How to Plan & Prepare for Your College Visit

Marie-Antonette Bone

When you think about where you want to go to college, you’ll want to consider what it will be like to actually spend your time there, day by day. Does it not only offer the program you want, but also the resources to support it? And what about everything outside of the classroom? What other opportunities are available? Are you comfortable with the social environment, and can you handle the size of the student body? The climate?

One of the most helpful ways to answer these questions is to visit the schools you’re considering. Stepping on campus before you attend is a great way to predict what it would be like to step on campus as a student. A college visit can give you a first-hand experience that will ultimately help you narrow down your choices and find the perfect school for you.

Why Should I Go on a College Visit?

A college visit will give you the chance to get an up-close-and-personal preview of what your future experience at a school could look like. Visits typically include an information session and a tour of the campus itself.

Information sessions provide an overview of a college’s academics and culture—its strengths, resources, and what makes it unique. This is the perfect chance for you to ask questions and learn about the history, traditions, and fun facts that are specific to a school. The campus tour is exactly what it sounds like—you will be shown important locations like the dining halls, library, student union, and examples of classrooms and dorm rooms. It’s the time for you to get a glimpse of the culture—class sizes, clubs and organizations, the quality of the facilities, and the general atmosphere of the school.

If you take full advantage of your visit, you’ll be able to leave with a pretty clear idea of what life as a student looks like. College visits also give your family the opportunity to take part in your selection process. Bringing parents, siblings, or extended family along for the ride allows them to gain an understanding of the environment, provide their input, and share in your excitement! It may also help ease some of their own fears and apprehensions about your potential new home.

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A Comprehensive Guide to Making the Most of Your College Visit

Step 1: Decide Which Schools to Visit

Although they’re helpful, college tours can be expensive and time consuming. You might want to narrow down your options if you have a lot of schools on your list of options. Do some research and try to figure out which colleges have the greatest potential of meeting your needs. Much of the academic information you need can usually be found on the college’s official website, but you may want to explore other resources as well. Consider the location, size, cost, and academic programs of each school, then compare all the options on your list and see which ones are worth traveling to.

Questions that you may want to ask:

  1.    Does this college provide the program I may want to study?
  • It’s crucial to find a college that offers high-quality programs for your major.
  1.    What’s the likelihood that I will be accepted into this school?
  • If you know this college is a big stretch for you, you will have to decide whether the expense of a visit would be worth it.
  1.    Am I comfortable with the size of this campus?
  • Though it definitely varies by school, smaller colleges may provide more one-on-one interactions with the professors and a tight-knit community, while larger colleges may provide more choices of majors, activities, and other opportunities than those with fewer students.
  1.    Where is the college located?
  • Do you want to be able to drive home on the weekends, or would you rather stay in a unique environment far from home?
  • Do you want to experience an urban environment, or a small, “college-town” life?
  • How does climate factor into your decision?
  1.    How much is tuition?
  • If you are accepted into a school, the next question to ask is whether you can afford to enroll! This factor can also vary depending on the location of the college; going to a school out of your home state can affect the price of tuition.
  1.    What kind of financial aid can I leverage at this school?
  • Although tuition cost may be an issue, you may be able to rationalize the cost with the help of financial aid (confused about FAFSA?). Look into your options and determine whether tuition, room, and board will fit within your budget. For more ways to make attending the school of your choice more affordable, check out these guides:
  • How to Find—and Win—Scholarships: Your Complete Guide

Hopefully, these considerations can help you keep costs low while still benefiting from something as useful as a college visit. And if you want to visit a certain college but are unable to, check its website to see whether it offers a virtual tour. It may not give you the first-hand experience that an actual visit could provide, but a virtual tour is nevertheless a free, convenient way to see the campus from the comfort of their own homes.

More Guides for Conducting Your College Search

Step 2: Make a Reservation

College visits have limited space, so it’s important to make your reservation early. If you have a desired day and time in mind, you should reserve your spot before it fills up and then make your travel plans accordingly. Will you be able to drive, or do you need to book a flight? Will you need to stay overnight? To make your reservation, visit the college’s website and find the page that is dedicated to prospective students. The webpage will be filled with information about planning and reserving a campus tour, which may need to be done through the website, email, or phone.

Step 3: Prepare Questions for your College Visit

You will learn more than you can remember about your potential colleges during your visit, but it’s so important to do your research first and then come up with any questions or concerns you want to resolve while you are there. Just in case the information you want isn’t automatically part of the campus tour, you should have your must-know questions in mind. And, of course, bring along a notebook to keep track of what you learn. Here’s a handful of questions you might be curious about:

  1. What is the average class size for courses in my major of interest?
  2. Are most classes lecture based or discussion based?
  3. What type of career services do you have?
  4. Do you have a learning community or other freshman experience?
  5. Do most freshmen live on campus? What about upperclassmen?
  6. How is parking on campus?
  7. What is your four-year graduation rate?
  8. How do students interact with professors outside of class?
  9. Do you have any advice on ways to get around campus?
  10. How do you provide academic advice to students?
  11. What clubs and organizations do you have on campus?
  12. How soon can I meet with an admissions advisor?
  13. What and where are the best places to eat on campus?
  14. What do students typically do in their free time?
  15. What facilities are available? (gyms, libraries, etc.)

Step 4: Schedule Your Day

Whether you’re staying for a single day or a whole weekend, your college visit will only last for a limited time. To stay efficient and get the most out of your visit, we recommend that you create a schedule of the activities that are important to you. Carve out time to explore the campus on your own or connect with any current students you know; this will help personalize your experience and give you a more in-depth idea of what student life is like.

If possible, you could also consider attending a class, eating at the dining hall, or spending the night on campus—whatever will help you best understand what’s important to you as a student!

Step 5: Find a Map of Campus

A map can help you find specific areas you want to see, such as the buildings where the majority of your classes will take place in a specific major, athletic facilities you will want to use, or different libraries and study centers. It’s also helpful to know the size and layout of the school beforehand (especially if the campus is large!) to make navigation a little easier and faster while you are there.

Finally, take pictures! The more you document your visit, the easier it will be to reference all your likes and dislikes about the campus.

Get Excited

College visits are an important part of the selection process. What better way to understand student life than by living it yourself? Your experience on campus can make or break your decision, so it’s important to be as prepared as possible to learn everything that’s important to you. With a satisfactory college visit, you can leave each prospective college one step closer to your final decision!