College and university campus visits are not optional for students. You must tour campuses to experience their atmosphere and culture first-hand, observe the characteristics unique to each college and get a “feel” for each campus to see if you fit in before making a commitment on May 1 of your senior year.
You must be sure to make the correct choice on where to spend four years of your life as a college student.
The college you choose to attend must be the place that fits you both as a student and a person. If you end up at a college or university you really don’t care for, it could be a very unhappy four years or you may end up transferring to another school.
Types of visits
Informal campus visits are where you wander around the college campus on your own. These informal campus visits typically happen on a weekend or during the summer when students and families just drop by for a casual walk-around.
There are also formal campus visits which include scheduled guided tours of each campus, interviews, and much more.
The information in StartSchoolNow details activities that are part of formal campus visits. However, following the instructions and activities presented in this online guide during informal visits will allow you and your parents to make superior observations and more complete campus evaluations.
When to Visit
It is important the day you choose for a campus visit is a normal school day.
You’ll be able to see the campus under usual operating circumstances with students and professors active in classrooms, eating their lunch in the cafeteria, and maybe even experience some scheduled social events. Also, on a normal school day you should be able to sit in on a class or two (upon request).
Visiting on college holidays is not particularly good because the campus will look deserted. Mid-term or final exam week won’t be typical because of the frantic days associated with testing.
Visiting during “Open House” or “Open Campus” days means you’ll be one of 500 families visiting the campus that day; you will get virtually no individual attention and no 1-on-1 time with an admission officer.
Before Your Campus Visit
If you visit college and university campuses when your high school is in session, check your school’s policy for taking time off to visit colleges. Follow your high school’s guidelines and let the administration office and your teachers know you’ll be missing a few days of classes.
Talk with your parents about taking time to accompany you on campus visits.
Your parents may need to schedule time off from work, so work closely with them.
Plan your trip with your parents.
Discuss how many schools you can see during one trip; analyze the location and distances between schools and plan a route that allows you to visit 2 campuses that are close to one another on the same day. It’s a good idea to visit no more that 5 schools in 3 days; if schools are within a 2-hour drive or less, you can visit them in a single day trip.
Scheduling Your Campus Visits and Interviews
Campus visits and interviews with college representatives are usually conducted on the same day to maximize efficient use of your time.
Regarding interviews, the ones at your favorite colleges and universities should be scheduled last. This way by the time you interview at your favorite college you will have experienced interviewing several times and hopefully will have all the mistakes out of the way. You will feel more confident and should do much better at your final interview. Therefore, try to schedule your campus visit (and interview) for your favorite school last.
Contact colleges and universities you are going to visit:
Schedule your campus visit 2-to-3 weeks in advance.
Call the admissions office to ask about a campus visit and to reserve a spot on a guided campus tour (you can get the telephone number for the admissions office from the college’s website). Ask if the campus will be in session during your visit and if there are any special activities available for visiting high school students. Have 2 or 3 possible dates in mind; the sooner you call, the more likely you will get the date you want.
Schedule a guided campus tour.
This needs to be done; seeing the campus on your own without a guide may cause you to miss important locations and information.
Schedule an interview with an admissions officer.
The admissions office will schedule the interview for you. Ask for the name of the admission officer and write it down.
Schedule an interview with a professor in the department of your major.
- Ask the admissions office for the telephone number of the department you are planning to major in.
- Call the department and ask to speak with the professor you would most like to interview with (find the best professor to interview with by researching the college department’s website – see next paragraph).
- Call that professor and see if he/she is available to see you sometime on the day of your campus visit. If not, see if you can interview with the department chairperson.
If you don’t have a planned major and will enter college with an “undecided” major, it is not necessary to schedule an interview with a professor.
To find the best professor to interview with, go to the college’s website, your major department’s home page, and research the department faculty. Select a professor that teaches the subject you are most interested in.
For example, if you’re planning to major in biology, see if there is a special emphasis in biology you can express interest in (such as bioengineering, molecular biology, or genetics). The department may offer an emphasis and/or extra courses in such specialty subjects, see who teaches these classes.
Schedule to talk with anyone else you think will give you the best information (students in your major, students belonging to interesting on-campus clubs, a coach in your sport, etc.).
Scheduling Other On-Campus Activities
See if there are information sessions scheduled for that day and plan to attend.
If you’re interested, see if you can sit in on a class in your major.
