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Visiting Friends at College: An Etiquette Guide for Visiting & Being Visited

It may be hard having your friends scattered all over the country, but remember, having friends at different schools means having somewhere to stay in a variety of cities and small towns. If you’re a freshman, spring is the perfect time to visit a friend, now that everyone is adjusted and into the groove of things at her school. And if you’re a senior, you better go visit your friends while you still have the chance before you’re sent off into the (and we hate to say it) Real World. So as you pack your bags and get ready to visit your friend, here’s a helpful guide of the top 10 do’s and don’ts of visiting your friends at school—and some tips for when your friends come to visit you, too!

When visiting your friends…

1. DO wait at least a semester to visit.

College is a period of change and adjustment for everyone, especially in the beginning. That being said, you might want to wait a semester before you start traveling around the country to visit your different friends. Rachel, a sophomore at UC Davis, decided to visit friends who began school before her; unfortunately for her, with the three weeks of college her friends experienced they acted as though they were “above” Rachel, who hadn’t began school yet.
“If your friend is a freshman in college, wait at least a semester or quarter before you visit her,” she suggested. “They’re still getting acquainted with college life and don’t want you pestering them just yet.”

2. DON’T just use your friend’s dorm as a hotel room.
If you are going to visit your friend, you should be prepared to spend time with your friend! This was a problem for Cassidy, a senior at Emerson College; when her friend came to visit during her freshman year, she ended up leaving Cassidy to hang out with people from another school in the area.
“I was really excited for her to visit, and meet my friends and see what I do at school,” Cassidy said. “But when she got here, she wasn’t really interested in meeting or hanging out with my friends—she knew a few boys in Harvard in a Final Club so she wanted to go hang out with them instead. We ended up getting in a huge fight and it kind of ruined our weekend!”

3. DO make an effort to get to know your friend’s friends.
Of course, you’re there to see your friend, but don’t forget about her friends too! Keep in mind that you’re the guest, and try not to interfere too much with their regular social life. Besides, if you have the mutual friend, you’ll probably get along well!

4. DON’T get so drunk you get sick.
There’s a whole big campus out there. Even if you don’t go far, there are exciting things to see in the dorm or house your friend is living in, and new and fun people to meet! So chances are, you don’t want to spend your night in the bathroom with your head in the toilet. Not only does it make a poor impression, but it also won’t be too fun for your friend who was looking forward to a fun weekend with you, but ended up holding back your hair instead.

5. DO bring a hostess gift for your friend.
It doesn’t have to be anything big, but something to show your host that you appreciate her hospitality. Some ideas for gifts could be a bottle of wine, for you and your friend to enjoy together, some homemade baked goods (because who doesn’t love that?) or maybe a shirt from your school store. Something small and personal will do the trick! Or, if you don’t bring a gift, you can show your appreciation on the spot. Rachel, a senior at Northeastern, had her friend treat her to brunch to show her gratitude after visiting, she said it was, “adorable and super sweet.”

6. DON’T be picky.
About your plans, about food, or anything else; show your appreciation by being a gracious guest, rather than one who complains constantly. Remember that just because you are used to better dining hall food, a different type of party or anything else doesn’t mean that what you’re doing won’t be fun as well. Try to make the best of having an alternative experience than the one you usually have.

7. DO ask your friend what you need to bring ahead of time.
When visiting a friend at another school, make sure you come prepared! Nothing is worse than showing up with completely inappropriate attire, whether that means dressing more casually to go out or just remembering the essential outerwear. Just make sure you ask—you’ll be thankful later!

8. DON’T get mixed up in any drama.
It might be fun to meet new people, but talk to your friend first! You don’t want innocent flirting to be with a boy your friend likes or a casual bathroom conversation to be with your friend’s enemy. You’re only there for a weekend, so try not to cause any fights!

9. DO extend an offer to your friend to visit you.
Invite your friend to visit you! That way, you each get a chance to experience each other’s college life, especially if you go to vastly different schools.

