There are 3,500 plus colleges and universities in the United States. How, among the many, will you choose the few that will be right for you? This five-part series is designed to help filter out the nonsense so that you can focus on the most important factors at play as you find the school that is right for you.
Beyond all of your research on the internet, in general reference materials and all the view books, video tapes, catalogues, and brochures from individual schools, there is nothing like visiting a campus and seeing for yourself what a school is like. You will want to visit schools that especially interest you, and certainly the ones that accept you, once you have completed the application process. If you are lucky enough to be able to visit major cities with loads of colleges, like Boston or Philadelphia, then by all means, go and see as many schools as you can. You can visit virtually any type of college available within driving distance to get a good sense of what may appeal to you when deciding where to visit. Some of the area colleges might approximate the size and setting of an out-of-state school that you may be considering.
Before the Tour
- The timing of a visit can make a significant difference in your impressions and opinion of the school. Try to plan your visit when school is in session, if at all possible.
- Advance planning with the college’s admission office is important to help you make the most of your visit. Most colleges encourage campus visits, and many publish special brochures to help you plan one. The admissions office can assist you with travel information, driving directions, and scheduling your itinerary (distances/driving times to nearby schools, the feasibility of visiting their school and another on the same day, etc).
- Call the admissions office, and set up a day and time for a tour. If this is a serious visit, you might want to ask about staying overnight in a residence hall. Ask if they can make arrangements. If this is not possible, ask for assistance in finding lodging for the night, if you need a place to stay. Some offices have arrangements with hotels or motels in the area.
- During your visit, try to meet with someone from the admission office, attend an information session, and take a tour of the campus. If you have time sit in on a class in a major that interests you. Talk to students about the pros and cons. Students love to give hindsight information and they don’t have anything to gain by you attending their school so the information is valuable.
- Learn all you can and take notes. You will never be indifferent after a college visit. You will have strong impressions. Write them down, good or bad, and start learning about what you want in terms of size, type of school, people, dorms, activities, etc. You might want to make a comparison chart to take with you if you plan to see several schools at one time. If you do not make notes of some kind, you will find that your memory of specifics becomes vague after visiting several schools.
- Follow up with a thank you note to the admissions person who helped you arrange your tour, or who spent time with you on campus.
What to Look for On a Tour
- General appearance of the campus (poor maintenance, vandalism, campus pride)
- Student attire (J. Crew, Gap, very casual, sloppy)
- Friendliness (eye contact, offer to help, hello’s)
- Student conversations (topic, tone, classes, papers, books, parties)
- Transportation (bikes, cars, foot, shuttles)
- Faculty presence (office hours posted, open doors, student interaction)
- Library (hours, easy access)
- Laboratory and computer facilities (hours, easy access)
- Fine arts facilities (studios, practice rooms, performances)
- Residence Halls (singles, doubles, suites, coed, substance free or wellness, guaranteed housing)
Questions to Ask Campus Representatives on a College Visit
What percent of applicants are accepted?
What percent of first year students return as sophomores?
What percent of entering students actually graduate?
In how many years?
How much flexibility will I have in my curriculum?
Can I double major?
Is a core curriculum required?
What is the average class size?
What is the faculty/student ratio?
Will I be taught by graduate assistants?
What percentage of the faculty teach first and second year students?
How many credits/classes do students usually take in one term?
What percent of graduates who apply to law school are admitted? Medical school?
Questions to Ask Students on a College Visit
Stop several students and ask them about the school and their programs. Watch for their facial expressions and any hesitation in their voice. Some sample questions you could ask:
If they were choosing a college today would this college be their first choice?
Is there is anything about the school they could change? If so, what would it be?
What are the school’s strongest or most popular majors?
Is housing guaranteed for freshmen?
Will you need a car?
Can you have a car on campus?
Is there public transportation to nearby destinations (shopping, museums, etc)?
Can you get something to eat after 10pm?
Also, ask questions about your own particular interests, such as internships in your field, fraternities/sororities, student organizations, intramural leagues and/or club sports, student government, and what campus life is like on the weekends.
Other Helpful Activities When You Are on a Campus
Look at school newspapers, kiosks, and bulletin boards for activities that interest you and give you insight into issues students care about.
Eat in the dining hall (you might need permission from the admissions officer).
Visit the student union.
Talk to professors of classes or majors you may be interested in.
Talk to coaches if you plan to play a sport.
Visit the housing complexes.
Visit the libraries.
Visit colleges virtually if you cannot travel
If you cannot visit a college campus use the web to get a sense of the school and its surroundings. Then, utilize the web for additional information that can make the difference for you (Facebook, citydata, MySpace, local business owners located near the school, city or town website). Make phone calls and read about the area of the school – there are people out there that will help you if you make the effort.