Making the Most of College Visits

Making the Most of College Visits
by Margie Hatch, NCWD Youth, Posted on April 16, 2012

Posted on April 16, 2012 by NCWD Youth
Today’s blog provides guidance to youth about visiting colleges and other postsecondary institutions to help make informed decisions.
For many of you, spring break is your chance to sleep in, hang out with friends, or take a vacation with your family; however, for juniors just starting their college search and for seniors making their final selection, spring is the prime time for visiting college campuses. As exciting as it is to dream of your new life after high school, college planning can be time consuming and stressful. Choosing the right college is an important decision and takes a lot of prep work.
By now you may have read your fair share of the college brochures and view books that flood your mailbox. After these first impressions you may be thinking, “School A has the most beautiful campus and, wow, how great would it be to attend  School B (I’m the biggest fan of their basketball team!), and School C is a top ranked schools on the U.S. News & World Report – how do I choose?”
Admiring the superlatives is nice, but one big question looms: Which school will be the best fit considering your interests, your goals, your needs, and your budget? The internet is a powerful research tool, but the best way to answer this question is to step away from your computer and go visit the campuses of the schools you are considering. It is tempting to delay the visits until the summer, but keep in mind that regular classes will not be in session. Without the students and professors around, it will be hard to get a sense of what the school experience is really like.
Before you hop in the car or on a bus, train, or plane, call the admissions office to arrange your visit at least two weeks in advance. Here are some questions to consider before and during your visit.
  • What do I want to study? How do I learn best?
Before you visit, you should make sure the school has the type of program(s) you want to study. Arrange a class visit in the major of your interest. This is a good opportunity to see if classes are taught in a way that caters to your learning style. Do you learn best in a big lecture hall with many students or would you prefer a small group experience where your participation is required?
  • Does the school have the services and opportunities I’m looking for?
Campus visits are an important chance to find out whether the school you’re considering offers the services and opportunities you need and want. What student activities or clubs are active at the school? What health related services can you access on campus? Is there a career services center where you can get help with career planning and job searches? Is there an academic assistance center that offers tutoring or help with writing papers? Where are the computer labs and study lounges?
If you have a disability, learn as much as they can about what disability services the school offers. Many postsecondary institutions have a disability services office that assists students with obtaining accommodations and accessing all programs, activities, and services that are available to all students. To receive assistance from the disability services office, a student must disclose his or her disability and provide documentation to verify disability status. The disability services office will require a certain amount of time to verify a student’s disability and respond to an accommodation request, so students needing assistance should contact the disability services center as early as possible. Decisions about disclosing one’s disability are very personal and require careful consideration.
The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities can help you decide what is best for you. The chapter on “Postsecondary Disclosure – Why, When, What, to Whom, and How?” may be especially useful as you prepare for college.
  • Where will I live?
Unless you plan to commute to school, it is likely that you will live on campus the first year. The campus tour will give you a chance to see the dormitories but nothing beats an overnight stay. This will provide a number of opportunities to ask questions of current students and give you the best feel for campus life overall. If you do expect to commute to school, find out what public transportation is available from where you live to where you would be taking classes. If you plan to drive yourself, ask about student parking options and costs.
  • What is the campus and surrounding area like?
The admissions tour is custom made to ‘wow’ the visitors. Take time during your visit to explore the campus and the surrounding area on your own or with a friend or family member. If you have a disability, make sure the campus and surrounding area is accessible.
  • How important is diversity to me?
Diversity is not just about looks. As comforting as it may be to make friends who look like you, think like you and do the same things as you, the more you engage with different people and experiences, the more enriching your college experience will be academically and socially.
  • How do I pay for college?
Although it’s the last bullet here, it is one of the most important questions to ask. Schedule a meeting with the financial aid office. You can speak honestly with them about scholarship opportunities, loans, and work study options that will make your college experience affordable.
There Are Never Too Many Questions
Whatever activities you do during your visit, be sure to ask lots of questions! College requires a big commitment of your time, energy, and money; it is one of the most important investments you can make for your future. You want it to be the right fit, so don’t be shy about getting answers to the questions that are most important to you.
Take notes throughout the visit and spend some time at the end of the visit to reflect on what you’ve observed and learned.  Your notes and reflection time will be helpful once you’re back home and comparing one school with another.
Other Resources for College Visit Planning
You can find more tips on planning your college visits and other aspects of the college search process on the free website, . This is an interactive online college admissions counseling program that helps high school students and parents successfully navigate the college search and admissions process.
For an overview of some other college campus resources you’ll want to explore, see our previous blog,
Helping Students Connect Early to Lesser-Known College Resources.
By Margie Hatch, Special Assistant at the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development.