10. DON’T forget to say thank you.
It’s the little things that count, so make sure you show your appreciation at the end of your visit by letting your host know. One especially personal way to show your gratitude is by sending a personal, hand-written thank you note.
If you’re hosting a friend…

1. DO make arrangements ahead of time.
If your friend is traveling by public transportation, making arrangements to pick her up can be difficult—especially if you don’t have a car. Make your plans ahead of time, so any problems can be worked out before your friend is stranded at the airport/bus stop/ train station.

2. DON’T stress about your plans.
Just because your friend is used to a different social scene doesn’t mean that she won’t have fun. Don’t make yourself crazy over what to do.

3. DO try to clear your schedule.
While it’s great that you’re involved with so many extracurricular activities, it’s a good idea to try to clear your schedule for the weekend that your friend is visiting. If you have an on-campus job, try to see if there’s anyone who would that would trade shifts with you.  Simmons College junior Krista had to balance volleyball and a visiting friend, but luckily she had a backup plan.
“I was in the middle of volleyball season when I had two friends visit,” she said. “Thankfully, I had my roommates entertain them while I was at my practice and game.”

4. DON’T obsess over high school.
It’s always fun to reminisce, but don’t bore your school friends by talking about high school for the extent of your friend’s visit.  Find things that your different friends have in common—like a major, sports team, or celebrity crush—that they can discuss. And remember, they all have one thing in common: you! When I had friends visit, my one friend from my childhood loved filling my college friends in on embarrassing stories from my childhood—almost as much as my school friends loved to hear them!

5. DO make a dinner reservation.
Show your friend that it’s a special occasion and that you appreciate her taking the time to visit. Even if you don’t eat out a lot, make the exception for your special weekend with your friend.

6. DON’T ditch your friend.
Your friend made the long trip to visit you knowing that she will be spending the night on the air mattress, and she did it because she wanted to spend the time with you. That means take the night off from spending the night with your boy toy. Even at a party, don’t leave her to go talk to that guy you’ve been crushing on.

7. DO show your friend your campus/city.

With college visits long behind you, it’ll be refreshing to see a different city and campus. Show your friend around, remember that she isn’t just visiting to party—she wants to see and learn more about your school.

8. DON’T get so drunk you get sick.
This one goes both ways; when you and your friend spend 10 months apart, no one wants to spend the one weekend during the school year together in the bathroom holding your hair. It won’t be any fun for anyone. “Remember they won’t immediately feel comfortable on your campus,” Rachel said. “If you take them to a party, watch your drinking. Chances are they won’t feel comfortable getting too drunk in a foreign place, so you should make sure you’re playing the classy host, not the drunk mess.”

9. DO go to visit your friend.
She took the effort to visit you, return the favor! It’ll be especially fun to visit for a special occasion, such as a major sporting event, concert, etc.

10. DON’T worry.
…Be happy. But on a serious note, just relax. Take advantage of the time you have with your friend and just enjoy it! You’ll be happy you did.

Carly Sitzer is a junior journalism major and psychology minor at Ithaca College. Originally from Long Island (but don't hate on her accent!), she spent summer 2010 interning at OK! Magazine and Scholastic Parent & Child. This pas summer, she interned at Parenting Magazine and CBS Radio, and she has continued to freelance for CBSNewYork.com. On campus, she is an editor for Buzzsaw Magazine, Ithaca's on-campus, alternative magazine. Additionally, she's involved as a Dean's Host for the Park School of Communications as well  as a peer advisor for freshmen in the communications school. In her free time, she loves to read magazines, wear a tiara, prepare fantastic salads and talk about her puppy, Floppy (who is a mini golden-doodle, but let's not get her started). Her work for Her Campus has received national attention, after appearing on major outlets like Huffington Post and USA Today. To read more of her writing, or learn more about her experiences in journalism, visit her online portfolio here.