college you’re visiting. Use that as an opportunity to get some real answers -- not just those offered by your campus tour guide.
3. Take time to explore
By all means, go ahead and take the campus tour that’s offered by the college. But if you really want to get an idea of the campus culture and its surroundings, you’ll have to explore on your own. Walk around before or after the official campus tour ends and get a feel for your surroundings and the people there.
4. Be sure to visit campus facilities
From the health center to the gym, classrooms to the bookstore -- explore as much of the campus as you can. It will help you better orient yourself and allow you to meet different people. Moreover, it will give you a better sense of the campus.
5. Talk with someone from your major
If you have an idea about what you might major in, seek out the chairperson or a professor in the department. Hang around the building where your classes will be held and talk with a student and ask about your potential major. These students haven’t been trained to market the school and can give you valuable insight into the college and your major.
6. Ask about or eat the food
You’ll probably be spending a lot of time eating in dining halls while at college. So why not check it out for yourself? Taste some of the food -- or at least check for cleanliness and selection of foods offered. Even if you can’t visit one, be sure to ask students about the food.
While you are visiting the college campus, meet with as many people as you can. If you have an interest in music, seek out the music directors on campus and introduce yourself. If you are athletically inclined, meet with coaches or workers in the athletics department. Developing these relationships early will help you if you choose to go to the school. Even if you’re not sure what interests or extracurricular activities you might want to pursue, introducing yourself to employees on campus can’t hurt -- and in many cases it might help you develop solid relationships.
8. Read the newspaper
The student newspaper can give you a good idea about the issues affecting students on campus. Pick up a copy and see what’s really going on at the colleges you’re considering.
9. Explore the town
While you’ll probably spend the bulk of your time on campus, chances are you will be hitting the town occasionally as well. If you’ve got the time, drive around town and get a feel for it. If you don't like the vibe of the city, it might help you make your decision.
10. Take pictures and notes
Document the things that you like and dislike about the school. Be detailed. Chances are you’ll be visiting lots of schools and you won’t remember everything.