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10 Tips for an Effective College Visit

Visiting a college can help a student determine if he or she wants to spend the next four years there.

U.S. News & World Report

10 Tips for an Effective College Visit

Young college student studying class schedule or campus map
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(Getty Images)

Finding the right fit.

For high school students in the process of researching a variety of colleges and universities, admissions professionals recommend scheduling campus visits to get a better feel for the schools. Experiencing the feel of a college can go a long way in helping an applicant find the right fit by offering a valuable glimpse into student life and campus facilities. According to the American Freshman Survey published in 2019 by the University of California—Los Angeles, 51.7% of more than 97,000 students polled indicated that a campus visit was a "very important" factor in choosing their school. Here are 10 tips for how students can get the most out of college visits.

Mixed race college student walking on campus
Credit

(Getty Images)

Start planning early.

As students get closer to the final year of high school, their schedules are filled trying to balance school and a social life – all while exploring potential college campuses. To ease the stress, students and families may want to make visits sooner, ideally before senior year. The College Board recommends spring of junior year as a good time to visit campuses for students who have already done the research on those colleges. Late summer and early fall before senior year are also convenient times, the College Board website notes, adding that classes may already be in session, allowing prospective students a glimpse of campus life. College visits are also a good use of downtime over spring break.

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Finding the right fit.

For high school students in the process of researching a variety of colleges and universities, admissions professionals recommend scheduling campus visits to get a better feel for the schools. Experiencing the feel of a college can go a long way in helping an applicant find the right fit by offering a valuable glimpse into student life and campus facilities. According to the American Freshman Survey published in 2019 by the University of California—Los Angeles, 51.7% of more than 97,000 students polled indicated that a campus visit was a "very important" factor in choosing their school. Here are 10 tips for how students can get the most out of college visits.

Start planning early.

As students get closer to the final year of high school, their schedules are filled trying to balance school and a social life – all while exploring potential college campuses. To ease the stress, students and families may want to make visits sooner, ideally before senior year. The College Board recommends spring of junior year as a good time to visit campuses for students who have already done the research on those colleges. Late summer and early fall before senior year are also convenient times, the College Board website notes, adding that classes may already be in session, allowing prospective students a glimpse of campus life. College visits are also a good use of downtime over spring break.

Establish a budget for college visits.

Trying to plan extended road trips to a long list of schools can be laborious and expensive, particularly if a student is interested in colleges far away from home. That's why it makes sense to set a budget for college tours. "You don't want to spend so much money on college tours that you are pulling away from valuable money that you're earmarking to pay for school," Peg Keough, a college financial planning consultant and founder of Washington-based college planning firm Way to the Quad, told U.S. News in 2016.

Take virtual tours.

Some colleges may be too far from home for students to make an initial visit. For those individuals, there are online services – such as eCampusTours and YouVisit – that allow prospective students to take virtual tours from the comfort of their couches. "I think it can be an authentic view into a campus of what it really feels like to be there," Joe Lackner, director of web communications at Hanover College in Indiana, told U.S. News. Hanover College shows off its campus with a 360-degree video tour and supplemental videos.

Get student perspectives.

The largest contingent on any college campus is the student body. Given their collective experience, it's likely they'll have opinions to share on academics, facilities, dining services, student life and more. The College Board recommends asking questions about reasons to attend that particular school, the transition from high school, what students do in their free time and on weekends, and what it's like to live there.

Explore academic departments.

Along with being comfortable with the campus environment, students should explore academic departments that interest them. A great way to start can be touring facilities, sitting in on a class and meeting professors. "I think there's this sense sometimes that high school students or prospective students would be bothering the faculty, or that it's really too much to ask to do that," Tiku Majumder, a physics professor and director of the science center at Williams College in Massachusetts, told U.S. News in 2017. "But I don't think that's true."

Visit a dining hall or student center.

Get a feel for the school's atmosphere by observing current students in a cafeteria or student union. This will give you a chance to experience what it might be like to be a student at that college or university. Different types of college visits can give applicants greater exposure to a campus and include opportunities to sleep in the dorms and eat in the dining halls. Janice Caine, owner and founder of Florida-based Custom College Visits, told U.S. News in 2017 that overnight visits give applicants opportunities such as "a chance to see what dorm life is like" as well as to connect with current students.

Ask about campus safety.

With the amount of time traditional college students spend on campus, feeling safe on school grounds is an important factor to consider when exploring colleges. Prospective students should ask tour guides about campus safety policies. Federal law requires colleges to release information related to crime on and around campus. Families can check annual security reports to see recent incidents on campus. If anything stands out as a cause for concern, ask the school for more information on campus safety.

Get financial aid information.

Along with understanding the culture of a school and the academic options it provides, students should also research financial aid opportunities at a college. Being on campus provides applicants with an opportunity to do just that. Philanthropic organization Scholarship America advises applicants to meet with financial aid officers, negotiate for the best deal and seek out school-specific scholarships related to student interests and activities.

Explore college through the lens of campus media.

Student newspapers can be a valuable source of insight into what's happening at a college. But don't stop there. The College Board's checklist also recommends tuning into the campus radio station and reading other campus publications such as literary reviews and department newsletters. And don't forget to check campus bulletin boards, which can give applicants a sense of what's buzzing on the college's social scene.

Document and share your visit.

College campuses often sport many of the same features: brick buildings, bell towers, well-manicured quads and statues of famous alumni and founders. One way to keep track is for prospective students to document the visit as they go. Sharing details on social media may be an admissions bonus. "Post (pictures) on Twitter or Instagram and have something positive to say about the university," says Judi Robinovitz, a certified educational planner and founder and co-owner of Score At The Top Learning Centers & Schools in Florida. Considering that admissions officers may already be checking social media, applicants should give them something positive to look at.

Learn more about colleges.

Get more advice about how to choose a college and check out the complete rankings of the Best Colleges to find the school that's best for you. For more tips on selecting a college, connect with U.S. News Education on Twitter and Facebook.

College visit tips

  • Start planning early.
  • Establish a budget for college visits.
  • Take virtual tours.
  • Get student perspectives.
  • Explore academic departments.
  • Visit a dining hall or student center.
  • Ask about campus safety.
  • Get financial aid information.
  • Explore college through the lens of campus media.
  • Document and share your visit.
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Updated on March 11, 2020: This slideshow has been updated with new information.

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