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How to Make the Most of Your College Overnight Visit

A college overnight visit is like a sleepover, but you get to live the life of a collegiette while you’re doing it! Not only are you there to have fun, you’re also there to learn as much as you can about a university and see if it’s the right fit for you. Check out these tips from collegiettes who have hosted an overnight visitor or have been an overnight guest before, and you’ll become an overnight visit pro.

Chat with your host or an admissions representative before you get there

In some situations, you’ll get your host’s email or phone number before you arrive on campus. Your host will be your college expert for the night: you’ll get to stay in her dorm room, meet her friends, eat in the dining hall and even attend a college class. Once you get her contact information, friend her or follow her on social media; it breaks the ice a little bit and gives you insight into her life on campus.

In addition to being able to stalk all of her social media profiles (hey, you want to see if she’s having fun at school!), you can reach out to her and find out the basics about where to meet, what to bring and what to expect. “My school provides a cot, but does not include a pillow or a blanket with the cot,” says Abby Borges, a senior at Hollins University who has hosted four prospective students. “It’s possible your hostess will have these things and can share, but not guaranteed.”

Check in to see if you should pack a sleeping bag or air mattress before you head to campus. You don’t want to get to your host’s room and find out that she doesn’t have extra pillows to spare! Also, don’t be nervous to ask what to expect out of your day at school. Find out what classes you’ll be attending or what club meetings you might be tagging along on.

“I’ve noticed that the people who volunteer to be overnight hosts tend to be active on campus, so high school students shouldn’t be surprised if their host brings them along to student group meetings,” says Katherine Varga, a junior at the University of Rochester. “During my overnight visit, I actually went off campus since my host was involved in a community service club that was making dinner for families of children with cancer.”

Talking to your host for the first time might seem a little intimidating, but remember that she signed up to welcome you to her college. She’s excited to give you a rewarding and fun experience! If the college you’re visiting does not give out host information before the visit, talk to an admissions representative about what to bring.

Plan questions in advance

When you’re on a college tour, it’s hard to get a feel for what the college is really like. Your tour guide is probably limited on what she can reveal about the social aspect of campus life because she’s hired by the admissions office, and admissions isn’t going to give you the dirt on what goes on after dark! It’s also difficult to find out more about what you think is important when your parents are next to you, laughing politely at corny tour-guide jokes or asking ridiculous questions (“Yes, Mom, I’m sure this college located in the Northeast has heat in the dorms”). So when you’re on your overnight visit, take every opportunity to figure out what the college is really all about.

“Have a list of questions and ask different people the same question, especially if it’s about something like campus life where you’re more likely to get different answers depending on the person you’re asking,” Abby says.

Planning ahead and determining what’s important to you – whether it’s finding out about the classes or partying – will make it easier to learn as much as you can about the college. Your host will have the lowdown on everything from how involved students are to whether it’s more of a bar- or house-party-oriented school. Ask about how you choose your classes, how involved students are on campus, how housing selection works and whatever else you deem to be important.

“My host invited me to dinner with her friends,” says Nicole Connors, a junior at Siena College. “It was the perfect chance to grill all of them about classes, their social life, guys and clubs and sports. I felt like I was being annoying, but they were so sweet about answering questions because they have all been through it before.”

In short, never be afraid to ask! There are no stupid questions when it comes to deciding which college to attend. Going on an overnight visit can teach you more than an admissions pamphlet ever would, so take advantage of it!

Find out what students DON’T like

Just like admissions won’t dish on the college nightlife dirt, they’re probably not going to tell you about what students don’t like about their college. Questions about what students don’t like are almost as important as what they do like – what if what they say makes or breaks the school for you? Be sure to mingle with your host’s friends, floor mates or roommates to get the most well-rounded view of the university as possible. Meals in the cafeteria and hanging out in the common room are the best times to get the lowdown on the negatives.

“You will hear wonderful things about your college, but ask your host about the downsides,” says Carina Corbin, a freshman at Amherst College who attended two overnight visits.  “Honestly, the harsher the better.  It’s best to know the school you will attend is not perfect before stepping through the gate in August.”

