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How to Make the Most of Your Campus Visit

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If you’re a high school grad who is lucky enough to have several colleges to choose among, you’ve probably already thought about paying visits to the finalists on your list. The campus visit is a time-honored tradition for entering freshmen, and universities often strongly recommend that prospective first-year students spend some time on campus before making a final decision.

But with the time and expense that a campus visit requires, some students wonder whether they’re actually all they’re chalked up to be. After all, in the age of the Internet, it’s possible to learn a great deal about your final picks and the ins and outs of student life without ever actually setting foot on campus. So, are campus visits really worth the trouble?

t depends. If you can swing a campus visit, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity. Having as much information as possible will help you make the best decision. But aside from actually letting you get a first-hand look at the campus, the quality of the information you’ll be able to gather will vary considerably based on how well you manage the process. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when you’re planning a college visit.

*Stray off the beaten path. Most universities offer official tours to prospective students and their parents. While these outings might serve as a good basic introduction to the campus, they definitely don’t give you access to the whole picture. Supplement the official tour with your own fact-finding expedition. Try to cover as much of the campus as possible, not just the picturesque parts that official tour guides tend to stick to.

*Immerse yourself in student life. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? During your campus visit, try to live as if you’re already a student. Eat in the dining hall, spend time in the dorms, shop at the bookstore, try to get from Point A to Point B during the mid-morning traffic rush. By trying to get a taste of the student experience, you’ll have a much clearer picture of whether this college is actually your best pick.

*Check out a class or two. The edibility of the food in the dining hall and the habitability of the dorm rooms are both important considerations, but what you’re really going to college for is an education. If you can arrange it, try to sit in on a couple of classes during your campus visit. If you already have a major in mind, or if you’re considering the college based on the strength of a certain academic department, this is particularly important.

*Does it feel like a good fit? What does your gut tell you? Does this feel like a place you could be happy? Can you imagine yourself fitting in and making friends? The academic rankings and class-size ratios are important, but don’t discount your intuitive sense of the campus.

*Document everything. When you’re taking everything in, you might think you’ll be able to remember all of the large and small features that stood out to you on each campus. But by the time you get back home, the details will probably be a bit blurry, especially if you’re visiting more than one campus. Get a large manila envelope for each campus you visit, and stuff it fill of all of the brochures, pamphlets, and other propaganda that gets handed to you. If possible, take along a digital camera with video capability, as well.

Do you have any campus visits planned? If you’re already in college, did a campus visit help you choose your school? Share your story in the comments.

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