One of our admission staff members shared that her and her mother had a secret code when visiting colleges. At the end of the tour, her mother would ask her if she wanted to buy a T-shirt. If she said “yes,” her mother knew that she liked the visit. If she said “no,” her mother knew it was time to leave. Her answer always relied on instinct. By the end of her two or three hour long visits, she determined if the school felt like a good fit or not. However, as she started to near the national decision day, she realized that all of her favorite colleges blurred together. Which one had the study abroad program she loved? Which one featured the new gym? Which one allowed friends to throw you in the fountain on your birthday? She struggled to sort through all of the information she gathered, so she spent a lot of time online reviewing each school again. To ensure that you keep all of your facts straight and to optimize every college visit, our admission staff has prepared some tips to help you make the most informed choice once you reach the decision deadline. (Given the COVID-19 crisis, make sure to check in with the admission office about policies regarding visit options. College campus policies may vary.)

  • Take notes and pictures!

You or your family members can jot down important notes during your walking tour, but honestly, it can be hard to write and walk. Therefore, we recommend taking a couple of pictures on the tour of really amazing (or really not amazing) parts of campus. Then, before you leave, take ten minutes in the car to write down your impressions, important facts, anything that struck you, etc. You can reference these notes and pictures later!

  • Make sure to eat lunch in the cafeteria.

The cafeteria is an important place to visit on any college campus because you can both interact with current students AND try the food. As silly as it may sound, checking out the food situation is very critical! Campus food services vary widely in quality and accessibility. You will probably eat food on campus for four years, so it is important to understand the range of choices, the layout and design of the cafeteria, and how they treat allergies or dietary restrictions. After you grab your tray of food, sit near some current students. It’s okay to eavesdrop a bit and to take some time to look around the cafeteria, examining the student body as an amateur anthropologist. Do they seem like people you would enjoy eating lunch with? What is the mood of the students? Are a lot of students eating alone? 

  • Walk or drive around the area adjacent to campus. 

After or before your official visit, explore the neighborhood around campus. Some aspects of the surrounding area to pay attention to include proximity to a grocery store and/or restaurants, the prevalence of places to hang out, the walkability of the area, the safety considerations, and types of businesses immediately accessible. The surrounding area is an important factor to consider, as you will want to get off campus sometimes for a change of scenery. So, ask yourself, do you feel comfortable off campus? Where can you go for a night out or a bite to eat? If you are visiting over a break and the cafeteria is not open, ask the tour guide or admission staff members which local restaurants students frequent. Eating out at a student hot spot is a fun way to explore the town a bit more!

  • Talk to students other than your tour guide!

Tour guides often offer the most comprehensive -- and sometimes only -- window into the student experience. While tour guides are incredibly helpful, as one person, they can’t give you a varied and nuanced view of the student experiences on campus. So, do not be afraid to interact with other students! Say hello to the student worker who greets you in the admission office and ask them a couple of questions on why they chose the university or what they would change. Introduce yourself to other students if you shadow a class. Talk to a student worker in the cafeteria. If you’re feeling bold, stop a student on the street. Current students often love to share their thoughts with prospective families, so you will find that most people are pretty open and excited to talk. 

  • Request the contact information for students who share your interests.

Your on-campus visit should only be a part of your research, not all of it. If you like a campus, ask your admission representative to connect you with students who major in your academic area of interest or participate in an activity that you are excited about. As stated in the tip above, interacting with multiple students is the best way to get a sense of a campus’ personality and opportunities. Especially if you did not click with your tour guide, hearing other perspectives is very important! Don’t let one negative impression from a tour guide influence your entire view of the campus.

We know that visiting a campus in person is not always possible, so check out our How to Optimize Your Virtual Visit blog  and Questions to Ask When You Have None blog for even more tips and tricks from our admission staff!

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