I am a huge supporter of college visits for a number of reasons. You can see my top five here. One of the biggest reasons is mindset. It is a great way for the whole family to start preparing for what is to come.
Think about this, you are going to spend four years of your life somewhere. To put it into perspective that is the same amount of time a student spends in high school. Think about all of the things that have transpired in that time. You need first and foremost to be comfortable and happy in your surroundings to be successful. The best way to have an idea if you would be happy somewhere is to go there. I know this is not always possible for a number of reasons logistically, financially and otherwise. I do have some travel hacks or work arounds you can see here. If you cannot physically travel to a college you are interested in, then at least take a virtual tour online. All colleges have websites that cover every facet of their campus.
Sophomore and Junior year are not too early to start taking college tours. Actually, this is the perfect time. You don’t have to start off half way across the country. Start at a local college or university. One, or a number, of these local schools will likely be on your school list. This gives the parents and students an inside view of what to expect in the college search. This also gets everyone’s mind in the right place to start planning for the college process. All colleges offer campus tours.
The College Tour
College Tours come in different shapes and sizes but they all tend to cover the same things. The best way to visit a campus is to let them know you are coming. The vast majority of colleges will have websites and on those websites, you will find a “prospective student” section. If you can’t find it just type “prospective student” or “campus visit/tour” into the search bar. You will generally find the search bars at the top right-hand corner or over on the top left-hand side. Trust me, there will be lots of prospective student information pop up. The minute they know you are interested in the school they will be only too happy to help you navigate from there. Keep in mind whether state or private school, college is a business. They need clients like any other business to keep their doors open. College tours are part of their marketing structure and a way to put their best foot forward. Once you find the campus visit section, there should be a form for you to fill out.
They will ask for your information (so they can contact you after the tour) and send you your tour confirmations and proposed schedule for the day. Some schools have a set tour, others will let you pick and choose what you want to do. You can fill out the form, most will have a calendar that either shows when tours are available or let you pick a day that is convenient for you. I suggest trying to go during the week when school is in session. I say this because you want the opportunity to talk to current students and see what the campus is actually like during school. This is hard to do on a weekend and limits your options of what is available to do when you get there. Next, I will tell you some of the general things that are offered and then some of the more specialized things to look for or ask about either on the form or when you arrive. You can find my five top reasons to visit colleges and print it to keep as a reference guide. After reading what they have to offer, fill out your form and send it.
When You Arrive
When you arrive at the campus, you will report to the admissions office. Since you filled out the form and received a confirmation, they will be expecting you. Some schools will welcome you with a t-shirt or a folder with lots of school-specific information. They will hi-light their school’s strong points and what they are best known for. Once you are received at the “welcome center” you will most likely be taken on a tour of the campus. Depending on the size of the school this may be a group tour or individual. The tour will be led by a current student who knows their way around campus and can answer the majority of your questions. The schools tend to hire happy, perky, involved students who love their school to give these tours, for obvious reasons. Ask Questions, these students are more than happy to answer your questions; it is part of their job, and most of them truly enjoy talking about their school. They are not trained professionals so you are more likely to get honest, heartfelt answers to your questions. The best questions to ask them are things like; why they like the school so much, how large are your classes, what do you do for fun, what is your campus culture, how is the food, what is student housing like, do you have to pay for sporting events, where is the best place to hang out on campus? Leave the technical questions for the admissions office.
Generally, the school will include lunch with your tour either singularly or in a group. Depending on whether your tour started at ten in the morning or two in the afternoon (these seem to be the preferred touring times) you will either start or end with lunch. Food on campus has become a huge selling point for schools. The varying degrees of five star cuisines offered at colleges now a days is for me, mind altering. Take for instance one school that offers all you can eat Chick-fil-a or another that only serves local sourced foods that are completely organic. Depending on the size of the school, you may have as many as ten national food chains represented on campus. Thirty years ago you received varying degrees of mystery meals. So check out the free lunch. Note: sometimes parents have to pay for their meals.
