I work at my school’s welcome center and every day I meet prospective students, answer questions about life on campus and give advice to high schoolers as they search for their future home. Another big part of my job is giving tours and facilitating campus visits. After working here for two years, I’ve collected a great deal of information on ways to make the most out of these important events. It’s good to note that the advice I give to a senior in high school is very different from what I give to a freshman.
While I think this information could be useful at any stage in the college search process, as a general rule this will be most helpful for students who will be applying to universities within a year. Whether you’re about to go on your first college tour or you just want to brush up on some tips before your next one, here’s a comprehensive list of my best advice on making the most out of any campus visit.
Before Your Visit
1. Do your research and make a preliminary list of things that interest you about the school
The main reason I tell students to do this is so they can refer back to their original ideas and perceptions of the school after their visit. I’ll get into this more in a later section, but it’s smart to look through the school’s website and make a note of anything that looks appealing, interesting or needs clarification. When you arrive on campus you can ask your tour guide about these topics and get their perspective.
I’ll be honest: It’s a personal pet peeve of mine when students show up to a campus visit and know absolutely nothing about the school. Students who haven’t done any research on the school often ask questions that hold the rest of the group back, become frustrated when they find out the school doesn’t offer something they’re looking for or they are completely unengaged, making it hard to provide a meaningful experience.
If you know what you want to see and hear about, we can often tailor routes to your interests, connect you with other students studying subjects you’re passionate about and provide recommendations on clubs, student programs and extracurricular activities. In other words, help us help you.
2. If you’re traveling to visit a school, make sure to check the time zone
While it might seem unusual, it’s actually way more common than you would imagine. I’ve seen students show up hours late to a campus visit because they didn’t properly check the time zone. If you’re late, it’s not always possible to accommodate you, so make sure to double-check the time zone beforehand. It also doesn’t hurt to plan on arriving 30 or so minutes earlier than your scheduled tour time. By doing this, you’ll have time to check in, read brochures and ask questions specific to you before going out with a larger group.
3. Check if the welcome center has any specific social media accounts and follow them
My school has a specific Instagram for the welcome center where we post information about visiting campus, student takeovers, tips for admission and more. It’s a wonderful resource for prospective students to see what life is like on campus before they visit. It never hurts to do a quick search on social media and see if the university you’re interested in does too. At the minimum, most have an admissions-specific page to keep you up-to-date on deadlines, requirements and application updates.
During Your Visit
4. Pay close attention to the student body
If you end up attending this school, the people you see walking around will be your classmates. It’s good to take note if they’re the type of people you want to surround yourself with for four years. I’m not telling you to judge everyone based on how they look or dress, but some general observations can be very insightful.
I’ll give you an example. Back when I was a senior in high school, I visited a college where I saw almost no students the whole time I was there. I’ll be fair: It was a Saturday. However, their website said 80% of students lived on campus. I expected to see some kids. When I asked my tour guide where everyone was, she told me most were probably still asleep or in their dorms. It was 3 p.m.! I am not one to still be in bed at 3:00 p.m. on a Saturday. I knew a school where that was a trend in the student body probably wasn’t for me, so it helped with my decision-making process.
5. Talk to everyone you can
This means other prospective students also on the campus visit, your tour guide, current students, faculty, admissions representatives, anyone you can find. If they’ll listen, you should talk. It’s really important to get a broad perspective on an institution, and you can only do that by hearing from people involved with the school in different capacities.
Ask your neighbor why they’re also visiting the school. Ask your tour guide why they chose this school. Ask a professor what trends he or she has noticed in the students they’ve taught. Here is another reason why it’s good to come prepared after doing your research: If you can have a set list of questions ready for a variety of people, it will help facilitate discussions and ensure you get a well-rounded scope of the college.
6. Ask your tour guide about their admissions process
This is a big one. Don’t ask about the general process, ask about their experience. I have absolutely no problems when a student asks me what I did on my application. For starters, it shows me they’re really interested in getting into the school and are working hard to formulate the best strategy. I’m always more than happy to share my tips and tricks and talk about the ways I approached essay questions, letters of recommendation and portfolios. Whoever you’re speaking to was in your exact shoes a few years before and they came out successful: Use that to your advantage!
After Your Visit
7. Make a list of what you liked or didn’t like about the school, be as specific as possible
It’s best to do this within a day, maybe two max, for multiple reasons. One, you’re going to go on a lot of campus visits and it can be easy to get them mixed up and forget specific details. By making a list, you can always refer back to your first impressions, things you liked and things you didn’t. These were really helpful for me when it came time to decide where I was actually going to apply. Another reason is because a lot of colleges ask “why our school?” in some shape or form on their application. Being able to refer back to specifics from your campus visit is going to be a lifesaver for you and ensure your application stands out amongst generic and impersonal answers.
8. Look back at your preliminary list of research and use it as a starting point for reflection
Did the school actively represent what they claim to be online? Did the answers to your questions change your perspective on anything? Answering questions like these critically and honestly can provide a lot of insight about what you need and value out of a school. I won’t lie, tour guides are supposed to make you want to attend their institution; however, among all the statistics and facts, glitz and glamour, it’s important to remember what you were originally interested in and if the school met, didn’t meet or exceeded those expectations.
9. Relax and enjoy your senior year of high school
So much easier said than done, I know. The truth is a lot of students will make a campus visit, fall in love with a school and can’t wait to attend there next fall. That’s great! However, don’t stress yourself out too much with applications or get so caught up in your next step that you forget where you are now. I spent too much of my time in high school worrying about where I was going to go to college that I missed out on a lot of fun moments. Work hard, but trust you’ll end up where you need to be.