Whether you are finishing up middle school or in your senior year of high school, here are some things to consider as you plan your college visits:
When is the best time of year for high-school students to visit colleges?
In general, the best time to visit is while college classes are in session (avoid finals and breaks whenever possible) so you can experience the campus with students bustling around. In addition, this presents opportunities to sit in on classes, speak to current students and faculty, and possibly coordinate an overnight stay on campus. When it comes right down to it though, you have to visit when your schedule permits—spring break, long weekends, any time you can get away. Plan as much in advance as possible and contact the schools to try to arrange campus tours and find out what might be happening at the school during the time of your visit.
When should students begin visiting colleges?
This answer varies depending on when you are reading this blog. Ideally, you would start visiting campuses in your junior year. Late August and early September can be particularly good times as many colleges will already be in session. This can help you narrow down your choices for where you will apply. If you are a senior and have already applied, you can wait until after you hear back from schools as most schools host admit-days to try to convince admitted students to attend.
Some students start much earlier, beginning in freshman year — consider incorporating college visits with campus tours if/when you travel to different places on vacation. This will help you to get a sense of what different colleges have to offer and what you like and dislike about certain atmospheres. It is also a good idea to do your first visit to a nearby college. It will be easy to get to, inexpensive to visit, and will provide a nice foundation for evaluating other schools. Try another visit to the local after you visited several others—it will be interesting to see if your perspective changed since your initial visit.
What sorts of things should I do when I visit?
1. Put together a list of things you think might be important to you.
2. Take notes:
• How does the atmosphere feel? Too big? Too small? Too hectic? Too quiet? Too remote? (You get the idea!)
• Record your gut reactions—write down anything that stands out to you.
• Write down any questions that arise.
• Consider the time of year you are visiting (what might the campus be like in other seasons?).
• These notes will help you remember the experience and will come in handy when writing college-specific essay responses.
• Remember to record contact information so you can follow-up at a future date.
3. Take a campus tour.
4. Speak with a Financial Aid Officer.
5. Schedule an admissions interview.
6. Sit in on a class in a subject area of interest.
7. Arrange a time to speak with professors.
8. Chat with current students (ask them what they like most and least about the school).
9. Eat on campus (in the dining hall or cafeteria if possible).
10. Walk around as many parts of the campus as possible.
11. Walk around the town/community surrounding the campus.
What if I can’t travel to visit colleges?
Although it is difficult to underestimate the impact of physically experiencing the college in person, it is possible to get a sense of the campus by taking a virtual tour. Most college websites offer visual tours. In addition, you can reach out via email to admission officers for your geographic area and faculty within your major of interest. You should also follow blogs for prospective students at schools to gain additional insights.
Whatever you are able to do along the way will help you to figure out what characteristics of particular schools are most appealing to you. At each school, try to imagine yourself there. Be honest about how you feel. Consider how that particular school might help you achieve your goals for the future. In the end, this is all about trying to identify schools that are good-fits for you.
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