A Guide to College Visits

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You wouldn’t buy a house without looking at it first, right? In the same way, it’s really important to visit the college you’re considering on attending before you enroll so that you can get a feel of what it’s really like. A lot of students actually change their minds after a college visit because a campus’s atmosphere from its dorms to its cafeteria food is just as important as the programs and scholarships it may offer. College visits are also very helpful for those students who are unsure about which college they want to attend because they allow the student to figure out exactly what they like, dislike, and want in a college based on each visit.

This is a step-by-step guide to college visits all potential students should follow.

  1. There’s a lot to do even before the visit. It’s a really good idea to know what you generally want in a college beforehand so that you can narrow down the choices. Consider if you would feel comfortable in a big college with more than 15,000 students or in a smaller college with fewer than 5,000 students or if a medium-sized one is the school for you. Other factors to think about are if you would enjoy college or city life, if being close to home is important to you, private or public, coed or not, as well as specific programs or scholarships regarding your major. If you’re having a hard time trying to decide between these factors, asking your friends, family, current college students, and your college specialist at school for their opinions and experiences may help. To talk to your college specialist, all you need to do is go to the College & Career Center and set up an appointment.
  2. Once you have a vague idea of the type of college you’d like to attend, use all those criteria to find specific schools that fit within most or all of your ideal factors. All colleges have a website and that’s the best place to start when looking into a college. Take some time to go through the site and find out exactly what the college has to offer, the special features it may have, and try to find answers to any questions you may already have about it.
  3. Set up your college visit. You can usually schedule visits through the school’s website. You do need to pay for the tour and dates and times may be limited. It’s a good idea to avoid scheduling multiple visits right after each other; space them out so that you can really appreciate and reflect on each college before you move onto a totally different one. Also, it’s best to schedule your visit during the school year because you can’t get a realistic idea of what the school is really like if you visit when school isn’t in session like during the summer.
  4. The next step is to actually go on the visits. You can expect a general tour of the campus, highlighting the good parts of the school. Definitely wear comfortable clothing because you will be walking around a lot. Take pictures, notes, brochures, and souvenirs from each school. Also, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions!
  5. After the official tour, you should take a tour of the college on your own. The tour guide is paid to basically advertise the school so it’s likely that a lot of not-as-great, but still important features of the college were avoided. Key places to check out are the dorms, cafeteria, library, and recreation area or gym. It’s also a good tip to look at flyers, posters, and the school newspaper if you can because they’ll provide an extra glimpse of what life is really like at that college. It’s really important to talk to current students too if you feel comfortable enough because they’ll tell you more frankly about the college and will be able to answer your questions more personally. Some schools allow you to stay overnight which will give you an even more explicit experience. Sitting in on lectures is another good idea but be sure to ask beforehand.
  6. After visiting each school, record your impression of it right away so you won’t forget specific details that impressed or dissatisfied you. This will help a lot when you’re done with all your visits and you’re comparing schools.
  7. It’s optimal to meet with your college specialist at the beginning of senior year with a list of potential colleges and any additional questions. Hopefully college visits during junior and even senior year will allow you to have a rather short list to think about. When comparing and deciding between colleges, a good idea is to create a pros and cons lists for each school and to get feedback from your family, friends, college specialist, and current college students.
  8. The last step would be to apply to your potential colleges by Halloween time of senior year and cross your fingers!

Now that you’re familiar with what to expect, know and do, finding the right college with the help of college visits should be an experience to look forward to!

For a look into the results college visits really give, here are a few students at Lafayette who said that visiting the college they were considering helped influence their decision about whether they wanted to attend or not.

Senior Hallie Roll was interested in the writing programs the University of Iowa offered and did a little bit of research before visiting.

“I mostly looked up what majors they had to offer, how big their programs were, and scholarship opportunities,” Roll said,“My parents came with me, but we had an official tour guide person who walked around basic areas [with us].”

Roll said she fell in love with the campus and is currently set on attending University of Iowa after graduation.

“Go when the weather is nice, because if you visit a college on a rainy day or something, it’ll probably affect if you want to go there,” Roll added.

The United States Military Academy at Westpoint was where senior Alex Kraemer visited. He said he has been applying there for a long time.

“It’s a very long admissions process, so I really knew a lot about the school before I went there.”

Instead of the normal day-long visit many students go on, Kraemer’s was a little different.

“I was actually there for a 2-3 day visit because I got invited to go up there for an overnight visit by an admission officer.”

Kraemer says that he thought his visit was really helpful, and that it was nice to see what a day-to-day college experience was like.

“I’ll probably end up going to Westpoint, but it depends if I get in or not. I find out in late February my final admission status,” Kraemer said, “If I don’t get into Westpoint, though, I’ll go into University of Michigan.”

Senior Meghan Laarman visited the University of Michigan, where her parents are alumni, and she has already been there for football games. She also had already been accepted to the university’s college of literature, sciences, and arts.

After a sit-down lecture and information session, Laarman explained she went on a walking tour around the college and that the visit really made the decision to go there even stronger.

“It was fun. It allows you to feel like you’re at the university. The next week I went to Indiana University, and it just didn’t feel the same,” Laarman said.

Junior Courtney Geller has visited many universities and colleges, including Auburn, University of Kansas and University of Maine.

“I visited [the University of  Kansas] because my dad took me, and also because he’s a long time Jayhawk fan. I went to a football game afterwards and they have really good fans, which I like a lot,” said Geller.

All four students agreed that visiting colleges and universities are both fun and beneficial.

For even more information and additional tips about college visits, here are some links to check out:

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