This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
There’s no substitute for seeing things with your own eyes—and that goes double-vision for the college campus visit.
To absorb life on a potential campus, you must see it, listen to it and feel it. Then you must ask campus insiders some questions that satisfy your curiosity, and use all that data to figure out if that particular college is right for you.
That’s where the college visit is instrumental. To get the most out of that visit, follow these tips:
Visit the school’s website to sign up for a visit. Colleges regularly offer campus visits, especially in the summer months. Most of the time you have to register for a tour first (instead of just showing up), so sign up beforehand.
Keep a checklist of questions. College visits really amount to college “tours,” where a dozen or so potential students follow a single tour guide around campus. Make sure you ask the questions you want to ask—you may not get a great deal of opportunities.“After your tour is over, hang out and talk to students and teachers about life on campus.”
Check out campus bulletin boards. There is something about college campus bulletin boards—they can reveal plenty about the liveliness and character of colleges and universities. On your tour, take a moment and read the various items on the board you pass. You’ll see notes on lectures, off-campus meetings, campus clubs, and even a part-time job opening or two. If the eyes are the windows to the soul (as the saying goes), the campus bulletin boards are the windows to a campus’s soul.
If you can manage it, schedule a class visit during the academic year, and “sit in” on a class in your potential major. Absorb the class, watch how the professor interacts with the students, take notes, and hang around afterward and talk to the students and professor. You can learn a lot about your major in 60-90 minutes of classroom and post-classroom time.
Spend a night on campus. To get a “real feel” for life on campus, take the opportunity to sleep there. Spending the night on campus, in a dormitory, gives you an inside look at what life will be like for you at that college. Eat in the dining hall, talk to students, find out what they’re doing at 12 midnight—partying or studying? That’s good information to have before you make any final decision.
Hang around after the official tour, and take an “unofficial” tour. After your tour is over, hang out and talk to students and teachers about life on campus. Visit the town and talk to the locals, too. You’ll get a good flavor of what life will be like by going “off the grid.”
How to Swing a Visit without Being There
If you can’t make an onsite college tour, most good schools offer Web-based tours you can attend online. Check the college’s website, or contact the admissions office for details. Additionally, contact the admissions office to find out if there are current students to whom you can speak, and reach out to college alumni groups to speak to graduates (the more recent the better).
ECampusTours.com offers virtual tours for some colleges and universities in all 50 states.