Top Tips for College Visits in 2021

As the world begins to reopen this summer, more colleges are following suit and re-opening their campuses to prospective students. While virtual tours and information sessions are still available for most universities, no college search is truly complete without an in-person visit. However, it is important to note that each school will have its own policies about on-campus visitors and tours, as many will only have self-guided tours available. Still, you’ll get to know a college best by walking around, peeking into lecture halls and dormitories, and grabbing a bite to eat at the students’ favorite spot.

Touring different campuses will also give you a chance to see if you prefer a small campus or a big one, a city school to a rural one, etc. Additionally, seeing the area around a college can make a big difference. After visiting numerous schools, you’ll begin to get a feel for where you will feel most comfortable, and you’ll have a chance to catch little details that may not be apparent online or in an admission presentation. Therefore, it’s important to start your visits as early as sophomore year to make the process easier.

Of course, getting the most from a college visit requires preparation and planning.  Here are our top tips for a successful college visit:

1.    Start local. If you are within driving distance of a four-year college or university, start with a daytrip just to get your feet wet. Even if you have no desire to stay anywhere remotely close to home for school, visiting a local campus can be a great jumping off point, giving you a baseline from which you can compare all other schools.

2.    Do your research. Review a college’s website before you visit, paying special attention to any COVID-19 guidelines. Is the campus open? Are they giving tours? Are the tours self-guided? Do they have a driving tour? University of Richmond does! What are the restrictions, if any? Then, check out social media and see what places on or off campus get the most buzz. Is there a coffee shop where everyone goes to study? A building with impressive architecture? A particular department you want to study in or a special facility you want to check out? Gather an overview of the school and decide what you want to see. Knowing about the school also helps when speaking with a college representative. You want to ask questions, but not ones with answers that can easily be found on the website.

3.    Plan the visit. It is imperative you call ahead or go online to reserve your tour before you make your travel plans. In addition, you may make an individual appointment with a college admissions counselor and/or a financial aid advisor, if those are offered.  Schedule time so you can eat on campus or nearby. If possible, arrange to meet a professor and/or attend a class. Have friends or acquaintances who attend the school? Ask them to meet you for a coffee and take the opportunity to get their insight.

4.    If possible, visit when school is in session. Colleges and high schools often have different break schedules. When college classes are in session, you’ll get a better idea of academic and student life as well as campus culture. At some colleges, most students are not on campus over the summer, so you may want to schedule your college tour for the fall or spring.

5.    Make a list of questions to ask admissions staff, financial aid reps, faculty, and students. Thinking through questions before you visit will make the college search easier. You’ll be less likely to have outstanding questions on your way home, and, if the school requires a “Why Us” essay, you may use some of the information you learned in that essay.

6.    Note “must see” places on campus and visit them. This should be specific to you as a student: Student-athletes should visit the practice facilities, fields, and the weight room. Art majors should visit the studios. Everyone should visit the dorms, common campus areas, libraries, and places to eat. If you are interested in a certain department, e.g., engineering or nursing, check to see if there is a separate tour offered for those students or carve out time on your own to spend in the buildings that house that department.

7.    Make sure you’ll feel safe. Don’t shy away from asking about campus security. Some things to consider: a campus-wide alert system for emergencies on campus and in the surrounding area, “blue-light” telephones placed liberally throughout campus that are direct lines to campus police, well-lit pathways and facilities, campus police who patrol the campus regularly, and an official school security escort service who will accompany you at night—or anytime you feel unsafe—to places on campus and nearby. Also ask your guide about the frequency of shuttle buses running at night, who has access to dorms, and where the nearest emergency room or urgent care is.

8.    Don’t forget the following items:

  • Your phone/camera. During your tour, take a lot of pictures. If you’re comparing several schools, photos can help you remember details—large and small. While colleges may seem unforgettable at the time of your visit, by the third or fourth tour, they will start to blend together. You can also use your phone to record group information sessions. Students oftentimes like to refer back to a recording and its information while working on their application. During or right after your visit, make a note in your phone of important details pertaining to each school. In addition to numbers and facts, jot down your likes, dislikes, and feelings so you can remember which schools felt right to you and why. Write down the names of speakers you liked, details about the school and programs you may want to research further. In addition to helping you remember which school is which, it’s a good idea to drop details into any future interviews or correspondence with the admission office. You can also use this information to decide which school you liked best, or what aspects of a school are most appealing.
  • Comfortable clothing and shoes. Campus tours mean a lot of time on your feet, so it is important to be comfortable. Check the weather before your visit and bring anything you may need, like an umbrella or sunscreen. It’s a good idea to carry water, too!
  • An ID card or passport. Many schools request identification in order to access certain buildings or areas of campus.
  • Appreciation for adventure. Maintain a positive attitude. Stay open-minded. A school may not meet your expectations, or it may surprise you and exceed them. Enjoy the journey! Remember: each college visit is an opportunity to learn not only something about the school itself, but also about what you are looking for academically, socially, and geographically.
For more information on college visits, or for help with applying to colleges, contact International College Counselors at http://www.internationalcollegecounselors.com or 1-954-414-9986.
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