The spring is a popular time for high school students and their families to explore college campuses. The weather is beautiful, high schools are on break, and it just feels great to get away from home after the cold, gray winter. The big advantage for families visiting in the spring instead of the summer is that campuses are typically humming with energy, and you can get a sense of not only the campus’s offerings, but the culture and environment as well.
Campus visits are a major step in defining your preferences and shaping your college list. As the former Director of Campus Programs at Georgetown University, I organized campus visits for thousands of students and families each year. Below are my tips to help you make the most of each campus visit.
Schedule ahead of time.
Before buying airline tickets or confirming travel plans, check each college’s web site for information on programs for visiting families. Take advantage of as many of these offerings as possible. At the very least, you will want to attend an information session and campus tour. Some colleges will offer meetings with professors, opportunities to sit in on a class, shadowing a current student, and sometimes, an overnight stay in the residence halls.
If you have a potential top choice school, make sure to schedule that visit first. You don’t want to schedule it last, only to find out that the school is fully booked at the time most convenient for you. From there, schedule the rest of the schools on your list. Please note that the weeks surrounding Presidents’ Day and Easter are extremely popular weeks to visit colleges, so programs can fill up quickly.
Make reasonable plans.
Sure, you could see five schools in one day, but why would you? We find that visiting more than two colleges a day can be pushing it. Schedule a bit of buffer time in between visits so you are not rushed to make it to the next school. Nothing dampens a day of college visits like being pulled over for speeding and arriving late to your next information session.
You will also want to get to your next visit in plenty of time to find parking and the visitor center or admission office. Many schools have a printable map on their web site, so print one and bring it with you. Before you leave home, note the locations for visitor parking and the information session. It is helpful to have these locations in mind as you arrive at the campus.
Do your research in advance.
Investigate each school prior to your visit so you have an idea of the size of the student body, majors offered, average class sizes, etc. Don’t spend your time on campus trying to catch these statistics; instead, observe the general feeling you get from the campus and the people. Your goal of the visit is to experience the intangibles you can’t find on the internet.
Pick up a student newspaper.
Though many student publications now do the majority of their reporting online, most still publish a hard copy newspaper. You can find these publications in student-heavy areas, like the student center, cafeteria, or even the admissions office. These make great reading material between campus visits. The paper will give you insight into the activities being held on campus and hot topics of conversation.
You should schedule time after the planned activities to grab a bite to eat or just walk around the campus. Before leaving a college, take 30 minutes to sit in an on-campus coffee shop or cafeteria, and observe the students and staff. How are they interacting with each other? What are they discussing? Academics? Politics? Gossip? Do the students seem to be people with whom you would get along?
After each visit, jot down some notes about what you did and didn’t like. You should also note the people with whom you spoke, such as the tour guide, professors, and admissions officers. Not only will this help you remember your visit, but also you will then have specific information to include in a “Why X college?’ supplemental essay during the application process. Many colleges use this type of an essay to gauge an applicant’s interest and fit, so providing details gathered from your visit can help you make your case.
After you return home, reflect on your experiences at the different colleges. Review your notes. As you get a better sense of what feels right and what doesn’t, you can explore additional schools that might be of interest. From there, you can start crafting your ultimate college list.
The college visit is an important part of the college search process. Take your time. Enjoy each campus. Ask yourself: can I see myself as a student here?