By Marcy Black
Planning a campus visit can be a logistical challenge, whether it’s a quick pass through the local community college, or a week-long tour of distant colleges and universities. Here are some questions to consider before you leave.
What type of “visit” are you planning to do?
When you don’t have much time, a drive through campus will give you a quick impression of the institution and its neighborhood. Is it in a leafy suburb or gritty urban setting? Contemporary construction, or aging Gothic stonework? Do you see smiling faces, or grim expressions?
The “Day Visit”
Most people try to schedule, at the minimum, a half-day visit to attend an information session and take a campus tour. A full day on campus allows time for an admissions office interview, a meal in the cafeteria, a class, impromptu conversations with students, and meetings with faculty and coaches.
Many schools will arrange for a prospective applicant to spend the night with a student in a residence hall. Your host could be a student in your major, or an athlete in your sport. You might be able to set up an overnight visit with a sibling, friend, or currently enrolled student from your town.
How Many Colleges Will You Visit?
Pre-application: It’s a good idea to try to visit the top three schools on your application list. If you have the time and money, you can use campus visits to explore many options. Even if you don’t start out thinking you’d enjoy attending a technical institute, a single sex institution, or a giant state university, you may change your mind after a campus visit. A driving tour can cover a lot of ground, but don’t be too ambitious. Schedule visits to no more than two schools a day. Ten in five days may leave you exhausted and with blurry impressions of the schools.
Post-acceptance: If you are not certain about what school you will attend, campus visits to the schools that accepted you may help you decide. Spring open campus events for accepted students are a great way to meet your future classmates.
When will you visit?
It’s never too early to introduce children to higher education. Visits to colleges can easily be incorporated into family vacations, even at an early age. But for the teenager, visiting colleges takes on more immediacy.
Junior year is the time to get serious about visiting schools. Federal holidays in the fall and spring vacations offer opportunities to check out college campuses.
Senior year students should be zeroing in on their top picks in the fall, and visit those schools. Post-acceptance trips to visit campuses are essential if a student is still undecided about which school to attend. Most colleges offer campus programs for accepted students in the spring. Without the anxiety about getting accepted, teens can mingle with their prospective classmates to see if that school is a comfortable fit.
Iowa’s Grinnell College gets the most visitors in August, when families have vacation time, and April, when accepted students visit the school. College Visits, a Charleston, S.C.- based company that takes groups of students on packaged tours, does the bulk of its business February to April, during high school winter and spring breaks.
Some families defer any visits until after college acceptances have been received. Visiting schools to which a student has already been admitted allows the student to concentrate on realistic options. Though it’s tempting to tour on a holiday so you won’t miss high school classes, try to ensure that you visit while college classes are in session. An empty campus won’t give you a true picture of the place.
“Classes may be in session in the morning, but you generally will not feel the buzz and bustle of any campus until about 4 p.m.”, says private educational consultant Mark Montgomery of Denver.
What should you know before you go?
A lot of research can be done ahead of time before you arrive on campus. College search websites (such as StudentAdvisor) can give you information about admission requirements (average test scores and GPAs of admitted students), the size of the school, student-faculty ratios, specialized academic programs, cost, financial aid policies, and even college reviews. Carol J. DelPropost, Assistant Vice President of Admission and Financial Aid at Ohio Wesleyan University, recommends that students create a spreadsheet to organize this information, adding custom categories (like sports, or certain majors) of special importance to them. She says, “This thoughtful organization will help them to take control of their search right from the start.”
Photo: UWW Resnet