What about Classes?
Another option that has become readily available is the choice to sit in on a class. This gives you the opportunity to see the size of classes, style of teaching, and possibly talk with one of the professors in a subject that interests you. Attending class will also show you what to expect when you arrive at college. This is a perfect example of why touring during the week is preferable. I have found this helps motivate students and creates a more determined mindset when they return to high school. Summer programs are extremely good for this as well. This may be an option you have to select separately or may be included with the tour. Check the form you fill out for details, and, if you can’t find any, do not be afraid to call admissions at the school you are looking at.
If possible meet your admissions counselor while you are visiting the school. Again, depending on the size of the school there may be a specific person assigned to your region or it may include the entire admissions office. Look up the admissions office staff online and see before you go who is the assigned officer or office to your area. Then, go one step further and email or phone that person or persons and tell them you are visiting the campus and would like to speak with them or someone in the admissions office. Get a confirmation and make an appointment. This puts a face with the name and is just one more step you can take to separate yourself from the sea of applications that will pour in. This will also serve you well in other areas such as institutional scholarships. This is a sure way to show demonstrated interest, which is very important to some schools and not so much to others.
Home Away From Home?
Take some time to meet the students around campus. Go sit in the school’s Student Union (a central gathering space that usually offers many student services) and observe the crowd. Engage in conversation with the students that actually live there and ask them about their experience. You are going to spend four years somewhere; you need to know if the school climate is one you will be comfortable in. The general tour will show you the campus and tell you it’s history, but it won’t put you up close and personal with the students.
Now, take in the campus. Consider the weather. Ask yourself if this is somewhere that makes you feel at home or are you going to feel like an outsider? Will you love the winter or be miserable? Are you excited to embrace four seasons or are you happier with just one? The campus setting is important because you are going to call this place home for several years.
More Specific offerings
Try It Overnight
These things tend to be outside the check the box for a standard campus tour. In the last few years overnights at campus have been gaining popularity. Many colleges now offer the option to actually go to the school and spend the night in campus housing hosted by an actual student. This is generally referred to as a prospective student overnight visit or “Prospie visit” and is handled by the same group as campus tours. This is a very interesting way to really see the school from the inside. You will have a person who actually lives there to guide you around, the opportunity to attend a couple of classes and experience the food and housing just as you would if you went to school there. Be aware these overnight visits are usually restricted to Juniors and sometimes Seniors, but I wanted you to be aware of them now. This is an awesome way to really feel what it would be like to attend the school.
If you would be a standout student at this particular school, (see our best fit schools) you may want to ask about their honors program if they have one. If you are an honors student at a school, many times you are offered special housing, classes, and other “perks” at the school. More on this in another post. Ask for a tour of the honors school. This is yet another tour and another opportunity for you to see what is available.
Department or College Of?
Do you know what you want to do already or at least the direction you think you are heading? In other words you know you want to do STEM courses or Biology or Criminology. Most schools will have a tour of their engineering department or business department etc. Depending on the size of the place you are visiting they may have a department or an entire school dedicated to the subject you are interested in. These specific department/school tours will also be outside of the standard campus tours. You can also ask the individual departments what they offer for summer programs.
Opportunities Abound!!! Time to Check it Out
As you can see the opportunities to investigate schools and the programs that are offered are extensive. This is an excellent way to begin to see what is available and start to understand just what the college experience is all about. Visiting schools also gives you the time and opportunity to decide just what it is you want from a school. This is the time to start deciding what kind of campus, community, housing, geographical location, teaching styles, class sizes and even weather are going to put you in your happy place. Face it, it is far easier to be successful when you are happy in your surroundings, now is the time to decide what that is, not the day after you show up somewhere and start classes. Print my five best reasons to visit colleges now to refer to as you make your college visit plans.
Until next time,
Get With The Program