High school juniors and seniors around the world, listen to me. You are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but let’s face it, college is a big deal. As you start the process of applying to colleges, you’ll likely be visiting many campuses. It’s important to make the most of a college visit. Let’s talk about how you can do that.
1. Visit the college when school is in session.
If you can, it’s best to visit a college during the academic year. This can be difficult as it likely means that you’ll need to take a day off from your already busy junior or senior year.
A good time to visit is toward the end of August. Most universities begin their fall semester in mid-to-late August while most high schools start in early September. There are about two weeks when you can visit a college campus without having to take time off from school.
Another option for juniors: visit during your spring vacation. Most high schools have different spring breaks than colleges so this can also be a good time to go so you can witness the campus life in full swing.
You can still visit the school campus during the summer but, except for summer school students, the campus isn’t going to be nearly as busy as it would be during the school year so you won’t necessarily get an accurate picture of campus life.
2. See a typical dorm room.
Keep in mind when you’re looking at colleges, the school representatives are trying to impress you. They want people to apply to their school! They’ll be putting their best foot forward. If the tour guide decides to show you a dorm room, he or she will likely show you their brightest and largest dorm room. To the extent that it’s possible, visit a more standard dorm room, one that freshmen will live in. If you know someone from your high school who attends the university, see if you can connect with that person to visit their dorm room.
On one college tour I took, the tour guide showed the group a suite style room: two doubles with a shared bathroom. The suite was very nice!!! But it was also atypical for freshmen. For the most part, freshmen lived in standard white cinderblock dorm rooms with the common bathroom down the hall.
Regarding the residence halls, you may want to consider things like, how far is the laundry room? Are there nice common areas? Are there study rooms in the dorms? What kinds of amenities are offered in the dorm? How many elevators are there? Is there a common kitchen? Vending machines? Are students allowed to have microwaves in their room?
3. Be prepared with questions.
Research the college ahead of time to determine what types of things you may want to ask about. Know what your priorities are when visiting a college. Here are several questions you may consider asking:
- Where do freshmen live? How easy/difficult is it to get on campus housing? Do most students live in a double or are a lot of students assigned a triple?
- What is the surrounding town like? Are there shuttles that run to town? How often do they run?
- Do professors have a lot of office hours? Is it easy to meet with professors? How accessible are they? What is the student-faculty ratio?
- How safe is the campus? How are the residence halls secured? How well lit is the campus at night? For more information on campus safety, check out this article from US News & World Report: College Safety: Questions to Ask.
- What kinds of opportunities are there to study abroad? Do a lot of students study abroad at some point?
- What are some of the most popular activities/organizations on campus?
- How late does the library stay open? How late does the recreational facility stay open?
- Do many students belong to a fraternity or sorority?
4. Go with your instincts
What do you think of the environment? Does it seem as though the students are friendly? Are they stressed? Do they seem happy? Could you see yourself fitting in at the university?
To give an example of this, I know one student who visited two Connecticut universities on the same day. She was very interested in attending the first college but was only looking at the second college because it was nearby. After tours of each campus, she didn’t even apply to the first college! She thought the students seemed a bit snobby whereas everyone was friendly at the second school.
5. Eat a meal there.
If possible, go to a dining hall and have a meal! Is the dining hall a scene of chaos with long lines and cranky students? Are there a lot of food options including healthy meals? Grab lunch and see what you think. You may be pleasantly surprised! You can also talk to students who attend to see what they think of the food. If you don’t know anyone who goes there, do some research online.
Your tour guide will likely be a student so this provides you with a great opportunity to ask questions from someone who is actually attending the college! He or she will likely give you a truthful assessment of the dining hall food.
6. Visit the campus center.
If you have the time, visit the campus center to get a feel for all the happenings. Go to the bookstore and look around. Look at the bulletin boards, flyers, and posters. See what kinds of events and social activities are happening around campus. Are there events that you’d be interested in? Are there clubs you could see yourself joining? If there is a campus newspaper, get one and read it! Hanging around at the campus center is a great way to get a feel for student life.
7. Look for red flags.
My nephew and I went on one college tour and airplanes flew directly over the campus. It was a frequent occurrence; a very busy city airport was nearby so the tour guide had to frequently pause her comments because we couldn’t hear her. It was LOUD. If you want to hang outside on the quad, that noise may bother you! Red flag!
On a college tour with my son, the students were protesting that particular week and all classes were canceled! Nearly 40 students had taken up residence in one of the administrative buildings. It probably wasn’t the best time to visit the campus considering that the visit was not a snapshot of the typical college life at that school but we learned a lot by reading all of the protest signs around the school!
The Bottom Line
If you think you’ve found your college, ask yourself, “can I see myself spending four years of my life here?” If the answer is “yes,” great! If “no,” well, keep looking – there is a school for you!
If you think student loans are inevitable to pay for college, think again – here are 6 alternatives to reduce or eliminate your need for student loans!
About the author:
Jean-Marie Gard is an independent math teacher and tutor based in Massachusetts. You can get in touch with Jean-Marie at https://testpreptoday.com/.