How to Prepare for Your College Visits
There are a number of reasons why you may want to visit a college in person before you send in your application. While it may seem more efficient to visit schools after you have been accepted, visiting before filling out your application can help you, too.
Visiting a college also gives you the opportunity to connect with some important people who may be a part of your application process to answer any questions you may have. Many schools also track what we call ‘demonstrated interest’, essentially trying to guess whether or not an applicant would attend if admitted.
Let’s deep dive into everything you need to know in advance.
How Important Are College Visits?
Most high school students are aware that the college admissions process is multi-faceted and can be very time-consuming. With the demands of building a college list, preparing for standardized tests, writing application essays, and more, it can often feel like “fun” things like college visits shouldn’t be prioritized. However, not all applicants understand the unique and important role campus visits play in the college admissions process.
Visiting Harvard, Princeton or any other dream school allows students to gain perspective on what kind of environment they are looking for, and it also helps applicants highlight their interest in prospective colleges. There’s more to campus visits, however than just being a “gut check” on whether or not a school is a good fit for a student. Here are a few other reasons why college visits are important and what applicants can do to ensure they gain as much as possible from each visit.
Top 3 Reasons Why College Visits Matter
Visits Show Demonstrated Interest
Colleges are eager to admit applicants who have done their research and are excited about the possibility to attend a specific school. Every university strives to maintain its yield rate or the number of accepted applicants who choose to enroll. Colleges are looking for students who demonstrate strong knowledge and interest in a school as they may be more likely to enroll if admitted.
Visiting a college is one way in which applicants can demonstrate their interest in a specific institution, as they get first-hand experience of the campus, and some colleges even track whether or not students have visited. In order to ensure the college has a record of your visit, register in advance for official tours and information sessions.
You Can Picture Yourself on Campus
Not sure whether you’d prefer a large research institution or a small liberal arts college? Physically placing yourself in different types of college environments may help you determine what kind of learning atmosphere is most appealing to you. Even students with preconceived notions about what kind of college they wish to attend should consider visiting other schools to make sure they are not missing out on any alternatives that may ultimately be a better match. Strive to tour colleges in both rural locations and bustling cities and be sure to visit institutions of different sizes to gain perspective on what you are looking for.
Get In-Depth Details Direct From the Source
Students need to research colleges thoroughly in order to create a balanced list of best-fit schools and to craft university-specific supplement essays that highlight their knowledge of each institution. While a school’s website is a great starting point, touring a college will enable students to take their knowledge of the institution to the next level.
Tours and information sessions provide prospective applicants with the opportunity to ask questions, explore landmarks on campus, and learn what sets the college apart. In order to walk away with as much information as possible, applicants may wish to sit in on a lecture, eat at an on-campus dining hall, and look into staying overnight with a current student.
Does Visiting a College Help You Get In?
According to an article from Inside Higher Ed, a new study shows that students who demonstrate an interest in attending a particular college by visiting the campus have an advantage in their application for admission compared to students who don’t visit the campus.
How Many College Visits Should You Do?
We recommend that every student visit at least five to six colleges and no more than ten to twelve. We say this because you should visit enough colleges so that they give you a true picture of what you like and don’t like about different schools, but not so many times that you feel overwhelmed.
What to Expect On Campus?
Larger universities generally have a visitor center staffed by a few members of the admissions office. Group information sessions are often held there, followed by a student-led campus tour. You’ll have the opportunity to learn more general information and ask questions specific to you at a group information session.
Small liberal arts schools generally have an office of admission and group information sessions may take place there or at another space on campus, and conclude with student-led tours. The campus tour also offers you the opportunity to ask a current student question specific to you and your interests, in addition to seeing the key buildings on campus.
Typically, campus tours last about an hour and include the library, an academic building, the student center, a dining hall, and a dorm room.
But the visit isn’t only about seeing the sights. It’s also about seeing how you relate to the campus and the students, and if you feel like you’d fit in. In addition to a formal campus tour, spend some time in the student center, library, or dining hall. You’ll be able to see how members of the community interact with one another and get a better sense of what the daily routine for students is like.
It’s important to get a feel for the campus and school first-hand when deciding which college is the best fit for you.
13 Valuable Campus Visit Tips
Spring is prime college visit time! Many families will be hitting the road to visit students’ top-choice schools this semester, so it’s important to ensure that students (and parents!) are making the most of their time on campus. How? By getting back to the basics:
Make a Roadmap
Research buildings and events of interest – maybe there’s a basketball game you want to attend – and create your own “tour map.” Take notes as you walk through the campus and don’t be afraid to take a couple of pictures to help you remember your experience. Additionally, research off-campus spots you would like to visit, like local shops, restaurants, and other sites of interest in the community.
