A quality, evaluative college visit is the best way to answer the question of whether or not a school and campus environment is truly a best-fit for you. Every conversation about school choice should go beyond topics such as rankings or available majors and always include a discussion about livability. Why? Because your new school will be a place where you will spend day-to-day life, make new friends, and also experience living independently as an adult for the first time since leaving home. If you plan on living on campus, consider that the school you choose will be your primary home for the next four to five years.
Most school visits are made in the form of guided or self-guided tours. Many schools are also offering “virtual tours” online to allow prospective students to get a feel for what the environment is like without having to step foot on campus. Regardless of where you are in the search or college list building process, the following five tips will help ensure that you are on the right track to making the most informed decisions about which college or university is a “best fit” for you.
Tip 1: Visit early and often
It is never too early to make college visits. Visiting schools as early as Freshman or Sophomore year can give you a good idea about what types of environments best-fit your academic and social personality. As with anything, practice makes perfect! Practice visits will help you make better evaluative visits later on. In addition, most schools log all official visits and often use this “documented level of interest” in admissions decisions!
Tip 2: Visit while school is in session
While holiday breaks and summer vacation may be tempting time periods to plan campus visits, it is best to visit schools during times when classes are in session. Experiencing the campus “vibe” is an important intangible part of the campus visit, and it can only be experienced while students are actively on campus. Additionally, if you plan on meeting with admission reps and/or professors, it is far more likely that they will be available while school is in session. Keep in mind that most schools close or suspend official tours and prospective student activities during major holidays and student breaks. Be sure to always check the school calendar before planning a visit!
Tip 3: Take the official tour and don’t be afraid to explore!
Campus tour guides are usually real students with real campus experiences. The student perspective that they can share with you is invaluable and often goes beyond what the school publishes online or in their informational brochures. Official guided tours are also the best way to gain access to off-limits parts of campus including classes that are in session, science laboratories, and dormitories.
After the official tour, walk around and continue to explore. Hang out in the student union and eat lunch in the cafeteria. Take time to check out adjacent student neighborhoods, shops, and restaurants. Get a feel for day-to-day life both on and off campus so that you can better decide whether or not you would be happy spending a sizable chunk of your life there.
Tip 4: Ask good questions and take notes
Do some research ahead of time and arm yourself with a list of questions that you would like answered during your visit. Trust me: your tour guide will be more than happy to answer them! In addition, don’t be afraid to approach current students on campus to gain more candid perspectives about campus life!
After visiting several schools, you may find that details of your visits blend together. While it is easy to look up things like deadlines, available majors, and other admission statistics online, it is impossible to find the emotions and feelings that you experienced during your visit without a physical record of them. The solution to this is to take good notes of your likes, dislikes, and first impressions in real-time while you are on your visit. While you may be tempted to keep notes on your phone, tablet, or laptop, some studies say that physically writing this information down may help you retain it for a longer period of time.
Tip 5: If you can’t visit, take a virtual tour!
It is not always possible for you to visit every school on your college list prior to applying. Luckily, many schools such as the University of Illinois are now offering virtual tours that give prospective students an opportunity to visit campus from the comfort of their own home. Other services such as campustours.com offer access to similar interactive tools to make visits remotely. While virtual tours may not ever replace the experience gained during in-person visits, they can give you a reasonable idea of what you might be able to expect as a student.
Karl Lenss is the managing director of Academic Angle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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