For years, we’ve been advising high school students to “demonstrate their interest” in their schools of choice by visiting the campus, among other critical actions. Colleges want to see that an applicant has taken the time and put effort into learning about their institution. Why? Because that demonstrates a higher potential to actually attend the school if accepted; that’s what schools hope for. There are other, equally important reasons to get to a campus – some obvious, others not quite so.
Sophomores and juniors do themselves a tremendous service by getting to know a campus, by determining if the vibe is right at a school before committing time and money to attending for four years. Getting into the thick of it is surely a valuable way to do that.
To get the most out of your visits to colleges to which you believe you’ll apply, here are several suggestions about effective campus visits.
Some of the more compact states – where many schools are within driving distance of a major city – will allow you to strategically plan visits to multiple campuses over a long weekend (don’t do more than two schools per day). Examples include Boston, New York, and Chicago, Los Angeles, DC, Philadelphia. Each metro region is surrounded by many campuses.
When on campus, try to sit in on a class. You may be able to arrange this in advance by calling your admissions rep (the counselor who reads applications from your geographic region) or the academic department office of your potential major.
Sports? Student organizations? Campus events? The school website will provide an excellent range of possibilities where current students will welcome you with open arms and tell you about their own experiences. That’s precisely what you want: a multifaceted view of undergraduate life! Try to arrange in advance short visits with activity leaders.
Keep your eyes wide open as you approach campus and drive around the surrounding neighborhood. What does the town or city offer to make you feel comfortable? This is especially important if you’re going to live off campus (usually, but not always, after freshman year).
Some students who think big – as in huge campus – have a change of mind and transfer to a smaller, more intimate environment. Others who initially opt for the small liberal arts school, find out that they want the hustle and bustle of a large institution with a “cast of thousands.” If possible, visit a school that’s at the other end of the size spectrum from what you’re currently thinking. You may be surprised. In any case, you’ll learn a lot about the differences in undergraduate life from two very different perspectives.
Finally, this obvious, often overlooked suggestion: Take notes and pictures! When you get home, you’ll have observations that will allow you to compare schools based upon your very personal wants and needs. Without a good set of notes and visuals, you’ll find that one campus blends into the next. It’s the only way to remember specifics, and – get ready, now, this is critical to your application – you’ll have real data to draw from when you answer one of the most common but most difficult to answer application questions: “Why do you want to attend our school?” It’s the response that surely “demonstrates your interest”!
As you can see, nothing can replace a visit to a campus given the vast array of colleges from which to choose. Simply reading about them won’t give you the insight to determine which colleges have exactly the right vibe for you. Our suggestions are based upon experience and feedback from the thousands of students whom we’ve successfully guided through their college planning process.
Let us help you plan some effective campus visits – there’s far more to do on campus than a campus tour, information session, and the tidbits we’ve mentioned here.