If you are visiting the campus off-season, these visits will not be registered and noted by the admissions office for demonstrated interest. However, an informal tour can be a great way for younger students to begin to explore local colleges. Then, if a student really enjoys his or her visit, they can plan a more robust tour when the college is back in session.
Go Beyond the College Campus
While walking the campus is certainly important, don’t forget to spend time in the surrounding area. Most students can expect to spend four years living in the town or city their college is located in, so it is important to choose a location you can see yourself thriving in.
For this reason, it is best to visit colleges in a variety of different types of locations, such as suburban, rural, and urban, to get a better sense of what you like best. Even if classes are over when you are touring a college, it is likely that local businesses will be open, so be sure to pencil this into your touring agenda.
Supplement Your Trip
College visits are just one component of school research in order to compile a list of best-fit schools and prepare to answer supplement questions, it’s important to thoroughly research each college you are interested in. Supplement your winter break college visit experience by going on a virtual tour, which is often available on a university’s website.
Additionally, follow a university on social media in order to stay up-to-date and learn about events on campus. Then, if you find yourself even more interested in this school after an informal winter break visit, you can plan a more comprehensive visit in the spring where you can actually see the campus in action!
Research in Advance
It’s wise to learn as much as you can about a school before you visit. During an information session and tour, you will be bombarded with a ton of information, so if you’re already somewhat familiar with the school from your advanced research, you’ll have the bandwidth to digest the campus visit experience more fully. You may also discover during your pre-visit research that the school isn’t a great match for you after all, and it’s best to figure that out before a costly trip to the campus.
Research by thoroughly reading the admissions website and familiarizing yourself with the basic application process and requirements for that school. Fill out the school’s net price calculator to determine what kind of aid you can expect to receive from the school.
Take a virtual tour, if available, or click-through interactive maps to get a feel for the layout and look of the campus. Explore the school’s academic offerings, drilling down into department web pages for in-depth information about specific programs and resources for particular majors and the research emphasis of the faculty in the department.
Learn about student life by researching their residential options and policies. Look at lists of student-run clubs and check out club websites to find out how active they are in your areas of interest. Network with local alums to learn about their experiences. Take copious notes and create a list of questions that emerge from this research.
Don’t wait until the week before you leave to make your college visit itinerary. During popular school break weeks, campus tours and information sessions can fill up fast, so I recommend that families plan ahead as much as possible. If you end up being unable to attend for whatever reason, cancel your registration to provide space for another student and also to be considerate to the admissions office as it plans for a certain size crowd.
For schools that track demonstrated interest, being a no-show at an admissions event could work against you. Planning ahead can also help you identify other campus visit opportunities. Some options include sitting in on a class, shadowing a student for a day, doing an overnight, or conducting an on-campus interview. Many schools run information sessions and tours for particular interest groups, like prospective engineers or science majors. Some schools do special open house events on particular weekends in the spring or fall, which give prospective students a much more in-depth look at the school, providing opportunities to meet students and faculty and attend panel discussions.
Also, find out about parking policies before you visit. Some schools can email you a parking pass if you ask them in advance. Parking is a huge problem around urban schools, in particular, so know what to expect and plan accordingly, taking public transportation or car service as necessary. Finding your way around a small, rural college can be stressful, too, so plan to arrive early when creating your college visit schedule.
Here are a few ideas on what you can plan before your visit:
- Register for information sessions and tours
- Arrange to meet with a professor or advisor in your program of choice
- See if you can spend the night in a representative dorm
- Make a plan to visit local restaurants and places of interest
- Reach out to students you may know already attending
Personalize Your Visit
Most students spend half a day visiting a college, doing the requisite information session and tour, and quickly zip off to the next campus on a whirlwind college tour. For practical reasons, this is often necessary. However, if you have the time to spare, spend an entire day at the school and personalize your visit by meeting with administrators, faculty, and students who can provide additional perspectives on the school. If the school allows it, make an appointment to meet the admissions officer who reads your geographic region.
This kind of personal interaction can make a difference at some schools. As I already mentioned, try to take advantage of opportunities to sit in on a class or shadow a student. Another way to enrich your campus visit is by making an appointment (in advance) with a professor in the department that most interests you. If there is a particular class that you would love to sit in on, but it’s not on the list of admissions office-approved classes, contact the professor and respectfully ask if it would be okay for you to be a fly on the wall in their class.
For some students, specific things about student life are paramount. If you’re a Muslim student visiting a Jesuit school, it might be a good idea to meet up with a student who is active in the Muslim Student Association to find out about what it’s like to be a religious minority at the school.
