Choosing a college is a huge decision, which is why schools offer college visits. A college visit is a way for students to take a small tour of a school they’re thinking of attending.
With standardized tests, applications, and your own classes, you might think a college visit is going to be the straw that’ll break the camel’s back (the camel in this situation being you—embrace it). When it’s time to make that final college decision, though, visits like these can make your life a lot easier. That’s why we’re going over the basics on how to do them successfully.
How to Sign Up
Like camels, college visits come in many shapes and sizes. These include casual weekday tours, larger open houses, self-guided tours, and even virtual tours for students who can’t make it to campus. Schools may also have different tours geared toward different students, such as students who haven’t applied yet, students who were recently admitted, or students interested in specific programs. All these college tours are led by admissions, and you can easily find more about them on the school’s website.
You can of course just walk onto campus without signing up for anything—that will be an adventure in itself—but if you’re traveling all that way to learn more about the school, we recommend you interact with the admissions department somehow during your visit. You’ll get more access, information, and insight than you would if you were just wandering around by yourself. Find out what options work best for you and your family, and make a plan.
Don’t forget that in-person visits aren’t the only way to get to know your university of choice. Plenty of schools offer virtual visits, which means you can see and learn all about your future campus without ever leaving your house. If you don’t have the time or resources to visit college campuses in person, virtual visits are the solution. Ask your schools of interest what their virtual tour options are, and then take advantage of the opportunity to go on illuminating campus tours without changing out of your pajamas.
How to Prepare
You won’t be preparing for anything if you don’t sign up! Make sure you do. You can sign up online or contact the admissions department of the college you want to see.
Next, it’s a good idea to know where you’re going and how to get there. You can get pretty confused if you show up to campus without a clue as to where you’re supposed to be. Knowing things like which exit to take off the highway and what building to park at will make your day start off a lot more smoothly.
To help keep your day running smoothly, be sure to look up the forecast beforehand and dress for the weather. Don’t forget things like gloves and hats, or sunglasses and sunscreen, or umbrellas and water bottles, or skis and scuba gear, or anything else you usually need on long walks. If you’re not sure, bring along an extra jacket that you can throw on if you need to. And don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes.
You’ll learn a lot on the tour, so it’s okay if you don’t do too much research ahead of time. Still, it might be helpful to bring along a list of questions that you can fill out during your visit. Here are some to get you started:
- How many students are usually in a class?
- How easy is it to get to classes?
- Do most students live in residence halls after their first year?
- What clubs or nonacademic opportunities do you have on campus?
- How many giraffes will I see on a typical day?
- Are there any areas on or off campus that aren’t safe?
- Are there any bus/train/cab services that students use to go home on weekends or for breaks?
- Who do I contact if I have questions about the application?
Your questions may be different depending on what stage you’re at in your college search, but these can be a good starting point.
When You’re There
Traffic was worse than your parents thought, and now your dad is in one of those angry moods where he doesn’t say anything. You’ve reverted to that fussy, 13-year-old version of yourself that you all thought you grew out of. There’s a fight over where to eat lunch.
The bottom line is that the idea of college is probably going to stress both you and your family out, even if you don’t realize it, and that this stress will come out in all kinds of ways. These things always happen when a big change is on its way, and your transition to college is indeed a big change. Remember that even though change can make things confusing and uncomfortable, it also opens the door to exciting opportunities and personal growth. Hang in there.
And while your parents (or anyone else you’re going with) are there for you on your college tour, you should also be there for them. You and everyone else will have such a better experience if you make an effort to be patient and open-minded.
During your visit, be honest about how you feel. Have an idea about what to look for when touring each school. Even with all the stress, try to focus on what you’re there for (visiting a college) rather than what you’re not there for.
After You Leave
After you get off campus, it’s a good idea to take some notes on what stuck out to you. How much did the college live up to your expectations? If you haven’t already, you might want to print out our college visit guide to help organize your thoughts.
Try consolidating your notes into a simple pros and cons chart. You can do this right after each college visit and compare them later. It will help you answer the golden question, “What college is right for me?”
You’ll have different experiences during each college visit, but remember to keep an open mind and be honest with yourself. Everything will be fine—and, should you visit the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, everything will also be orange and blue.