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Visiting Colleges: A Pre-Collegiette’s Guide

Choosing where you want to attend college can feel like a daunting task. It’s all about where you want to be, what you want to study, and which school is right for you. While a school may seem perfect on paper, to really experience it, you’ll have to go on a college tour. Here’s how to plan your college visits from start to finish.

Make a List

Before you start thinking about tours, narrow down your list of colleges. Research the schools online and talk to your high school guidance counselor to see which ones may be a good fit for you. Carmen-Mariah Rey from Binghamton University says that she researched schools before deciding which ones to visit. “I pretty much did as much research as I possibly could, emailed the schools, read all brochures and grading sites for differing aspects of campus life and checked out the class difficulties,” she said.

While simply researching online can’t necessarily tell you what school is the right fit, it can help you narrow down what may be a long list of potential colleges. Make sure each school’s academics, extracurriculars, and location seem like a match for your interests. If you visit every college that sounds kind of cool, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and money.

Plan Ahead

It’s easy to put off thoughts of college until senior year. But if you wait that long, you may find yourself overwhelmed. Judi Robinovitz, a Certified Educational Planner and founder of Score At The Top, tells students to tour colleges as soon as they can. “It’s never too early to start touring,” she says. “Senior year is too pressured other than revisiting a couple of top choice schools.” Use senior year to visit one or two schools you just can’t choose between, not to look at every school you’ve ever liked.

Darci Miller, a student at U Miami, says she got her college visits done early. “I went on a tons of college visits during my junior year of high school, before I even applied, and I’m so glad I did!” Darci says visiting the schools early helped her decide which ones she was really interested in applying to. The earlier you visit, the more time you have to think over your options.

Brigid Kennedy used family vacations during high school as an opportunity to visit colleges. “My family takes a lot of road trips,” she says. “Every time we’re near a major college campus, we take a few hours to look around.” If your next family vacation is near a campus you’re considering, take a half-day to look around. Maybe you’ll decide you love the school, or maybe you can just cross it off your list.

Make an Appointment

The first thing you’ll want to do is schedule a campus tour. The campus tour, usually led by a student, will give you a chance to see important aspects of the campus and also learn a little bit about the school itself.

Plan your visits during the week when classes are in session. “The last thing you want to do is see an empty campus, because that really doesn’t give you a fair view of the school and the environment,” says Emory University collegiette Lauren Kaplan. When looking at a school, the campus alone can’t give you an adequate picture of what the place is actually like. You can see how busy the school is, how the students interact with each other, and where they hang out when they’re not in class. Ally Koss, a campus tour guide from Northeastern University, says, “Visiting a school while classes are in session can really help you see the campus in its natural state.”

However, Lauren warns against visiting campus on Fridays. “Avoid the haunting emptiness of campus after Thursday night ends and Friday begins with horrible hangovers/skipped classes.” Fridays tend to be a little bit slower at college because many students have no classes at all. Try to schedule a visit Monday through Thursday sometime in the middle of the day.

Also, avoid days when students may be taking midterms or finals. Students will have different schedules and the campus may be more empty or stressful than usual. You can find a school’s exam schedule on their website.

To schedule your campus tour, visit the school’s website or contact the admissions office. They may ask you to pick a tour date from a calendar of options, or you may have to email or call the school’s admissions office to set up a visit.

Do More Than Tour

If you’re taking the time to visit a school, make your trip worthwhile by getting as much information as you can. Make sure that the tour isn’t the only way you’re seeing the campus. “While information sessions and campus tours are extremely helpful, they’re designed to cater to a general pool of students and not necessarily you in particular,” says Ally.

Don’t be afraid to talk to students you find around campus. “I’d visit with my mom,” says Carmen-Mariah. “She’d be sure to stop some of the students, abandon our tour group, and ask them how much thye liked the school.” Sometimes the best way to get an honest opinion is to solicit one from someone who isn’t paid to talk about how fabulous his or her university is. If you know what your major is going to be, also try to set up an appointment with a counselor or a professor in that department. “Talking with students and professors in person is far more valuable than simply reading off a website or a brochure,” says Ally.

If you can, have the school arrange for a student to host you overnight. Judi Robinovitz recommends an overnight visit to get a better feel for the campus. “Most private colleges will make arrangements for a freshman to serve as your host for the evening and the next day,” says Robinovitz. Ask the admissions office if the school offers overnight accommodations. If you can’t stay at the school, try to at least spend a night in the town. “I ended up spending overnight visits,” says Carmen-Mariah of her college visits. “Which gave me time to figure out what I liked about the areas that the schools were in.”

Remember that when you go to college, you won’t be spending all of your time on campus. Explore the surrounding neighborhoods and see how you like the local restaurants, people, and atmosphere.

Leave a Positive Impression

Visiting a college can not only help you make a decision about college, but it can help the college make a decision about you. “An increasingly important factor in college admissions is the interest you show in a college,” says Robinovitz. “The very best way to show your interest is to visit the campus, making your visit known through your on-campus contacts with Admissions staff and faculty.” Robinovitz recommends coming professionally dressed and well informed. “Never ask a question that can easily be answered by reading the college’s own literature or website.” Read up on the college before you visit it. Come prepared with a list of questions you would like answered, maybe about the school’s honors program, scholarship opportunities, or even the dining halls. If you can meet with a professor or administrator from your department, ask them about class requirements or the percentage of graduates that get jobs. Use the tour as an opportunity not only to learn, but also to impress.

Choosing your collegiate home for the next four years is a pretty tough decision. But when you’re wandering around the campus, talking to students and exploring classrooms, you just may feel that you belong at a certain school. When you get that feeling, you can know you’ve found the right school. All you need to get started is a campus tour.

Coming from the small, mountain community of Evergreen, Colorado, Nicole is currently studying english and journalism at New York University. She has served as the Social Media Agent for the Washington Square News, beauty intern for Seventeen Magazine, and is currently an editorial assistant for Good Housekeeping. Beyond her writing, Nicole is an avid runner, former president Zeta Tau Alpha at NYU, and is passionate about her lifestyle blog www.stressinnicole.blogspot.com.
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