First of all, it’s important to come in with realistic expectations.
You WILL learn about the school’s facilities, the feel of the campus, the broad impressions you get from the student body, and the like. You WILL NOT learn about the kind of roommates you’ll have, how much you’ll like your first semester classes, and how much sleep you’ll be getting.
Visits are not about predicting every detail of your life as a college student, but about the feel of the campus and possibilities that you envision there.
The more you know before visiting a school, the more time you have to focus on the right things. When preparing for your trip, make sure you research general facts about the school before you go. Also consider when to visit: any campus in the bleak weather of February will feel drastically different than it does in September. Keep an eye out for school breaks, too—you don’t want to visit when campuses are deserted.
Every school has an official tour, organized by the admissions office or visitor’s center. Take it. And take advantage of any Q&A sessions with students or admissions officers, too. However, this isn’t enough. You may need to take matters into your own hands to make sure you:
· Tour standard facilities and buildings like libraries, cafeterias, and student centers, as well as those of special interest to you (ie, the art studio or science labs).
· Visit a dorm and off-campus housing. Remember to not only look at the aesthetics and structure of the places, but also proximity. How close are they to the rest of campus? Does the setup seem to encourage social interactions or individual space? How do students get from their living quarters to class?
· Attend a class to get a better idea of how a small seminar or a giant lecture class feels, as well as professors’ styles and student participation.
· Check out the surrounding areas. Coffee shops, neighborhoods, or walking trails will vary according to the campus’s setting, but you’ll be spending a significant amount of time in these other areas as well.
· Separate from your parents or friends for a little bit. It will leave you with your own thoughts and impressions: How comfortable do you feel? Do you see yourself studying here, or volunteering, or participating in extracurriculars?
· Let one person or instance dominate your impression. Student bodies are diverse, as are classes, dining hall meals, types of weather…you get it.
· Rush. We cannot stress this enough. Even if its your sixth college visit, mindlessly walking through the campus won’t allow you to truly take it in and picture being a student there. If it takes you at least an hour to go through a mall, it should not take you less to look at your possible home for the next four years!
· Walk! Be as mindful as you can when you’re traipsing around. Is it a nice walk from the cafeteria to classes, or will you need transportation? Does the campus feel spread out or contained enough? Are you comfortable with the level of student traffic?
· Eat! What’s the food like on campus and at nearby restaurants or cafes?
After you leave, write down a couple ideas or words that come to mind when you think about the school.
Also, take note any standouts—whether it’s a facility, curriculum feature, dining hall, club, or a school tradition. Most importantly, answer the question: Would I be happy here? The sooner you jot your ideas down and reflect upon your experience, the more fresh and helpful they will be, especially if you’re visiting multiple campuses in one trip.