Preparing for College Visits
If you are a senior, you will have already narrowed your options down to 4-6 potential schools, including your ‘safeties,’ ‘possibles,’ and ‘stretches.’ Try to visit each of the colleges BEFORE you apply – application fees can range from $30 to $60, and if you absolutely hate a school after visiting it, you will have saved some money by not applying. Use the list below as a checklist to make sure you see everything you will need to see.
If you are a junior (or younger), it is not too early to get started on college visits. Try to visit as many local and regional colleges as you can during this period. In Petaluma there are several types of schools nearby. Try to visit different types of colleges – two-year and four-year, small and large, liberal arts and technical, public and private. That way you will get a general sense of what college is about, and it can help you eliminate types of schools that are not a good fit. Use the checklist below to help.
To do before you go:
Look up everything you can on the college’s website, in guidebooks, viewbooks, the school catalog, etc.
CALL (or email) the undergraduate admission office and tell them you want to come for a campus visit. Ask for the following:
A student-led campus tour
A meeting with an admissions counselor and possibly a financial aid officer
An interview, if one is required by the school
To sit in a class (or two or three, if time) in a subject area that interests you
If you can spend the night on campus in a dorm (if your schedule permits)
Make travel arrangements and let the college know how you will be arriving (if you are flying, a few colleges will arrange pick-up at the airport). Some colleges recommend nearby hotels, restaurants, etc., if you are unfamiliar with the area. Be certain you have directions to the campus (call the school or go online and download a map).
Check with your teachers to make sure you can miss the curriculum/study time during your scheduled visit.
Confirm all your travel arrangements before you leave home and make sure you remind the college you are coming if you made arrangements far in advance.
To do while on campus:
Be prompt to scheduled meetings, tours, etc.
Ask good questions!
Eat campus food to sample what it would be like to eat it all the time.
Spend the night, if possible. If you have a buddy who attends the school, see if you can camp out on his/her dorm room floor.
Walk around while not on the tour – see if the campus ‘clicks’ with you.
Listen attentively to the Prof. during your class visits – is this someone you would be excited about learning from?
Talk to students and ask their opinions.
When you return home:
Write a thank you note to the admissions people who assisted you in setting up the visit and were available to you while on campus.
Write your impressions down and evaluate your thoughts and feelings about each school – you may want to try a pros and cons list about each school.
Continue to talk to people – your parents, friends, alumni, etc., about their impressions.
Don’t stress too much – now you know if you want to apply. Once you’re admitted you’ll have a harder decision to make.
This can be tricky. The majority of students visit with their parents, or a parent. Advantages to this are obvious – if mom or dad is helping to pay the cost of college, he/she has a vested interest in seeing the places you are considering. Parents can also get important questions answered, and you may even enjoy their company! The disadvantages include bias on the part of one or both parents towards a particular school, and the ever-present threat of embarrassing you. If relations are strained before a campus visit, it is unlikely a stressful campus visit trip will do much toward improving them. However, parents’ enthusiasm and excitement may be helpful, and they have more experience that you can draw from to gain impressions and get feedback.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about college visits:
When should I visit campuses?
While anytime is a good time if it is the only period you can arrange, there are advantages to visiting when the college is in session. If you go during the fall, students, professors, and admission folks will be enthusiastic and upbeat because it is the beginning of a new academic year. Winter has advantages because you will often see the campus at its worst (especially if it is in an extreme weather location), rather than during the pretty fall foliage or budding springtime. It can give you an impression of how difficult it may be to get to class during rain or snowstorms, and if you still love the campus, you will know it can only get better at other times of the year. Spring is a good time, too, however – you can soak up the sunshine and generally won’t have any travel hassles. While summer visits work to see the physical plant, they do not give you the typical atmosphere because most students are away for the summer.
Since it is important to concentrate on your high school course work, you should not plan too many long college visits. Try to squeeze as many campuses into one trip as possible – but without overwhelming your senses and losing track of the distinctiveness of each one. For regional colleges, a good plan is to take a three-day weekend and visit two (three at most) on the Friday or Monday you have available. Weekends rarely, if ever, work for campus visits since the admission office, financial aid office, etc., are closed (and of course there are no classes to visit). Use the Saturday or Sunday for travel time. Many colleges are in session during state and national one-day holidays (e.g., Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day), so if your parents have the day off, it makes a good time to visit. Often colleges on trimester and quarter systems will be in session when you have vacation from school (Christmas break and spring break, for example). If you must travel far to see several colleges (such as to the eastern seaboard), these longer breaks are a good time to schedule visits. Just make sure most of the colleges you plan to visit are in session, even if it is ‘Jan. term.’
