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Figuring Out Your College Visit Packing List

Friday, January 27, 2023

What to take on college visitsEvery college visit is a crucial part of the college search process. After all, the best way to learn about a college and its campus is to actually experience it first-hand. The spring semester is a great time to start planning college visits, as students have upcoming spring breaks that they can use to travel.

What many families don’t realize, however, is that there is a significant amount of planning needed before hitting the road. It’s important for students to do their research and come equipped with questions to ask admissions officers and tour guides, and have an idea of what they want to see while they’re there.

In addition to information sessions, tours, lodging, etc., families also need to plan what to pack! Whether you’re taking a day trip to visit a college nearby or embarking on a weeklong tour, here’s what you need to bring –and what you should leave behind.

What to Bring On Your Tours  

A Recorder

Information sessions provide ample opportunity to gather important facts and details about a college, but it can be difficult to take quick, legible notes while still being alert and in the moment. The recording function on your smartphone is a great alternative to sloppy scribbling. The setup also makes it easy to access the taped information later — say, when working on an application form or personal statement. Of course, if an admissions officer requests that audience members do not record or photograph a portion of the session, you’ll have to abide by his or her rules! Be sure to ask first.

A Camera

During your tour, snap pictures of interesting places you discover on campus. The camera on your smartphone is great, but make sure you have enough space for lots of photos. These snapshots will come in handy down the road after you’ve completed multiple college visits and need help remembering certain places or details from other tours. Maybe looking back at an image of that pretty quad will even inspire you to get a head start on your application!

A Notebook and Pen

While recorders are definitely helpful, there’s nothing wrong with having a good old notebook and pen on hand to make note of important pieces of information during an info session or tour. Making a physical note of dates and deadlines is always useful — a planner can come in handy here as well. You can also jot down any questions that occur to you, as well as names of intriguing speakers or programs.

Weather-Appropriate Clothing and Shoes

Comfort is key when touring a campus. Leave the high heels and blister-inducing flats behind, as you’ll certainly be doing a lot of walking and will need to keep up with the tour group. Make sure you check the weather before arriving on campus and bring anything (i.e. an umbrella, mittens, or sunscreen) that may come in handy during your visit.

Your Appetite

Come hungry and grab a bite in the dining hall before or after your tour — you may even get a special card or coupon from the admissions office that you can apply toward your meal. If you have extra time, it could also be fun to sample a restaurant in the school’s downtown area or try out the university snack bar in order to get a “taste” of the offerings both on campus and nearby.

A Student’s Contact Info

Maybe a family friend or former high school classmate is enrolled at the college you’re touring, but tracking him or her down the day of your visit will likely prove difficult. If there’s a student you’d like to meet up with, get in touch a week or so before your visit in order to compare schedules. The day of, make sure you have his or her cell phone number in tow — you may have more trouble than you anticipated finding him or her in a specific dorm or dining hall. Grabbing a meal or attending a campus event with a current student is always a great way to get a sense of a school’s culture and hear from someone other than a tour guide.

An ID Card or Passport

If you’re wandering around on your own, you may need a form of identification in order to access certain buildings, such as the library. Keep this safe but handy in case it’s required.

What to Leave at Home

Clothing from Another College

It may seem obvious, but the odds are, your usual rotation includes a shirt or two bearing the name of a university. Similarly, it’s likely you’ve combined college visits into one big trip and have picked up some gear from one place or another along the way. Before you head out the door for a tour, make sure that you aren’t accidentally representing another college by mistake—you’ll thank yourself later! Some colleges track visits as part of demonstrated interest so don’t show up to your Brown visit wearing a Princeton shirt.


Once you arrive, put away the headphones and appreciate your surroundings — you came all the way to campus to get the full visitor experience, after all. You’ll also come off as more approachable while you’re exploring on your own.

A Negative Attitude

Maybe a school just doesn’t seem as great as you had anticipated or you don’t find yourself relating to your tour guide. Just remember that this is one college visit and there are opportunities for many, many more. Even if you traveled a long distance to visit a college that turns out to be blah, don’t feel bad — better to realize you aren’t a fan of the place now than after you’ve sent in your tuition deposit!

What essentials would you add to either of these lists? Let us know in the comments below!


Related Topics

College Prep, College Visits
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