Visiting colleges is an exciting rite of passage for high school students. With a little bit of planning, you can make the most of your tours, saving time and money and walking away with important information you will need later in the college process.
Start locally but have a focus: Getting a sense for what a small private liberal arts college is like compared to a big state university is a great idea… but make sure both have features that are appealing to you. For example, if you know you’d like to participate in student-run theatre, be a part of an active outdoors club, major in environmental science, or minor in Chinese, do some research to make sure the colleges you are touring have these options.
Typically students seriously start touring colleges during their junior year of high school, But sometimes starting earlier makes sense. If your older sibling is touring, or you’re on vacation to a distant area you may not make it back to in the next couple of years, it’s a great idea to tour and make note of what you like and dislike. Keep in mind, your priorities may change as you mature. Some colleges may be worth a second look later on.
Preparing for your visit:
Sign-up online via the college’s website. This is very important to do in advance to secure a spot (especially during busy high school vacation weeks) and to get your name and contact information in the college’s system. Many schools track demonstrated interest and the first way you can do this is by officially signing up for a tour! Look at all the visit options. Most colleges offer tours & information sessions. Many offer special visit days which may include department-focused sessions, tours of specific facilities such as labs and studios, or the ability to sit in on a class or have an interview. See Interview Tips here
What to bring:
A notebook, a list of questions, your phone.
While colleges do a good job of presenting themselves, sometimes the specific things you want to know might not be covered. List your questions in advance and don’t be afraid to ask them! Often times, asking the student tour guide between stops on the tour is the best time to ask about activities, the social scene, and general campus vibe. General questions about majors, financial aid, study abroad and housing can be asked during the Q&A portion of the info session if they are not addressed, or after the tour by stopping into the admissions office. Click here for a suggested list of College Visit Questions.
While you should not be on your phone during your visit, using it to take photos to document your trip is a great idea!
During your visit, don’t just list the facts and figures in your notebook, rather jot down specific things that jumped out at you. Did the speaker say something that resonated with you? What was it? Who said it? Did the tour guide talk about an experience she had with a club, in a class or at an internship that excited you? Write down the details! These tidbits will be crucial to remind you why you have this college on your list when it comes time to apply. After your visit, expand on your notes to include your overall impression of the college, likes & dislikes, and any follow up questions. Click here for our College Visit Notes sheet.