If athletics are important to you, meeting students who play your sport might be a good way to learn more about whether or not the school will be a good fit for you. Don’t neglect to check out the dining facilities by grabbing a campus lunch while you’re visiting. You will soak in some of the general campus vibes by hanging out in the dining hall as well as find out whether or not you’ll be able to stomach the cuisine!
Make the Most of the Information Session
Let’s be honest, admissions information sessions can be a bit of a snooze fest unless you’re lucky to get a super engaging presenter. But, don’t allow your thoughts to wander and pull your eyes away from your phone for the duration of the session. These sessions definitely reveal important things about the school’s culture and priorities, which will help you determine whether or not you’re a good fit for the school. Moreover, they give you clues about things to emphasize in your supplemental essays and admissions interview for that school. For example, visiting Princeton’s campus will inspire you to ask specific questions during your Princeton interview.
A school might emphasize a global perspective, commitment to service, or interdisciplinary studies, for example. Consider how your background and future goals fit with the school’s values and priorities. In general, these sessions go over the application requirements, basic financial aid information, the college’s degree offerings, and schools within the college, if applicable.
They highlight what makes the school attractive, including special academic programs, like study abroad and career resources, and student life features that they feel differentiate them from other schools. I recommend that you take notes during the information session to stay focused on what the presenter is saying so that you will be able to remember details later.
Remember all the research you did beforehand? Don’t be shy about asking questions from that list you created! It makes the best impression to ask questions that go beyond what one can easily learn by reading the admissions website.
Stay away from questions along these lines: “I got 1400 on the SAT, what are my chances of being admitted?” And don’t ask a question about a complicated personal circumstance that won’t be relevant to anyone else in the room—you can save that question for a private conversation with an admissions representative. Your match with the school rests upon its academic programs and student life, not its admissions statistics, so focus your questions on these areas.
For example, you might ask, “What resources exist at your engineering school to support women students?” or “Does the school provide lots of opportunities for non-music majors to join the orchestra or other ensembles?” If you can, introduce yourself to the presenter before or after the session—you never know, they might remember you when your case comes before the admissions committee.
Engage During the Campus Tour
Your tour guide can be a great source of information about the school because they are a current student actually living the experience. Stay close to them during the tour—when the group is moving from point A to point B on the tour, walk with the tour guide to get your specific questions answered that aren’t part of the tour guide’s script. The tour guide might be more candid about the school’s strengths and weaknesses than the admissions officer could be during the information session, so take advantage of the opportunity to get another perspective.
Take pictures to remember things from the tour that made an impression upon you. For example, maybe the tour stopped at the statue of an eminent person in the school’s history whose story inspired you. Take a snapshot and later jot down notes about why this statue was meaningful to you. It might be a great detail to add to the “Why This School” essay later.
Also, before finding the fastest route back to the interstate to get to your next destination after your visit, take some time to “tour” the sights you may not have seen yet. Walk or drive around the areas that are adjacent to the campus. Does the area feel safe? Is there stuff to do near the school, and can you see yourself making this your home for four years?
Soon after your visit, it’s a good idea for students to debrief with their parents so they can compare impressions and review notes. Look at the pictures that you took and save some to a file with captions that you can refer to later. Also, once you get home, don’t forget to send thank you emails to the people you interacted with and ask any follow-up questions, where appropriate, to keep the dialogue going.
Plan Multiple Visits
A week off from school is prime time to visit a number of the schools on your balanced college list. When planning multiple college visits over a short period of time, it’s important to make sure you maximize your time at each school while also leaving enough room in the schedule to account for any delays. At IvyWise we advise students to plan no more than two visits, at schools that are relatively geographically close, in one day. This is where time management and prior planning are key. While you need to spend as much time as you can at each campus, don’t spend all day at one school, leaving yourself only an hour or two at another.
Students and parents should do thorough research before planning visits over spring break or a long weekend. Make a detailed schedule of flight or driving times, information session times and locations, any meetings with professors, lunchtimes and locations, and more. Planning multiple visits takes a lot of groundwork beforehand, but when done properly it can help students get a more complete picture of the schools on their list and determine if those institutions are, ultimately, best-fit colleges for them.
Don’t Visit More Than Two Colleges In One Day
Many families will plan college visit trips with the intention of visiting multiple colleges in a short time frame. While this can be an efficient use of time, you don’t want to overload yourself with too much information at once. At IvyWise, we advise students to visit no more than two colleges in one day. Any more than that and they can start to blend together, making it hard to recall which school had what when going back over your notes and experiences.