If you have a great interest (or great need) for financial aid, you may want to schedule an interview with a financial aid officer. If this is the case, you should meet with a financial aid officer and discuss the college’s financial aid policies and opportunities.
Let the financial aid officer know you’re interested in campus-based scholarships and work-study jobs in which the college has full decision capability for incoming freshmen students.
Keep in contact with the financial aid officer over the next year and make sure the officer knows about any special circumstance that affects your family’s financial situation (loss of a job or medical bills from a serious family illness).
If you’re interested in spending the night in a campus dorm with a current student, ask about the possibility of doing so. However, we recommend you wait until you’re accepted to a college before spending overnight in the student dorm.
Write down your itinerary for each college you will visit. See the example provided in Resources section for a formal campus visit.
Make travel arrangements. This includes making airline reservations if needed, making hotel and rental car reservations, getting driving directions to each college and university you’re going to visit, and working out your schedule if you’re visiting more than one college during your trip.
Typical Itinerary For Campus Visits
Typical events and activities on a formal college campus visit include the following:
- Arrive on-campus and walk around to learn layout of campus.
- Take campus guided tour.
- Interview with admission officer.
- Lunch in cafeteria.
- Interview with professor.
- Walk around campus to investigate unseen areas, talk with students.
- Drive through areas surrounding campus, check out stores and restaurants.
- Complete the list of College Visit Questions and the College Visit Summary Sheet (resources section).
NOTE: On the day of your college visit, plan to stay on-campus 4-6 hours. Dress nicely (see Interviews manners and etiquette section) and wear comfortable walking shoes.
Preparing For Your Visit
Do research on each college and university you’re planning to visit and the department offering your college major. Being informed will give you and your parents greater insight for a better evaluation of the college.
In addition, being informed will prepare you for the interview with a college admission officer and a professor who teaches classes in your major. Doing research will allow you to ask more “intelligent” questions and get more detailed answers.
To conduct research on colleges you plan to visit:
- Read college brochures and the “Prospective Students” portion of the college’s website.
- Take the Virtual Campus Tour provided on the college’s website.
- Learn what is expected of attending college students and some of the general statistics about the college (number of undergraduate students, special rules the college expects students to know, kinds of available on-campus student social activities, etc.).
- Research the department offering your college major. Go online and see the core classes offered, what are the elective classes offered in that major, and other information.
- Research the faculty in the department offering your major to see the number of faculty in the department and their qualifications.
- Read the résumés or biographies of the faculty in your major’s department to see if there is a professor that teaches a specialty of interest to you.
For example, if you’re planning to major in biology, maybe bioengineering or genetics sounds especially interesting. The professors that teach these subjects or the department head are the best department faculty for you to conduct an interview with. They should be able to tell you about the depth of learning you’ll experience by taking these specialty classes, if there are opportunities for undergraduate research, and the possibility of earning summer internships. You should work to impress this professor so they can become an advocate for you when you apply for admission.
What to Bring on Your Campus Visit
The following items should be brought with you:
- Print out a copy of your campus visit itinerary.
- Print out a separate copy of the “carry with you and answer as you go” College Visit Questions . for each college you plan to visit. This list of questions is designed to be answered by parents and students who carry the list with them throughout their campus visit. Answers to these campus-related questions can be written on the printed list itself; there is plenty of blank space after each question. After visiting your colleges, you’ll be able to compare and contrast their characteristics by referring to your written answers.
- Print out a separate copy of the Campus Visit Checklist for each college you plan to visit.
- Print out a separate copy of the Campus Visit Summary Sheet for each college you plan to visit. This summary sheet should be filled out immediately after each college visit to document your impressions. After visiting all of your colleges, you’ll be able to compare the different responses, scores and grades you assigned to each college.
- Bring a notebook to take notes in during the day; write down things you notice and things you like and dislike. Write down all your impressions.
- Print out a campus map from the college’s website. This will be a document you will refer to all day during your campus visit.
- Bring your camera; photos will help you remember the details of the campus.
- Bring a backpack and walk around campus like you’re a current student. This will definitely give you a feel for the campus and a chance to talk with current students.
Campus Guided Tour
If possible, take one-to-two hours before your campus guided tour to walk around the campus on your own. Have a copy of the campus map and just walk around to get oriented. It will help you know where you are on campus when you take the actual guided tour.
The guided tour takes about an hour and includes walking around a good portion of the campus. You’ll visit academic buildings, student dorm rooms (residence halls), the student center, classrooms, and the newest buildings on campus.
