One of the best ways to determine if a college is the right choice for you is to actually go and visit. There is nothing like experiencing something first-hand to help you decide where to spend this important chapter of your life.
Visiting schools can be a stressful experience. Here are some tips that will help you stay focused.
Be prepared: Think about what is most important to you, spend some time on the school’s website, and come prepared with questions.
Good timing: If possible, try and visit while school is in session and not over the summer. This will give you a more realistic sense of what to expect as a student. Be sure to spend some time in the surrounding area and get a feel for what life is like off campus as well.
On tour: Take the campus tour. You’ll want to check with the school to see if you need to sign-up in advance and how. The tour guide will be very knowledgeable and can probably answer most of your questions or direct you to the person who can. After the tour, head out on your own. You’ll see the parts of campus that are less attractive, because every campus has them, and also make sure you hit up the places that are of most interest to you.
Essentials: Stop by the dining hall and student union. These areas are usually the hub of student life. While there, check out the bulletin boards for events, student groups, internship or job postings, and other announcements. Pick up the student newspaper or read other student publications, or listen to the college radio station. If possible, stay overnight in one of the freshman dorms.
Get chatty: Chat with students who are around. Ask why they chose this particular school and what their experience has been. While your tour guide is a wealth of information, they are usually paid to show the school in its best light. Talking with other students might give you a different perspective or more insight than what the tour guide is able to offer as they’re on a tight schedule.
Sit-in: Sit in on a lecture in a department you find interesting. This will let you see it in action and will also give you a sense of what the classrooms are like. See if you are comfortable with the class size. If possible, try and talk to one of the professors in the program(s) you are interested in. Be respectful of their time, but also remember most professors are keen to meet earnest students who are discerning a major life decision, like where to attend college.
Address needs: Think about what your needs are and visit appropriate offices and programs if the school provides them. If they don’t, be sure to make note of that, even if it doesn’t become a determining factor. If you are a student who needs an accommodation, visit the office of disability resources or equivalent program. If you would be a minority student, stop by the office for diversity or multicultural affairs. Chat with a counselor, staff member, or student member about what your needs are and what support and resources are available.
Take note: Don’t be embarrassed to take notes and pictures, especially if you visit several schools. Things tend to run together, so it will be helpful to have concrete reminders to refer back to when you’re ready to make your decision.
Finale: Save the schools you are most excited about for last. That way you’ll be able to give them a fair comparison to the other ones you visited.
Other options: If a campus visit is not possible, look for a virtual tour through websites like ecampustours.com or youvisit.com/education, and some schools offer virtual tours on their websites as well.