Try to Sit In on a Class
Information sessions and the subsequent campus tour are essential to a successful college visit, but there’s more to the campus than just seeing the landscape. Some schools will allow students to sit in on a class in either a subject of interest or given by a professor of interest as long as they give advance notice. Many schools request that a prospective student arrive at class before it begins, inform the professor, and also require a visiting student to stay for the entirety of the class. This is a great way to get first-hand experience with the classes that you might be taking if you end up attending.
Live Like a Student for a Day
Outside of sitting in on a class, there are a number of other ways to “live like a student” while visiting some of your top-choice schools. If you have a friend already attending the school, or the college offers prospective students overnight visits in a dorm, try to stay in student housing so you get a sense of what it’s like to actually live on campus.
Eat a meal or two in a dining hall. If you have time attend a sporting event or performance on campus. Hang out in the student union. Visit the library and bookstore, and spend a few minutes in town off-campus to get a sense of the surrounding community. Spend some of your visit living like a student so that you get a full picture of what it will be like to live there for the next four years.
Get Acquainted With the Admissions Office
The college visit is often the first chance that students have to get some face time with the people who help make admissions decisions. The information session is usually led by a current admissions officer, so make sure you ask all the questions you have about the application and admissions process. While you’re there, see if it’s possible to meet the reader for your area, or at least get his or her contact information so that you can reach out should you have any questions when applying. Don’t miss this opportunity to get to know the people at the admissions office!
What to Do if You Can’t Go On a College Visit?
For many, a trip to the physical campus may not be possible. While a visit to the school is ideal, there are other ways to explore the campus and learn more about the school outside of online research. Find out if a representative will be visiting your school or attending a local college fair.
Make an effort to introduce yourself and open a line of communication. There are also a number of virtual campus tour tools, like Quad2Quad and YouVisit. Many schools also have their own apps that give students an inside look at the campus and the admissions process. Utilize these resources in order to learn more about a particular college and if it’s a good fit for you or not.
While taking a stroll around the quad may be off limits for the time being, many colleges provide prospective applicants a sneak peak of their campuses through virtual tours. Plenty of universities create their own digital experiences and post them on their websites for students to peruse. Additionally, websites such as YouVisit have over 600 digital college tours, all of which are free and include a virtual tour guide filled with facts. There are a number of college offering virtual information sessions and visits in response to coronavirus closures, so check with individual schools to see what they have to offer. Here’s a list of schools that offer virtual tours and where to find them.
Check Out Social Media
Social media isn’t just for keeping up with your friends; it can also be a valuable way to learn more about the schools you are considering from a different vantage point. In addition to keeping tabs on campus-wide feeds and profiles, be sure to check out accounts dedicated to your specific interests and passions. Consider following accounts for majors you are interested in as well as specialized programs that relate to your passions.
Do Your Reading
Strive to get your hands on as much information about each college of interest as possible. Don’t just skim a university website; instead, take time to carefully read about majors and minors offered, noteworthy faculty, and extracurricular activities and organizations that relate to your interests and goals. In addition to reviewing a college’s official website, look out for recent media coverage about the school to stay updated on what is happening on campus. Search for blogs written by current and former students to gain a first-hand perspective on what it feels like to attend a specific college.
Phone a Friend
This may not always be possible, but students should take advantage of their network to learn more about the colleges they are considering. If you have a friend or sibling who is currently enrolled at a college that you are interested in, see if it would be possible to arrange a date to FaceTime with them. Prepare a list of questions to ask about the campus, academic opportunities, and extracurricular offerings to get a well-rounded perspective of the school and what is available.
At the end of the day, students should prioritize schools that have opportunities that align with their goals and passions. College tours are certainly one way to learn about different activities and events on campus, but luckily there are many other resources that can provide valuable information. Most colleges have a designated careers center on their website, designed to help students find jobs and internships. Review this resource and evaluate the opportunities you see listed. Take note of which schools have a multitude of learning experiences that appeal to you and prioritize these institutions throughout your college search and review process.
How to Save Money on College Visits
Planning college visits this summer or fall? College visit costs can add up quickly, especially if students have many schools they’d like to visit as they narrow down their balanced college lists. However, there are a number of ways that families can save some money on college tours.
Campus visits are an important part of the college decision process, not only because college tours can help students determine what kind of campus might be best for them, but because they also provide applicants with the opportunity to make meaningful connections with university officials. Additionally, many schools track “demonstrated interest,” or the likelihood that a prospective applicant will choose to enroll upon acceptance, and visiting a school is one-way students can highlight their interest in the university – and learn some valuable information that can help improve their supplemental essays.
Unfortunately, touring every campus on a student’s balanced college list can come with a hefty price tag. However, there are a number of steps that families can take to reduce the cost of college visits without sacrificing the value of the overall experience.
