Few experiences can give you a better feel for whether or not a college is a good fit for you than actually visiting a school. Here are some ways to get the most out of your college visits.
WHEN AND HOW MUCH TIME TO SPEND VISITING A COLLEGE
Visiting a campus when classes and activities are in full swing offers a much better picture of what life at that college is really like. However, even a weekend or vacation visit is preferable to not visiting a campus at all. Spend an hour or two on campus, a half day or day and maybe a weekend if you're really interested in a particular college.
adMISSION POSSIBLE TIP: When you visit a college for the first time, what may be most important is your "gut feeling" about it. Author Malcolm Gladwell calls this "the blink factor." That is, if you like (or don't like) the look and feel of a school during the first few minutes, you probably will feel the same from that point on.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO ON A COLLEGE VISIT
1. Visit The College Admissions Office
With the exception of large state universities that cannot personalize their admissions, these days many colleges give admissions preferences to students who show "demonstrated interest." One of the strongest demonstrations of interest is visiting a college campus. For the admissions office to know that you have visited, stop by their office and sign in. Also, ask to meet the admissions representative who is assigned to your high school.
adMISSION POSSIBLE TIP: Most colleges have several admissions representatives, each one responsible for giving the first read to applications from students at high schools in specific regions. It is to your advantage to meet and get to know your high school's admissions representative for the colleges you're interested in. Having frequent, personal contact with a college admissions office can be a "tip factor" in getting admitted to a college. (Other ways to meet your admissions person include attending a local college fair and making a point to speak to the representative, or meeting him or her during a visit they may make to your high school).
Group Information Sessions
Many college admissions offices offer group information sessions, where a staff person gives a short presentation about admissions at the college and answers questions from the audience.
adMISSION POSSIBLE TIP: Treat the group information session like an interview. Dress nicely, be on your best behavior, and think ahead of time of questions you may want to ask, particularly things that cannot be answered from reading the college's literature or website. Admissions officers do take note of students they meet at information sessions, particularly those that stand out both positively and negatively.
What If the Admissions Office Is Closed?
If you visit a campus over a weekend, when the admissions office is closed, follow up with a short email to the school's admissions rep. Be sure to let the person know you visited the campus. If you don't know who the rep is, call the admissions office for his/her name and email address.
Extra credit: In the note, highlight one or two of the most memorable parts of your visit, and explain how they increased your interest in attending.
2. Take A Campus Tour
Most admissions offices offer free campus tours led by students. This is a good way to see as much of a campus as you can in a short amount of time and meet at least one student. Check for tour days and times before your trip.
3. Talk With Current Students
One of the best ways of getting to know a college is to talk with current students. Ask teachers, your counselor, friends and family if they know students at a particular college. Also inquire at admissions offices about students to talk to, or strike up a conversation with a student you bump into on campus. Ask about likes and dislikes, dorms, study spots, faculty, social life, weekend activities, and other things of specific interest to you.
4. Check Out Places Where You Are Likely To Spend Time
If you are a fitness nut, then check out the recreation center. If you are into theater, go see the performing arts center. If you have a learning disability, visit the learning services center. Everyone should spend a little time in the student center.
5. Walk Or Drive Through The Adjacent Town Or Community
When you go away to college, you're not only moving to a college campus, but also to the surrounding area. Check out whatever is around campus. Look at the stores, cafes, bookstores, and movie houses.
FINANCIAL HELP FOR STUDENTS WHO CAN'T AFFORD COLLEGE VISITS
For students who are financially constrained, call admissions offices to see if they have "fly-in" programs, where colleges pick up the costs of the visit.