It’s back-to-school season and with the start of the new school year comes new opportunities for students to visit the colleges and universities on their balanced college list as part of the college research process.
At IvyWise, we recommend that students visit their top-choice colleges when school is in session in order to get a true feel of the campus while real students are there! Fall is a popular college visit time, as juniors continue to build and refine their college lists and college-bound seniors fit in some last-minute campus tours before submitting their college applications. It’s also a great time for younger students like freshmen and sophomores to do some casual college visits while on short fall breaks or even accompany an older sibling on their own visits.
Before visiting, however, it’s important for students and parents to prepare, and often this includes getting some of their most pressing college visit questions answered. Here are some common college visit FAQs that families can review while planning visits this fall.
Why are college visits important?
It’s important to visit colleges and universities of interest as part of building a balanced college list. Not only does it allow students to supplement the research they’ve already done on the school, but it can also be an important “gut check.” Often times students who might be on the fence about a school will fall in love after a visit. Other times, a student’s first-choice school might come off their list if they visit and don’t like it. College visits allow students to actually step on campus and get a taste for what life could be like if they attended that school. After all, students will be spending the next four years of their life there. You wouldn’t move into a new house without checking it out first, right?
When should I visit colleges on my balanced college list?
Ideally students will visit colleges while school is in session, either in the fall or spring. Students should aim to start visiting their schools of interest in the fall of junior year and continue to plan visits through senior year until they’ve visited most or all of the schools on their list. As we mentioned earlier, it’s wise for students to start visiting schools even earlier, during freshman and sophomore years, as part of the research process when thinking about what they want out of their college experience. If students have an older sibling that’s currently going through the college admissions process, they should plan to tag along so they can get a feel for different schools. Families should also plan to visit any local universities in order to kick off the college search process and stop in to see some nearby colleges when on vacation. Doing some preliminary college visits can go a long way toward helping students learn about different types of schools and what they eventually want when building their college lists.
What do I need to do to prepare for visits?
Never go into a college visit unprepared. Even if a student is just casually checking out a campus, they need to do their homework beforehand so they know where to go, what to see, and other points of interest. Students should learn as much as they can about the school so that they can ask informed questions during their visit and make the most of their experience on campus. Don’t just plan for the walking tour. Register for an information session (more on that later), see if they can sit in on a class, explore their accommodation options (is there a hotel on campus or can students stay in a dorm?), and learn about the surrounding community. Plan to eat at least one meal (lunch) in a dining hall and try to grab dinner at a local restaurant that’s popular with the college crowd. A well-planned college visit allows students to make the most of their time on campus and get to know the surrounding town/city.
What research should students do before visiting?
Research is key when planning college visits, but not just because students need to know what sites and places of interest to explore while on campus. Research is also key to learning everything possible about the school in order to ask informed questions during the information sessions and guided tours. Students need to ensure they’ve done proper research on the school, their programs and professors of interest, admissions process and requirements, and more so that they don’t ask basic information questions while they’re there. This is your chance to get information straight from the source, so you shouldn’t waste it on information that can easily be found online.
What should students bring on college visits?
College visits are a marathon – not a sprint – so students should come prepared but not overloaded with unnecessary accessories. First, wear comfortable, weather appropriate clothing. If it’s going to be warm, pack shorts and a t-shirt (but nothing with a logo of another university on it!) and maybe a sweater just in case it’s chilly inside the campus buildings. If rain is in the forecast, bring a rain jacket and/or umbrella. A college tour isn’t the time for a fashion show, so ditch any uncomfortable stylish shoes for sneakers or sandals with plenty of support and cushioning. Feel free to bring a camera in order to take photos while you’re on campus, but your smartphone will be more than enough. Students should think about how they plan to take notes. Is it easier to write things down? Or would they prefer to keep it all stored in their phone? Students should pack a notepad and pen to jot down notes while they’re there so they’re not on their phones too much during the visit.
How many schools should students visit in one day?
We recommend that families visit no more than two schools in one day. As we said before, visits are a marathon! Families need time to do the information session, guided tour, any class audits or professor meet and greets, and explore the campus a little on their own. Trying to cram three or four visits into one day leaves little time to really get to know a campus and can make the details of each visit blur together. Instead, plan to visit one school in the morning and another in the afternoon in order to give students adequate time to do all the necessary activities at each school.
What should students do while on campus?
As much as they can! In addition to the information session and walking tour, students should plan to do some sight-seeing on their own. Find some points of interest not covered on the walking tour and explore them afterward. If possible, students should plan to audit a class of interest (this can be set up beforehand) or meet with a professor in their intended major. Spend some time hanging out in the dining hall and university union. Check out the on-campus fitness center and tour a dorm if possible. Then, spend some time off campus. Explore the surrounding community. How close is the local grocery store? What restaurants and shops are popular? Is public transportation fairly easy to navigate both on and off-campus? These are all things students can learn about during their time on campus.
What is an information session and should families register for it?
Most colleges host information sessions as part of a formal college visit, which is then followed by a guided walking tour of the campus. We advise families to register for information sessions well ahead of their planned visit in order to ensure they have the chance to meet with admissions officers and that the school has a record of their visit for demonstrated interest purposes. Information sessions are often led by a member of the admissions team, where they cover basic information about the school, admissions requirements, what the school is looking for in applicants, and more. This is your opportunity to get information from the people who actually make these decisions, so it’s wise to come prepared with a well-thought out list of questions. Afterward, students should ask for the contact information of the admissions officer leading the session in order to send a thank you and any follow up questions they may have after the visit.
What should students ask during the tour?
As we said above, the information session is usually followed by a guided walking tour of the school, usually led by a current student. This is your opportunity to see the school from the perspective of a student and get any questions about campus life answered by someone living there right now! Ask about their experiences on campus. Is the campus easy to navigate? What are their class sizes like? How are the dorms and the dining hall food? Do they find it easy to get involved with on-campus clubs and organizations? This is another opportunity to get information straight from the source so take advantage of the opportunity to get questions answered.
How should students follow up after college visits?
It’s important for students to open a line of communications with the admissions office so they can get their questions answered and to demonstrate interest in the school. Hopefully students will get the contact information of the admissions officer leading their information session in order to follow up with any subsequent questions they have and to send a thank you note. This is a good way to stay in touch and also show your interest in the school. If possible, also get the contact information for the reader for your area so you can also direct any questions to the person who will actually be reading your application.
College visits are an extremely important part of the college prep process, so plan ahead this fall! At IvyWise, we work with students to help them identify and applying to best-fit schools for their needs and goals. We can also help families plan their college visits. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling and college visit planning services!