Use Digitalization to Your Advantage
Research is a key part of planning for college visits, and online and social media tools can help you learn more about the places you plan to visit. Narrow down the list of schools you want to visit by taking virtual tours, which are available on many colleges’ websites.
Additionally, YouVisit offers over 600 college tours for free, each with its own virtual tour guide, who will share information about the university. Students and families should also explore a variety of university-related social media channels such as Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, and Snapchat stories to get a comprehensive picture of the school, various student perspectives, and the opportunities available on campus.
After using research to streamline a college visit list, try touring a local school first. This can help students and parents minimize travel costs, and it gives students the chance to re-evaluate their college lists based on impressions from this initial tour. Students will learn a lot about what they are looking for in a university from visiting a variety of schools. Just being on campus provides applicants with the ability to get a sense of environmental, social, and academic preferences. So start local to get a baseline impression of college campuses and build from there.
Stick to a Strict Budget
A lot of families will get excited during the college tour and hit up the bookstore on a college visit and buy a lot of expensive stuff like t-shirts, sweatshirts, lanyards, coffee mugs, etc. – which can add up quickly. Hold off on buying anything or stick to a strict one-item limit (that’s under $20).
Consider Going Car-Free
Many colleges do not allow freshmen to have cars on campus, so consider using alternate transpiration to gain a more realistic sense of travel options while minimizing spending. Explore what public transportation options are available on and near campus and research the cost of buses to and from the college. You might be surprised to find that options such as Megabus are generally far less expensive than trains.
Don’t Forget About Dining
Meals out can add up quickly, especially if a school is located in an area with a high cost of living. Eating at a dining hall is a great way to evaluate local dining options, but it can be pricey without a meal plan, especially for several people. Plan to have one small meal on campus and also research nearby affordable dining options. Check discount sites such as Groupon to see if any local restaurants are offering menu deals. If possible, bring snacks and water bottles from home to cut down on food-related spending while on campus.
Get Creative with Overnight Accommodations
Visiting several schools in the same region can help reduce travel costs, but may also require extending the length of your trip. Many schools provide applicants with the option of spending a night in a dorm with a current student, which can be a great opportunity to get a firsthand look into campus life, free of charge.
If a student is touring colleges with family, Airbnb and VRBO can be a cost-effective alternative to hotels near campus. Some larger cities also offer hostels with private rooms for families, which is another lower-price alternative.
Before scheduling your campus tours, it’s important to have an idea of the costs associated with visits and what to expect once you get there. Doing thorough research beforehand will help families better budget for college tours, allowing them to enjoy the experience without worrying about finances.
What to Bring On a College Visit?
College visits are an important part of the college prep process, as they help students learn more about schools of interest in order to build their balanced college list. Campus visits are a marathon – not a sprint – and taking along the right items can help make your time touring schools a lot easier!
Before visiting a college it’s important to do proper research. Students should learn everything they can about the school and why it interests them. Is it a specific major? The location? The athletics? This will help them to go into the visit knowing what to expect and what to ask.
Research is also important as it can help you better prepare for the actual tour. Will it be cold while you’re there? Hot? Rainy? Will students be there or will the campus be relatively empty? Are there any special events happening? How will that impact your time on campus? All of these questions can be answered by doing ample research before you even get there.
It’s critical for students (and parents!) to come prepared, not just with information, but also items that will help make the campus visit experience even better. Here are six must-have items for your college visits.
This can’t be stressed enough! There will be a lot of walking during your college visits – and not just during the walking tour. Students and parents should try to visit a dorm, explore areas of interest like the gym or theaters, eat in the dining hall, and explore the community surrounding the campus. This typically involves a lot of walking, and if you’re wearing uncomfortable shoes your feet will start to feel the burn pretty quickly. Foot pain can make a college visit go downhill fast, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes that you know you can walk in for an extended period of time.
All of the walking, coupled with talking with your parents, admissions officers, tour guides, professors, etc., can lead to dehydration and a dry mouth. Take along a water bottle so that you can hydrate throughout the day. This will help you stay focused and energized, and prevent you from having to ditch the tour to find some water. Bonus: Take a snack or two if you know there’s going to be a long period of time between the tour and visiting a dining hall or on-campus restaurant.
Rainy Weather Gear
While research can help you pack for the appropriate weather beforehand, rain showers can pop up unexpectedly, especially if you’re visiting campuses in the spring. It’s good to have an umbrella or a light rain jacket on hand just in case that 30% chance of rain changes to 100% after you’ve already left home.
