Picture this: It’s your junior year of high school, and you’re finally going on your first college visit.

You’re nervous and excited, because this is the school that you have always dreamed of attending. But what does a college visit really entail? What should you expect and prepare for?

Being informed and having realistic expectations for college visits will make your experience more enjoyable and useful, and will also help you begin to create strong connections at a university.

While the official events like information sessions and campus tours will focus on the admissions process, it’s important to think about all aspects of the college experience. You may have the opportunity to eat in a dining hall, attend a class, check out the library, or even spend the night in a dorm. A college visit offers a lot more than just admissions information; it gives you the chance to imagine yourself as part of a campus community.

Below are some helpful Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind:

DO:

    • Do some research in advance. While college visits are an opportunity for you to learn more about a school, if you can Google the answer to your question, it might be better left unasked. You have limited time during your visit, so use it wisely. Did you hear about an exciting club or class on the school’s website? Use your visit to explore your personal interests in greater detail!
    • Do take the official campus tour. You’d be surprised how many students pass on the tour and only stay for the information session. That may indicate to an admissions representative that either you didn’t plan your day accordingly or you don’t care enough about the community you will be joining to spend some time experiencing it.
    • Do some exploring. While the college campus may be large and serve your every need, you should also spend some time familiarizing yourself with the neighboring town or city that it resides in.
    • Do have a meal or two. This may seem trivial, but it’s important to understand all aspects of life at a particular college, not just academics. If you are a total foodie, you would hate to be eating gruel for four years while your friends at other schools feast like kings and queens.
    • Do introduce yourself to people. Don’t be shy: everyone who is a part of your visit knows exactly why you’re there. While the individual students, instructors, etc. you interact with probably can’t tip the admissions scales in your favor, being able to refer to these positive meetings in your application/interviews can only help your chances of acceptance.
    • Do take notes and follow up. Did you enjoy your visit? Let the admissions office know. Countless hours are spent making sure these visits go off without a hitch. The staff who hosted you wants to know what you enjoyed. This also helps to demonstrate your commitment to the university.

DON’T:

    • Don’t shortchange yourself on time. Are there multiple schools in the same area that you plan to see in a single day? You may want to consider spacing your visits out. While a compressed schedule can reduce travel time and expenses, it’s important to focus on the reason you’re there. In my work as an admissions officer, there were many occasions when I offered to meet individually with students, only to find that they didn’t have time because of another school’s admissions event. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity because you didn’t budget enough time!
    • Don’t make a scene! It should go without saying that you need to be on your best behavior during college visits. It’s not a good look to roll up to an information session and immediately start arguing with your parents. Remember that these visits serve as a first impression for both you and the college. Bad behavior can work against you in the application process and is inconsiderate to your fellow applicants.
    • Don’t judge the entire school based on your tour guide. While the kind of people you meet can give you a sense of the college’s community, recognize that the single tour guide or lecturing professor you encounter doesn’t represent the entire student body or staff.
    • Don’t be late. While most admissions offices are happy to accommodate late arrivals, you may be missing important information, and you will definitely disrupt the other guests. Be mindful of everyone you interact with during your visit!
    • Don’t ask personalized questions. Group tours and information sessions are meant to present the highlights of the university and emphasize important general application information. They are not consulting sessions where candidates ask about their individual applications. If you have specific questions that you need answered, set up a separate meeting or phone call with an admissions representative.

Above all, make sure you’re asking yourself this question: Will I be happy here? Many students transfer schools each year because they placed emphasis on one or two aspects of the college search process rather than thinking holistically about their well being. A college isn’t just a school—it’s a community you will be joining. It’s important to find one that will support you, push you to be better, and leave you feeling excited to be a part of it.

Want more tips? Check out our free Guide to College Visits!