Explore 7 Types of College Campus Visits

US News & World Report

By Jordan Friedman
June 15, 2017

Group tours allow prospective students to explore campus culture, but those who live far away might consider virtual options.

By late spring 2015, Ashley DiFonzo had been accepted to five colleges. To determine the right fit, she says, getting a sense of campus culture was critical.

“I did not want to end up hopping around schools,” she said via email. “It is inconvenient, stressful and ultimately more expensive.”

Because four were located near her Conway, Missouri, home, DiFonzo signed up for campus tours and also visited friends at the colleges for less formal visits. But because Liberty University in Virginia was farther away, DiFonzo toured that school virtually several times.

Experts say visiting colleges during the application process or after being admitted enables prospective students to more closely understand what it’s like to be a student, giving them insight beyond the information on school websites.

Here are seven types of college visits prospective students should consider.

1. Walking tours: A common college visit is a campus group walking tour typically led by a current undergraduate student tour guide and lasting a few hours. These generally require advanced registration and include an information session where an admissions officer discusses campus life and academics along with the application process and financial aid.

2. Open houses: This option typically provides more detailed insight into a college’s academic offerings compared with the standard group tour, generally allowing prospective students to speak with and hear from staff and faculty about different academic programs, clubs and support services, says Janice Caine, owner and founder of Custom College Visits, a company that helps prospective students plan trips to multiple schools.

Open houses typically also include tours and information sessions, she says, and last several hours with a somewhat predetermined itinerary and possibly different sessions to choose from. Open houses are in many ways similar to what some refer to as accepted student days or weekends, which are geared toward admitted students who need to finalize enrollment, though these events might involve more one-on-one interaction with faculty and potential classmates, Caine says.

“It is more in-depth than what you would get during your standard tour,” Caine says of open houses. “And people do need to have the time to be able to do that.”

3. Self-guided tours: This type of college tour allows students and their families to explore campus at their own pace whenever they wish and might benefit those with limited time. The school typically provides detailed maps and guidebooks – and in some cases, audio – to help them navigate.

4. Virtual tours: These virtual offerings, accessible from home, often provide a glimpse into the school’s campus through multimedia. In some cases, students can actually navigate the campus from a first-person perspective through virtual reality, though the specifics vary across colleges.

Virtual tours are a good option for those who can’t afford to physically visit or who want to narrow down their list of schools to visit in person, says Liz Creighton, dean of admission and financial aid at Williams College in Massachusetts.

But they also have disadvantages, says Jasmin Pivaral, assistant director of freshman recruitment for the University of California—Los Angeles undergraduate admissions.

“This way you’re not able to really get a sense for the environment, student life – even weather, which can sometimes be very important,” she says. “So it’s very limiting and probably one of the last cases if you’re unable to come in person.”

5. Extended visits: For some prospective or admitted students, a walking tour alone isn’t enough to choose a college.

If that’s the case, students might schedule an extended visit to potentially meet with a professor or admissions officer and attend a class. Availability and registration requirements vary, and spaces often fill up quickly.

6. Overnight visits: At some colleges, such as the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University, high school seniors can register to stay with a current student overnight, experiencing life on campus and attending classes.

“They also are having a chance to see what dorm life is like, talking to the kids in the dorm, actually sleeping there, going for a meal, that type of thing,” says Caine. “It’s a little bit less organized than when you’re doing an extended visit.”

When Patrick Hennessey visited Claremont McKenna College in California, where he is now a junior, a student who played lacrosse hosted him – Hennessey planned to play the sport in college.

“I got to meet the team, I got to see where they lived,” says the 20-year-old. “You get kind of the more honest college experience.”

7. Diversity fly-in programs: Some colleges pay for high-achieving high school seniors to visit campus and stay overnight for a few days. Often, these programs are open to students from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds.

Prospective or admitted students may meet with admissions and financial aid officers, stay in the dorms and interact with those from similar backgrounds, among other activities. In many cases, the college covers associated costs, though this varies by school.

For first-generation college-bound students, participating in these programs “shows the diligence with which they are approaching their college search and helps demonstrate their interest,” Ashley Kollme, principal college admissions counselor at the higher education consulting company IvyWise, said via email.

Whichever type of college visit prospective students choose, experts say they should be sure to schedule in advance, brainstorm questions to ask and do some research beforehand.