External Battery Charger
We always advise students to take notes and photos while touring colleges. With the evolution of smartphones, students can take photos and video, record answers to their questions, type up notes in an app, and keep track of every piece of information about their itinerary right on their phone. Smartphones are convenient and make it easier for students to enjoy their time on campus without having to balance a notepad in one hand and a camera in the other. However, since students’ phones will get heavy use during a college tour, it’s a smart idea to bring an extra battery pack to charge up your phone if it starts to drain too quickly. An extra phone charger with an outlet plug is also a good idea in case you take a break in a place where you can plugin quickly.
Students tend to travel light, but with those extra items on you like your water bottle, umbrella, battery pack, wallet, phone, etc., it’s a good idea to take a small bag or backpack to keep everything organized. But just like your shoes, your bag should be built for comfort. Don’t take a bag that will start to hurt your shoulders after a few hours or a backpack that causes extra strain on your back.
College visits are an exciting adventure for both students and parents, so make sure you’re prepared before you head out and, most importantly, have fun!
You did all that great research beforehand, but what were you not able to find on the website? Come prepared with questions to ask the admissions officer during the information session, as well as questions for the tour guide. Think about these well ahead of your visit, and store them on your smartphone or in an easily accessible notebook. This is your opportunity to get answers straight from the source, so make sure your questions are thoughtful and not about something that you could easily learn from the website. For some examples of questions to ask on college visits, keep on reading:
39 Questions to Ask On Your College Visits
The spring semester is a popular time to visit colleges, especially as juniors start to narrow down their college lists, and seniors squeeze in some last-minute visits before admission decisions are announced at the end of March. The college visit is an important opportunity to not only get a live look at colleges but also get some insider information that you might not otherwise find in your traditional research.
At IvyWise, we advise families to visit the colleges students are interested in applying to whenever possible. College visits allow students to get to know an institution and its campus and can serve as a “gut-check” as to whether or not students can picture themselves attending that particular college. It’s important for parents and students to plan ahead and do their research before visiting a college, but there are some questions that students should plan to ask while on tour.
Here are six questions that students should ask while visiting colleges this spring.
Where Do Students Live?
Most campus tours will include a visit to a freshman dorm in order to give prospective students an idea of where they will be living if they choose to attend. While it’s important to get a tour of a representative freshman dorm, students should also ask questions about housing after freshman year. Do upperclassmen live on campus, too? Or do many moves to off-campus houses or apartments after freshman year?
This information is important, as it allows families to plan for the future. If housing for upperclassmen is not available on campus, families will need to plan for off-campus living expenses, which can include not only rent but also utilities, cable, internet, parking, and more. Find out everything you can about freshmen housing, but also make sure you have a clear picture of what to expect past freshman year in regards to living arrangements.
What Is There to Do Off-Campus?
It’s important to get a sense of the local community, as you won’t spend all your time on campus. You’ll be spending the next four years there, so find out what activities, events, sights, and more are available off-campus. What are some great local restaurants? Are there museums and art galleries that are easy to visit? Local sports teams? Movie theaters? Find out what students enjoy doing off-campus, and see if you can visit those places after your college tour. College visits can really give you a sense of what it will be like to live there, and that should include the local community, too.
How Is the On-Campus Food?
This question is often overlooked, as students tend to be so concerned with other campus amenities they forget to ask about the basics. Are meal plans mandatory? Are meal plans accepted everywhere on campus? Can you get food on campus without a meal plan? What are some colleges with good food?
The answers to these questions can help paint a better picture of expenses to anticipate and what your daily routine on campus will look like. Many colleges that require freshmen to live on campus sometimes also require students to purchase meal plans. Meal plans can be costly, so make sure you know what those meal plans cover, and if you’re satisfied with the food options. This is especially important for students with dietary restrictions or food allergies.
Is Greek Life a Large Part of the Social Life on Campus?
It’s a question many college freshmen ask themselves: To go Greek or not? For many, participating in Greek life is not a priority, while for others it’s a very important activity. The prevalence of Greek life on campus can have a big impact on students’ experience, and it’s important to know whether or not a large (or small) Greek life presence will negatively or positively influence your college choice.
Here are a few important questions to ask if the social dynamics of campus life are a priority in your college search:
- What percent of students are involved with Greek life?
- Is it a large share of the student population, or only a fraction?
- Are there historically black, service, or academic fraternities and sororities on campus?
- If I don’t join a Greek organization will my social opportunities on campus be limited?
- Or conversely, if I do join a Greek organization will it isolate me from other campus activities?
- What is the rush process like?
- How much does it usually cost to join a fraternity or sorority?
What Study Abroad Opportunities Are Available to Students?
Studying abroad can be an enriching experience for students, and many choose to study for a summer term, a semester, or even a year in a foreign country. Many universities, like Wake Forest University and Butler University, are known for their unique study abroad programs, while smaller colleges might not have as many opportunities.
