Navigating the College Visit: Make the Most of Your Time

Summer is here! This is the perfect time to travel to colleges with no penalty from your high school attendance office. Whether you are scheduling trips for the sole purpose of visiting schools, or you already have a trip planned and you want to tack on a college visit, the process can be daunting. However, preparing for the visit will help you learn the most you can about that school, which eventually makes deciding which school to attend much easier.
Students and families often discuss the struggle of having so many colleges to choose from. “Where do we begin?” This actually might be a great “problem” to have; you have options!
Selecting a school is a mutual investment: a school should want you (think “acceptance” and “financial aid offer”), and you have to want them (think “great education/future employment” and add a little fun in there!). This is where many options come into play. You can decide based on what you felt from your visit and based on what the colleges have to offer in terms of which features are most important to you.
Just keep in mind, not all students get a “feel” that they’ve met their match school during a visit. I remember visiting the university I attended and felt it was lackluster compared to the other four universities I visited. Thankfully, I based my college selection on other factors the school offered, not just the feel of the visit, and I had a wonderful experience during my four years in college.
How do you prepare for the visit?
First, call the Admissions Office! This is the first opportunity for the school to know your name. Admissions tracks who calls their school. This sends the message that you are serious about possibly attending their school, which increases your chances of acceptance.
During Your Visit
Don’t settle for the generic tour. Attend the tour that schools give daily, as they are a wealth of information. However, ask for something personal and individualized. For example, ask to meet with a professor in your program or major(s) of interest. Some other recommendations:

  • Ask to meet with an admissions counselor in order to review your credentials and likelihood of being accepted.
  • Ask to attend a class that interests you.
  • Eat in the dorm cafeteria just to get a feel for student life and ask the students there if you can pick their brains and talk to them about their college experiences.
  • If you don’t know what to ask for, you can even ask Admissions, “What options do you have or can you schedule for families who are visiting? We are trying to learn as much as possible about your school.”

Ask “different” questions ask take notes. Once you’ve made the visit more personalized, you will want to know which kinds of questions to ask. For example:

  • What makes this college unique?
  • How does academic advising work?
  • What clubs/groups exist?
  • Is housing guaranteed?
  • What employment or work-study options are available?
  • What percentage of students get jobs within six months of graduation? How did you gather that statistic?

As a family, find questions that are the most important to you and ask them that day. And, don’t feel like you need to overload yourselves or the tour guides with asking every question; you are there to experience the school, not rattle off a bullet-list. You can always call the college later to get answers to other questions.
During and after the visit, as soon as possible, make out some notes. Were the people friendly? Were questions answered authentically? What was the quality of academic instruction? What was the academic atmosphere? Would you like to spend time there? What additional questions do you have or what aspects would you like to continue to investigate?
After Your Visit
Have an open mind. Welcome to the world of solicited and unsolicited advice. People close to you, and not so close to you, will weigh in all the time with what they think about a school. Try to remember what is important to you, and see if the school meets your own criteria.
Last, feel free to visit again once you’ve been accepted and you’re trying to make a final decision. Often, initial visits are packed with information and you may not have a good pulse on a school until completing a second visit.
Listen to your gut, remember what’s important to you, enjoy your visits and your summer!