College visits are a great way to learn more about a school before you apply—to let you imagine yourself on campus and get a better sense of whether you feel at home there, something that can be hard to figure out from reading about a place online.
For example, college visits can help you learn about the people who go to a school and how happy they seem, the vibe of the campus, and the surrounding town or city. Sometimes, visits can reaffirm what you already know about a place, but other times they can surprise you with an unexpected positive or negative reaction.
However, with hundreds of schools to choose from, and high school and extracurricular activities taking up most of your free time, it’s important to think carefully about which schools to visit before you plan your trip.
Here are a few tips to begin navigating this process:
1. Figure out what qualities you are definitely looking for in a school, and which you’re still not sure of.
There are many criteria that differentiate schools, and it’s a good idea to think about what type of place you might want to be as you begin to narrow down your list. Are you looking for a large or small campus? An urban or rural setting? A specific program or major? It’s OK if you don’t know the answers to these questions as you figure this out—that’s what college visits are for! For example, if you’re not sure what size campus you want, think about visiting both small and large schools to see what feels best. Visiting a range of schools will help you figure out exactly what you are looking for.
However, if you know you absolutely must go to a school in a city or a school with a specific program, it’s not worth it to spend the time or money going to visit schools that don’t fit those criteria.
If you just have no idea where to start, it can be a good idea to visit a few schools near where you live—even if you have no intention of going to them—to get a sense of what type of campus feels right to you.
2. Do your research first.
Once you’ve thought about what type of school you might want, find schools that fit your criteria and learn as much as you can about them to see if they appeal to you! The more research you do, the better able you’ll be to narrow down your list and be prepared to ask the right questions when you visit. You can browse through college websites to learn more about them, or check out some of these additional resources that compile information on various colleges: US News & World Report, SmartClass, CollegeConfidential, and more. Empowerly, a college admissions counseling service, can help craft a plan of action specific to you.
3. Visit your safety schools.
When visiting colleges, it’s just as important to go see potential safety schools as potential reach schools. You shouldn’t just be thinking of your safety schools as back-ups or less good options, as some people tend to do, but as places you are just as enthusiastic about as everywhere else you’re applying.
Visiting a school can be the best way to get you excited about it and to picture yourself there, and you’ll feel much calmer throughout the college process if you know that you’ll be happy at your safety school.
4. Think about whether or not to visit your top choices schools.
There are pros and cons to visiting schools that you’re already positive you’re going to apply to. Some people say not to waste the time and money if you’re sure about a school already, but there are still other reasons to visit your dream school. For one, if you’re thinking of applying early decision, you definitely want to make sure that you like the campus and that you’d be happy going there! And even if you aren’t thinking of applying ED, visiting a campus can be helpful later on in the application process, as most schools will ask you to explain why you are applying and a college visit can help you answer this question in a unique way.
5. Plan ahead.
Once you’ve figured out the list of schools you’d like to visit, it’s time to plan the trip. Make sure you’re being realistic about your busy schedule: you may not have time to visit every place you’d like. As you’re making plans, here are a few things to remember:
- It’s best to visit schools when they are in session to really get a feel for what it’s like to be a student there
- Make sure to budget enough time for each visit—at least half a day if you really want to get a feel for the school
- Verify that there will be tours and information sessions running when you’re planning to visit, and check if you need to reserve a space
6. Don’t burn out.
As you’re planning, one other thing to remember is to be careful not to over-schedule yourself! Visiting schools can be exhausting, and you want to make sure you have enough time to really learn about a place rather than having your judgment impaired by exhaustion. If you’re too tired, or the colleges have started to blend together from too many visits, it will be harder to really get to know each school.
7. And finally, don’t worry if you can’t visit a school you’re interested in.
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to visit every school on your list due to time, money, or distance. If this is the case, don’t worry! There are plenty of other ways to learn about schools. In addition to looking at some of the online resources above, the admissions office can often connect you with a current student so you can ask them questions.
You can also check out some of the virtual college touring options listed here, or get a feel for a school by looking at some less conventional resources, such as the school newspaper or other publications, which can give you an idea of what students are thinking and talking about!