Ask about specific programs and what percentage of students typically study abroad. Where do they go? What do they study? Will you miss out on a lot if you leave for a semester? If studying abroad is something you’d like to do in college, make sure you get a sense of what programs are offered and how it affects students’ experience once they return.
What Support Does the School Have for First-Year Students?
The transition into college life can be difficult for some students. For many, it’s their first time away from home and they’re having to balance school, activities, and basic necessities like food, laundry, and more on their own.
Many colleges offer support to first-year students through classes, as some of the courses offered through Boston College’s First-Year Experience program, orientation weekends, or programs offered through student engagement or mental health services departments on campus. While on campus, inquire about the different support services offered to first-year students and how students can take advantage of them. How accessible are these programs? Do students find them helpful?
Other Questions You Can Ask on a College Visit
- How many students were in your introductory courses? Upper-level courses?
- Have your courses been taught by professors or teaching assistants? What roles do teaching assistants play in classes?
- How difficult is it to sign up for classes as a freshman?
- How often are you expected to meet with your advisor during the year? Are advisors readily available to meet with their students?
- How did you decide upon your major? Is it easy to switch majors? How much time do I have to decide on my major before formally declaring it?
- Where do freshmen live? Is it separate from upperclassmen?
- What are the living arrangements in dorms? Do students generally move off-campus? Is housing guaranteed for all four years? If it isn’t, how easy/difficult is it to find on and off-campus options?
- How is the food on campus? Are meal plans mandatory? How expensive are food options off campus?
- How has your experience been living in the dorms? What do you like about it? What do you dislike about it?
- What clubs and activities are active on campus? What are you involved in?
- Is Greek life a large part of the social life on campus? What is rush like?
- How often do students go home on the weekends? How does this affect your social life? What constitutes a typical weekend for you and your friends?
- Are sports an important part of the school identity here? What levels are available — varsity, club, and intramurals? How competitive and time-consuming are they?
- Are there research opportunities on campus? How often do students participate in research? Do students work alongside their professors when conducting research?
- Are jobs readily available on campus? Off-campus? How easy is it to obtain a job?
- How many internship opportunities are available to students during the school year? How have your internships impacted your college experience?
- Do students study abroad? At what point in their college career do they generally do so? What resources are available to students interested in study abroad programs?
- How long is freshman orientation? Is it a worthwhile experience? What was your favorite part of freshman orientation? Least favorite?
- What advice do you have for incoming freshmen? What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
- What resources are available to freshmen to help facilitate a smooth transition?
- How easy/difficult has it been for you to fulfill your requirements? Do you have a choice in what classes you take to fulfill requirements?
- How many classes/credits are students required to take each semester?
- How helpful is your advisor during the class selection process?
- How safe is the area around campus? Have you ever felt unsafe outside of campus?
- What policies and procedures exist to keep students safe? How accessible are campus safety personnel?
- What health and wellness resources exist on campus? How effective are these resources? What disabilities services exist on campus?
- Are tutoring services available? Is there a writing center? How effective are these programs?
- How many computer labs are on campus? Does the college provide a computer? Do you have any recommendations regarding computers (PC or Mac, laptop or tablet)?
- How many libraries are on campus? How frequently do students study in these libraries? When are these libraries open for research/studying purposes?
- What other options exist on campus for studying? Are there adequate spaces for group study? Where do you like to study?
- Why did you choose this school? What do you like most about your experience here? What do you like least?
- What other schools were you interested in?
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you applied to college?
- How is this school’s application process unique to those at other schools? Are interviews mandatory, highly suggested, or not necessary? Is the number of times I visit campus taken into consideration?
What to Wear to a College Visit?
College tours can feel a little intimidating, especially if this is your first time visiting a college campus. In order to keep your nerves under control and learn as much about each institution as possible, it is important to plan ahead and prepare for every visit in advance.
In addition to brainstorming questions to ask and booking travel accommodations, students need to feel comfortable in their skin and dress for success. Keep reading for our top wardrobe dos and don’ts to ensure your put your best face forward and walk away with a new understanding of each college on your best fit list.
This isn’t the day to break in a new pair of heels, especially because most college tours require plenty of walking. Skip uncomfortable shoes and instead gravitate towards sneakers or flat boots so that you can take that extra loop around the quad or circle back to the library for one more view.
In addition to choosing appropriate footwear, it’s important to select clothes that you feel comfortable in. It’s not necessary to wear anything super formal to a college tour; instead, choose an outfit that you have worn before and something you feel confident in.
