Preparing for a College Visit

So, you have decided to visit a college or university campus. How best should you prepare for this, to get the most out of the experience?

Trying to plan extended road trips to a long list of schools can be hard work. Instead, families should take detours to visit campuses while on other trips or vacations. Try to visit a city campus and an out-of-town campus, try to visit a large University and a smaller, more intimate college to see what feels best for you.

Most colleges may be too far from here for you to make an initial visit.There are now online services—such as eCampusTours and YourCampus360—that allow prospective students to explore a college campus from the comfort of home.

The purpose of visiting a college is to find out more information about life there, not just the academics, but also whether this is a good social fit for you. You are going to need to ask some questions.

If you are stumped on which questions to prepare for the college admissions staff, here is a list to get you started:

Academics

Along with being comfortable with the campus environment, students should explore academic departments that are of interest to them. Talk to professors or sit in on a class lecture to get a feel for a program and explore what opportunities would be available to you.

What are your most well-known programs? A lot of students ask, “Is your _________ program good?” Admissions counselors are hesitant to say, “No, that program isn’t our best,” even if it may be. However, if you ask, “What are your most well-known programs?,” they will be more likely to state the best programs and leave out the programs which are weaker.

Do you offer credits for IBDP Higher Level courses?

Are professors required to have office hours? A lot of students ask, “How is your professor availability?” Admissions counselors are hesitant to say, “Our professor availability is poor.” even if it may be. However, if you phrase the question, “Are professors required to have office hours?,” you may gain a better feel of professor availability.

In general, you may want to avoid asking closed questions. By asking a question that only requires a “yes” or “no” response, you will not receive the information you are seeking.

Student Life

Do you offer a shadowing or overnight program for prospective students? If they do, you will be able to follow a current student around the university, which typically offers you an accurate view of student life. You may even be able to sign up for such a program during your college visit!

What on-campus activities do you offer? How do students find out about off-campus activities?

Is housing guaranteed? Are the dorms co-ed? What is the visitation policy for dorms?

What percentage of students are international?

Do you have sororities and fraternities? If so, what percentage of students participate? Even if you are not interested in Greek life, finding out what percentage of students do participate is important because you want to know if you will be in the majority or minority.

While campus tour guides may be able to answer many of your academic questions, blogger Lynn O’Shaughnessy notes that they are often paid to show their school in a positive light. Prospective students should talk to current students on campus to get a clearer picture of a school’s culture. Ditch your parents if they are with you, and go and have lunch at one of the college cafés – chat to people around you.

With the amount of time traditional college students spend on campus, feeling safe on school grounds is an important factor to consider when exploring colleges. You should ask tour guides about campus safety policies and explore the school’s history of on-campus incidents.

While on campus, make sure to check out the college newspaper, which will clue you into the important issues on campus and what students care about. Have a look at graffiti on the site as well – what are the themes?

Financial Information

What is the total tuition cost? Follow-up question: Does that include Room and Board?

Am I automatically considered for any merit-based college scholarship when I apply?

Enjoy your visits and ask away! Remember, prepare for the college visit because the admissions staff is there to answer any questions. Also, don’t forget to get someone’s name and email them a thank you after you visit. If you do end up applying, it’s another indication of how serious you are about that institution.

If you’re visiting more than one school during your college search, each campus is likely to blend together. You will forget which memory goes with which campus – so it’s crucial to keep notes  and review them immediately after your visit. While on campus grounds, take notes during the tour – even just voice memos on your phone – and capture images of campus in order to create a visual index of what you’ve seen to review later.

If you have a successful visit – consider a Powerpoint or Keynote to share with other students when you return. We’d love to hear from you!