Would you ever buy a house by simply listening to other people's viewpoints about it, viewing it on a website, or seeing a photo of it in the newspaper or brochure? Of course you wouldn't!! Choosing a college is far too expensive a decision to make without personally examining the campus. You should not even apply to a college without first visiting the college and checking out all of its unique characteristics in person. You need to make sure that the college truly is everything you perceive it to be, and the only way you can do that is by getting a firsthand look.
Touring college campuses is an excellent learning experience. As a matter of fact, it might even be eye-opening! You should visit to learn more about the college and to confirm that it will be a place where you want to live and learn during the next four years of your life. Not only will a college visit help you make a final decision to which colleges you want to apply, but it will also help you get a feel for the campus and provide some good information you can use to make your application to that college better.
When to Visit
It is wise to visit a college campus early in your high school experience just to get a sense of the differences between colleges (large vs. small; urban vs. rural), but it is absolutely essential that you plan a serious visit during your junior year of high school and then possibly again during the fall of your senior year before you make out your college applications. If campus interviews are required, you might set those interview dates up to correspond with your visits.
The best time to visit a college campus is when classes are in regular session. You will then be able to experience a typical day on campus by sitting in on classes and perhaps meeting with a professor of your proposed major and seeing and speaking to students who are actually enrolled there. Try to arrange a visit during days you are off from school or during your February vacation or Spring Break so that you can get a real feel for the campus culture. Although it might be possible to visit a few colleges in a single day, it is best to devote an entire day to one college to really get to know the college. Try to visit during a school weekday and not on a weekend when most admission offices are closed and classes are not in session.
You will know when a campus feels right for you...and conversely when it doesn't! This is one time when your intuition will serve you well; you need to go with your gut instinct!
Which Schools to Visit
The answer to this question varies from student to student as it depends on time and financial resources. In the best of circumstances, it would be nice if you could visit all of the schools on your college list. However, this might be impossible due to distance and expense. If this is the case, then at a very minimum, you should select a favorite college from each tier of selectivity: Dream Schools, Probable Schools, and Safety Schools. In addition to these three, visit any college you plan to apply to that is located close to you.
If you can't make a personal visit to the colleges you find interesting, you can always watch the free college videos at FreeCollegeVideos.com to get a feel about the campus and what the college might offer you. You might even find your dream school this way!
How to Arrange a Visit
Plan your visit several months ahead. Then simply call the admissions office at each college at least one month in advance of your intended visit to arrange a campus tour, an information session, and possibly an interview. You might also want to ask if an overnight stay on campus could be arranged. Experiencing the realities of dorm life might be eye-opening for you and provide you with some real-life information on which to make your future decision. Be sure to schedule your appointments so that you will arrive on time, especially if you do not know the area or might have trouble finding the campus or campus offices.
Special Tip! If you can not afford to travel to many colleges, there are companies such as College Visits, Collegiate Explorations, and Education Unlimited that offer an extensive array of college tours to groups of students. This option might be a less expensive alternative for you to see a large number of colleges in your region.
Insider Tip! If you plan to have an interview as part of your college visit, it is best to schedule your interview AFTER the campus tour and information session so that you have a fresh impression of what appeals to you about the college and so you can formulate questions specific to the college before you meet with the interviewer.
How to Prepare for a College Visit
Before you visit the campus, make sure you review the characteristics of the college that appealed to you when you were doing your research on colleges. Prepare a list of questions that will help you verify the information you have about the college. Do not simply ask questions that you can find easily in the college's publications. Dig deeper! This is the time you need to get real insight into the school. Ask questions on topics and issues that are important to you.
What to Do on a College Visit
The # 1 rule for any college visit is to be sure to ask a lot of questions, listen well, and take copious notes on what you hear and see! You should definitely take the college tour and attend the informational session that is conducted by the admissions office, but do not stop there! Explore the campus on your own without your parents. Talk to as many students as you can and get their opinions about the school, both good and bad. If your tour guide did not take you to all of the places on your list that you wanted to see, be sure to check them out on your own. It is good to see the Health Center, athletic facilities, student services center, library, classrooms, labs, and residential halls. Try to gain permission to sit in on a class that interests you. Eat lunch in one of the dining halls; it is an excellent way not only to assess the quality of the food you will be eating for the next four years, but it is also an easy way to chat with students and to ask them questions about their academic and social experience at the college. If you have the time, drive though the town where the college is located and note shopping areas, restaurants, movie theaters, and other recreational sites. And, finally, take home a copy of the campus newspaper; you will learn much about life on campus as well as the concerns of the student body.
Special Tip! Do NOT decide against a school just because you could not relate to your tour guide! Too many students end up doing this! Rather than immediately ruling out a college after the admission's tour is completed, keep your mind open and form your perceptions of the college based upon your whole experience on campus: what you see and learn from other students, faculty members, and admission officers throughout the entire visit.
Insider Tip! Remember to jot down the name of any official you meet: the admissions rep, the professor, the coach, your interviewer, etc. so that you can write a thank you to them when you return home to show your genuine appreciation of the time each person spent with you.
What to Do After a College Visit
Right after you leave campus, review the notes that you took during the day while everything is still fresh in your mind. Then jot down your impressions of the campus, the student body, the facilities, the academics, the social climate, and the location. Be brutally honest so that when it comes time to make a final cut to your college selections, you can compare one college to another with an accurate reading. Discuss your perceptions of the college with your parents and hear what they have to say about the college. It is a nice way to process all of the information gleaned from the college visit.
And, finally, don't forget to write those thank-you notes! Personal contacts can help win admission.
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