If you hear a few negative points about the college, put them into a pros and cons list. There’s a difference between finding out that sometimes the soft-serve machine doesn’t work and finding out that the surrounding area is so dangerous that students rarely go off campus. Talk to your host and your parents about whether or not the things you don’t like are overpowering the things you love. It’s good to know about all the amazing opportunities at your prospective college, but keep an open mind and try to see the good and the bad to make sure that you’re choosing a school that is 100 percent the perfect fit for you.

Go to a class you’re really interested in

If your host tells you to be up at 8 a.m. to attend calculus with her in the morning and math is the bane of your existence, don’t be afraid to speak up and find another class to visit. The entire overnight experience is supposed to be for your benefit, and the college will no doubt find you a class that interests you. What’s the point in sitting in a class that isn’t related to your interests or your future major? Ask your host to find you an opportunity to learn about something you’re interested in and maybe even mingle with the other students and a professor.

“I knew in high school I would want to major in computer science and continue learning Chinese,” Carina says. “Of course, when I visited Amherst, I wanted to talk with the teachers who taught those courses. While it’s unfair to judge an entire school, department or even the teacher based on one day of class, you grasp the atmosphere and decide whether or not it’s environment you like.”

Be assertive! You’re almost an independent collegiette. Sit in on a class that really interests you. Your host can direct you to the admissions office, which often has a list of classes inviting prospective students to visit.

Once you’re in class, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the professor and the students around you—they are your best resource. Students sitting by you can fill you in on what they’re doing in class today and what class is typically like.

With the help of your host (who probably has an idea of which professors are the best) and admissions (who knows which classes best fit what you’re interested in), you can pick a class that you’re excited to attend. It may be the experience that influences you most during your overnight visit.

Keep in touch after the visit

Not only will your host be an expert on her school, she’ll be an expert on the college admissions process. Take advantage of having a newfound connection with someone who’s been there before and who can give you advice on all the ins and outs of picking a college. And if you choose to attend the college you visited, you’ll already be friends with a cool upperclassman!

“From a host’s perspective, make good friends with your host because they are a good connection to have during your freshman year for transportation, advice and anything you really need,” says Nicole Boschetti, a junior at Marist College who has hosted an overnight student twice.

After the visit, text or Facebook message your host to thank her. She’ll appreciate it and keep it in mind if you need her help again in the future. Feel free to ask her any major questions as your decision deadline approaches (think financial aid, curriculum or housing questions), but don’t bombard her! As the semester winds down, she’ll be super busy with final exams and presentations. When the college’s summer break starts, most hosts will be ready and willing to answer all of your pressing questions (this includes all dorm décor, clothes and boy questions).

An overnight visit is one of the best ways to find out if a college is really for you. The more you know before you hit the road, the better you’re prepared to take advantage of everything an overnight visit offers you.

Nicole Knoebel was the President and Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus Marist and is a former National Contributing Writer for Her Campus. She attended Marist College and majored in English (Writing) and minored in Journalism. Nicole has been an editorial intern at Marie Claire, Us Weekly, Seventeen and ELLE and spent a semester living in New York City to test out the Carrie Bradshaw life (minus the Manolos). You can follow her on Twitter at @nicoleknoebel!
Cassidy is a Digital Production intern at Her Campus. She's currently a junior studying journalism at Emerson College. Cassidy also is a freelance reporter at the Napa Valley Register and a staff writer at Her Campus Emerson. Previously she blogged for Seventeen Magazine at the London 2012 Olympics, wrote for Huffington Post as a teen blogger and was a Team Advisor at the National Student Leadership Conference on Journalism, Film, & Media Arts at University of California, Berkeley and American University in Washington, D.C.. When she's not uploading content to Her Campus or working on her next article, Cassidy can be found planning her next adventure or perfecting her next Instagram. Follow her on Twitter at @cassidyyjayne and @cassidyjhopkins.