Don’t Forget to Check the Weather
It’s hard to concentrate on your tour guide when you are freezing cold or uncomfortably hot, so review the forecast before you go. The climate on campus may be very different from your hometown, so it’s important to pack according to the destination and consider bringing extra layers if you are going somewhere with cooler temperatures. Additionally, bring an umbrella or raincoat if there is rain in the forecast.
While college tours do not require formal clothing or business attire, students should avoid looking like they just rolled out of bed. Especially since most students will also be attending an information session led by an admission officer (maybe even the reader for your area!) it’s important to dress for a good first impression.
Remember that you are touring schools to learn about each campus and emphasize your demonstrated interest in a specific institution, so your appearance should embody this. Avoid sweatpants and athletic wear and leave yourself ample time to get dressed in the morning so that you can greet your tour guide and anyone else you meet on campus with confidence.
Don’t Wear Other College’s Clothing
Even if the school you are touring isn’t your first-choice college, you should give university officials the impression it is. Approach each tour with an open mind and view it as an opportunity to learn something new. While colleges don’t expect that they’re the only school that students are applying to, wearing the logo of another institution can send mixed messages – especially if you’re getting some face time with admissions officers or professors while you’re on campus.
Do Repurpose Outfits
Don’t be afraid to repeat outfits on college visits, especially since you will be meeting new people and seeing new campuses. If you find an outfit that you like, it is more than okay to make this your go-to college tour outfit. Additionally, if you are traveling and plan on seeing multiple schools on the same trip, re-wearing outfits may be useful because they will enable you to pack lightly.
Don’t Stress Too Much About It
The college application process can feel stressful at times, but picking out your outfits for tours shouldn’t be. Focus on choosing clothes that boost your confidence levels and are weather appropriate. Don’t worry about being trendy or on-brand for a school.
College Visits and Social Media
Chances are if you’re visiting a school, you’ve done a little bit of research to figure out what about that school makes you think it would be a great fit for you. But you’d be surprised by the number of students and parents who show up to a college tour and know absolutely nothing about the school.
To be able to get the full experience, you need to know what you’re looking for and what makes that college or university appealing to you. Research is key, but the outlets where students get their research information are steadily shifting. What used to be college guides, brochures, and university websites has now shifted to more interactive platforms.
In a recent survey of over 7,000 high school students, 68% reported that they use social media to research schools during their college search process. Of those students who use social media to research schools, 55% said their go-to social media research platform was a school’s Facebook page.
Reviewing a school’s social media profiles is a good pre-visit research method in that it’s a great way to get a feel for a school’s level of informal interaction with students. Following their Facebook and Twitter accounts can also keep you up-to-date on school news and what may be going on around campus during the time of your visit.
Virtual College Visit Tools
In years past, many students went on spring college tours to get a feel for campus life and narrow down their list of best-fit options. Since many campuses remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual visits have emerged as the ideal option for students who are looking to learn more about prospective colleges.
While it may not be quite the same as an in-person trip, there are several virtual visit tools that can help students during their search process. Keep reading to learn more about some of the top virtual tools you can take advantage of when compiling your best-fit list.
Start With the College Website
If you’re interested in a specific college and looking to learn more, the university’s website is a great place to start. In addition to reading about potential course offerings and programs, take advantage of the touring options made available by the institution. Many colleges have created their own virtual tours that prospective students can sign up for.
There are also virtual information sessions, which are generally hosted by an admissions officer. These sessions can be an ideal opportunity to get answers to your questions about extracurricular activities, financial aid, and campus life. Signing up for and attending a virtual information session can also help students convey their demonstrated interest in a particular college, which is a factor that many admissions officers weigh when reviewing applications.
University websites aren’t your only resource for learning more about different colleges. If you’re looking for another perspective, consider checking out the touring options on LiveCampusTours by Nylie. This platform provides customized virtual college tours of approximately 175 campuses, all led by current students. Nylie is not affiliated with any college, so tours can provide a different perspective than what students might get from a tour created by the university or an information session led by an admissions officer. The tours are also customizable, which means students can pick and choose which elements of the campus they wish to learn more about, based on personal passions and interests.
StriveScan recreates the college fair experience in the digital realm. In their 6×6 Virtual College Fair, students get exposure to a wide variety of colleges in a short amount of time. Typically hosted over a three-hour period in a single day or evening, the format consists of six colleges each presenting for 6 minutes. A virtual college fair can be an ideal option for students who are just beginning their college search because participants will be presented with information about a variety of different campuses.
Chicago HBCU Alumni Alliance
If you’re interested in attending an HBCU, consider checking out the virtual fairs created by the Chicago HBCU Alumni Alliance. Nearly 50 HBCUs will give students information on admissions, programs, and scholarships. Videos of the events are available so that students can refer back to the presentations whenever they need.