Take the guided tour and see the campus during the busiest time of day (10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.). The tour guide will point out the most important buildings and locations on campus. Be sure to go on the guided tour, it will save you time and will allow you to become familiar with the overall campus. Guided tours are usually given by current students to whom you can ask lots of questions.
NOTE: The questions you ask during the campus visit are important. Be sure to ask questions to the people who know the most about each subject.
For example, if you want to know about student social life, ask a student, not an admissions officer. If you want to know about available financial aid, ask the admissions officer or schedule a meeting with a financial aid officer.
But remember, you can’t go wrong by asking questions of students. They will be honest and will not try to create impressive answers that sound good, they’ll just tell the truth.
What to See and Do During Free Time on Your Campus Visit
- Review the Campus Visit Checklist for things to do and see.
- Attend any informational sessions offered. Informational sessions may include special instructions for financial aid applications, entrance requirements, etc. Attend and take notes.
- If you have the time, sit in on a class of a subject that is of interest to you. This will give you a brief glimpse of the academic environment. How is the size of the classroom, number of students, professor’s attitude, and level of student competition? Check with a professor to see if you can sit in on a class.
- Wander around campus by yourself. Eavesdrop on students to hear what they’re talking about. Ask students questions, they won’t lie. Are they happy? Stressed out? Bored? Enthusiastic? Stand in front of the library and ask, “Where’s the library?” Investigate the spirit of the student body – are they pleasant and helpful or cold and uncaring? Additionally, when you walk around campus ask directions frequently. Talk with students and hang out at the student center building. Look at the way students are dressed and the cars they drive to get an idea of the type of students at each campus – are they people you are compatible with?
- Wander the hallways where professors have their offices. Are their doors open? Are students nearby or talking with professors? Are office hours posted?
- Speak with students who are members in clubs you want to join or who participate in activities you’re interested in. Find out about Greek life – are there sororities and fraternities at the college?
- Have lunch on campus. Observe students and check out the quality of the food. The admissions office usually gives visiting high school students and their parents free lunch passes.
- Look at notices posted on the bulletin boards around campus. Read the bulletin board in the student center to see what’s happening on a daily basis – guest lectures, plays, parties, weekend events, etc.
- Listen to the college radio station.
- Drive around the area surrounding the campus. Does it appeal to you? Notice the businesses, restaurants, available public transportation, entertainment spots, shopping centers, grocery stores, movie theaters, etc. in the area surrounding the campus.
- Read the local community newspaper to see what’s happening in the city or town outside the college campus.
- Read the campus newspaper to find out what the day-to-day student life is like on campus. Read letters to the editor in the college newspaper; this is where you’ll find out about the real issues on campus. What topics are the columnists concerned with? How are the movie and music reviews? Do they match your likes and dislikes? Read the ads. Try to find other student publications, such as department newsletters, “underground” newspapers, etc.
- Talk with a student or counselor in the career center.
- Talk with coaches of sports in which you may participate.
Campus Facilities Not to Miss
During your campus guided tour and throughout the day, be sure to check out the facilities you are likely to use as a college student.
These important facilities (and important locations) include:
- Student center – this likely is the hub for student social activities.
- The Department building that houses your major.
- Classrooms – how is the size of the class? Do the instructors seem caring and enthusiastic?
- Labs – are they modern and well kept?
- Dorm rooms – what’s their condition? Is the paint peeling off the walls or are the interior and exterior of the residence halls neat and clean?
- Main quad or central area of the campus.
- Library – is this a good place to come and study when your roommates are too loud?
- Gym – the majority of students use this facility for one reason or another. Intramural sports, working out, Physical Education classes, etc.
- The college bookstore.
- Swimming pool, track, exercise room, music practice rooms. You may want to use these facilities at one time or another during your 4 years as a student on this campus.
- Community surrounding the campus – is the community someplace you will feel comfortable shopping, going to the movies, eating at restaurants, etc.?
After Your Campus Visits – What to Do When You Get Home
- Send the admissions officers and the professors you whom you interviewed thank you cards (or letters).
- File the information from each college in a separate folder.
Remember, before making your final choice of which college to attend, you will probably want to visit the colleges and universities you’ve been accepted to one last time in March or April of your senior year. This will give you a final look at the campuses while they’re in session and give an impression of how friendly the students are.
A final visit will help you make the right decision on where to spend four years of your life as a college student.