Whom should I take with me to visit campuses?
Another possibility for campus visits is going with friends. This can have the advantage of hearing opinions from peers and getting a sense of what vibes they pick up from a campus. It can also be a lot of fun to travel with friends. The disadvantage is friends who have no interest in a college you are interested in – and therefore do not devote the same serious consideration to it. If your friends are along for the fun and not the work, it can be distracting and frustrating.
Lastly, students may often have the opportunity to sign up for campus visits with a tour group. College admission offices, professional tour companies, or sometimes Justin Siena sponsors these types of trips. A big advantage of this type of visit is that all the travel arrangements and logistics are arranged for you. The biggest disadvantage is that each campus visit is orchestrated, and you may not see everything you want to see due to time constraints or lack of interest by other participants. For example, you may want to see the campus theater or the sports arena, but they are not on the scheduled list of things to see.
What sort of questions should I ask?
Think about the general and specific information you want to know about each school you visit. Try to ask the same questions at each campus and write down the answers. Then when you get home you will have a good basis for comparison. Basic questions to ask…
…the student tour guide:
How does the (bigness, smallness, class size, or however you choose to fill in this blank) feel to you?
What is the best thing about being a student here? The worst?
How do you like the food?
Are the dorms noisy or quiet during the week? What about weekends?
Do students stay on campus for the weekends or generally go home?
What do you think of the Library? Do you study there? Can you study at midnight? How about two o’clock on a weekday – is it quiet, crowded, what? Does it have the resources you need?
What is the social life like? Describe a party.
How do you get along with your roommate? (Check out the dorms carefully, too – how big are the rooms? How are the bathrooms?)
Have you had any hassles with financial aid funding or getting into classes you want to take?
What are the sports teams like? What about school spirit?
Will I need a car to get around? A bike?
If you had it to do over again, would you apply to this school?
…the admissions counselor:
Tell me about your admission requirements. Is there any new or different information I should know about that has changed recently? (You will have already done your research on the website and in published literature pertaining to the college – but things can change before a new publication is printed).
Explain your Early Decision plan to me (or Early Action plan if that is what the school offers).
Do you offer my major? Is it impacted? How big is the department?
Do I need to declare a major on my application?
What other programs do you offer that will support my major?
Is your school accredited? By whom?
What types of advanced degrees are offered?
If I decide to go to community college first, what are the transfer requirements?
Do you have any honors programs?
Are internships available? On campus? In the community?
What type of placement services do you provide?
Based on my GPA and test scores, do I fit within the range of your profiled students?
Do you admit by exception (which means, do you sometimes admit students who do not meet your admission requirements due to special circumstances)?
…the financial aid officer:
What is the total cost of attendance, including tuition, room and board, books, supplies, incidentals, parking, visits home – everything?
When do I pay those fees? Do you have a fee payment installment plan?
Tell me about the types of financial aid you offer. What percentage of aid is in the form of loans? Grants? Scholarships?
Is financial aid need-based, merit-based, or both?
What is the average financial aid award on your campus?
How easy is it to work part-time while attending this school?
When will I be notified of my financial aid award package?
What are the chances the fees will be increased next year?
What else should I look for?
There are other areas you may wish to observe, depending on your interests and desires. If you play a sport, you will want to check out the sports facilities, talk to student athletes and coaches, and perhaps visit a game or practice. Do you see yourself as part of the team? If you are a visual or performing artist, you will want to check out the art center or gallery, the campus theater, and possibly attend an art show or drama rehearsal or performance. Do you like what you see?
Try to visit the area surrounding the campus also. What does it feel like to you? Could you find the grocery store or a pharmacy nearby? What about restaurants and malls? Are you close to things you will need? Do you feel safe? Can you use public transport easily or will you need a car?
Be sure to visit the Student Union, the Health Center, academic advising, etc. Are people friendly? Can you envision yourself using these services? Check out the bulletin boards and kiosks around the campus. What do you see advertised? Are there activities posted that interest or intrigue you? And lastly, what is the weather like? If it is different from your hometown, could you get used to living in this place?
For more information on campus visits, go to www.campustours.com, www.travelersjournal.com, or simply type in ‘campus visits’ on any search engine, and dozens of individual colleges’ campus visit dates and times will be listed.
College Admission Requirements
Private colleges and universities – admission requirements will differ depending on whether you are applying to a 4-year or 2-year institution, independent or faith-affiliated and whether you are applying to a school using the Common Application or not. Be sure to check the website of any private school you are considering for its admission requirements.
Out-of-state public colleges and universities – admission requirements will vary among out-of-state public colleges and universities. Be sure to check websites for admission requirements.