THE BLOG
02/01/2013 03:01 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2013

No Plans for the Break? Visit Colleges

February is almost here and most high schools have a break coming up in February. This break is a great time for juniors to begin the process of narrowing down their college choices by visiting the colleges they are considering.

Most colleges offer virtual campus tours and visiting colleges can be time consuming and expensive. But the visit is one of the most important parts of the college selection process. Why? Because if you decide later that the college your attending isn't right for you it will cost you thousands of dollars and possibly a delay in graduation to change your mind.

Just like looking at your friend's vacation pictures from Costa Rica doesn't really give you an idea of what it's like to be there, a virtual tour of a college campus won't give you insight into how it is to be on campus. College campuses are like people they have their own personality and just like with people you don't click with every personality. College websites, catalogs and brochures are designed to entice students into applying so without a campus visit you are applying blindly and that is never a good idea.

College visits can help you in the admissions process as well. An official visit lets the school know you have a serious interest in the school. Your interest was strong enough to get you to the campus for more information. Strong interest can play a role in the college's admissions decisions. The visit can also make the daunting task of the essay a little easier. It's not as hard to talk about how that college meets your needs if you have been there and can talk in a heartfelt way about why you want to attend.

Your visit should include: a formal campus tour, some time for the student to wander around by themselves, an interview if the campus offers this opportunity, and a possible overnight stay. Don't forget about the town surrounding the college. While on campus read the newspaper, talk with students and if possible faculty in the major you're considering, eat in the cafeteria. Take notes during the process as they will be helpful later when you compare colleges side by side.

One of the most important things you'll learn from visiting colleges are what your needs are. After visiting a few colleges you'll know what your preferences are for: location, size, activities, cost, control, student types and setting to name a few. At the end of it all, a good college experience where you can earn your degree in four years and graduate without getting into too much debt will set you on the road to a more successful future.

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