1) Plan ahead. Make a list of all the colleges you want to visit. Try to visit colleges near each other in the same day or weekend to minimize the amount of time you’re stuck travelling. Always check when and where tours and information sessions are.
2) Take the campus tour. While it may be the obvious thing to do, the official campus tour is really worth your while. (Find out if you need to register to get a spot.) Also, check out the flyers and bulletin boards and pick up a school newspaper to get a sense of what’s going on. Be sure to take your own un-official tour by wandering around campus. If there are any facilities that are important to you, find them and have a look for yourself.
3) Go on specialized tours of things you’re interested in. Sometimes schools offer engineering tours, arts tours, athletic tours or other categories that highlight what facilities and programs are especially good at the institution.
4) Look up classes you’d want to check out, especially large lecture ones where you won’t feel awkward walking in. It could also be beneficial to email professors beforehand not only to make sure your presence is acceptable, but also to put you in touch with an expert in some field you’re interested in.
5) Schedule an on-campus interview if the school allows it. If not, still stop by the admission office and introduce yourself. Let them know what interests you about the school so they can direct you to the best place for further investigation. Collect contact information and send a brief, friendly email thanking them for their time. Colleges do keep track of applicants who have demonstrated a genuine interest in their school. A visit is a great way to demonstrate your interest.
6) Keep a record of every college visit. If you visit several schools, your memories of them are bound to overlap. So, take some good notes. When more questions arise (they definitely will), you can send an email for an answer rather than visiting a second time
7) Talk to the students. Come prepared with some questions to ask them; here are examples:
Academic ~ Have your courses been taught by professors or teaching assistants (TA)? What roles do TAs play in classes? How often are you expected to meet with your advisor during the year? Are advisors readily available to meet with their students? How helpful is your advisor during the class selection process?
Residential and Student Life ~ Where do freshmen live? Is it separate from upperclassmen? How has your experience been living in the dorms? How often do students go home on the weekends? How does this affect your social life? What’s a typical weekend for you and your friends? Why did you choose this school? What do you like most about your experience here? What do you like least?
Other Opportunities ~ Are there research opportunities on campus? How often do students participate in research? Do students work alongside their professors when conducting research? Are jobs readily available on campus? Off campus? How easy is it to obtain a job? How have your internships affected your college experience?
8) Dress appropriately. Even if you don’t have a formal interview, you still may meet an admission officer, or even the President of the university—yes it’s happened before! Be ready for anything—so have a comfortable, professional look.
9) Make a vacation of your college visits. Although you’ve traveled to see a college, don’t overlook the surrounding areas and communities. Check out eateries, outdoor activities, arts and music festivals.
10) Reflect. Rely on your notes to recall things about each college and to make comparisons. When you get home, send thank you notes or e-mails to people who helped you along the way. Then begin to compare the schools. Figure out what you liked about them and what you didn’t. Picture yourself as a student at each campus and try to discover which seems the best fit for you.
– Cynthia S. West M.A., Ed.M.