We live in a day and age where just about everything is accessible via our fingertips, thanks to the global reach the internet provides. While this is incredibly helpful in the college search and can help a student start to think through an initial college list, nothing can truly compare to the experience of physically being on a college campus – experiencing not just the campus itself, but meeting members of its community, and exploring the surrounding neighborhood as well.
The Campus Visit
How Important are Campus Visits?
If you think about it, selecting a college is kind of like buying a house. When buying a house, you typically want to know the neighborhood your house is in, is it safe? What are the neighbors like? Can I see our family living here? Is this house worth the asking price? While you can certainly do your research online, nothing replaces the experience of physically seeing the home for yourself. The same goes for your college, a place you will call home for the next four years of your life. Experiencing the campus community first-hand is an irreplaceable experience that helps many students solidify their list of best-fit institutions. So often, students can get caught up in preparing (and taking) standardized tests, working hard in their courses and extracurriculars, writing application essays, and more, that they just forget to prioritize things like college visits. Going into the application process however, it’s important to understand the unique and important role campus visits play in the college admissions process.
While visiting college campuses allows students to gain perspective on what kind of college environment they are looking for, it also helps applicants highlight their interest in prospective colleges, showcasing what is known as “demonstrated interest.” Many colleges and universities will keep track of demonstrated interested by noting your visits to campus, your open and click through rates on your emails (did you #1 – open their email, and #2 – click through their links), keeping track of any contacts you may have had with admissions or community members (think: college fair or school visit interactions), if offered an interview – did you accept it?, and so forth. They do this to understand the likelihood of whether you will yield to an enrolled student, if offered an offer of admission. The higher your likelihood of yielding, the more favorable you are to them in this category as they evaluate you. Campus visits may help boost your yield probability.
How to Schedule Your Campus Visit
It is very important to schedule your visit to campus in advance of your trip. Many colleges and universities’ tours fill up weeks (and months) in advance – especially during busy times like fall break, spring break, etc. While this can be hard to plan that far in advance, it is essential. If you find that you are unable to secure an official visit, the college may offer you a self-guided walking tour or have an alternate recommendation for you to see their campus. You can typically find scheduling information on a college’s admissions page of their website, typically under a “Visit Us” tab. It is important to note that not every college or university offers tours on the weekends, many only offer tours M-F, at set times. You will want to check with your high school to see how many excused absences are available to you (if any) for college tours and take advantage of that ability if they are offered to you.
What to Expect when Visiting a Campus
Pay careful attention to what you are signing up for – is it just a tour? Is there an information session in advance of the tour (or following the tour)? You want to make sure you have a good idea of how much time you will be spending with admissions, so that you can plan your schedule accordingly. If possible, I would encourage you to give yourself enough time to allow for navigating to admissions – parking is not always the easiest on a college campus, especially in urban areas. Also, if you can grab a meal while on campus – whether that be before your visit to admissions, or after, it will give you a chance to observe in an unscripted setting. The same applies for sticking around for an event (i.e. guest lecture, sporting event, concert), if any may be taking place while you are there. While this is by no means required of you, it does allow you to really gain a sense of place, which will help you when it comes time to writing the “Why Our College” essay, should you choose to apply.
Things to Know in Advance of your Visit
- Attire – College admissions counselors are by no means expecting you to show up to your tour in formal attire, but I would absolutely put thought into how you are presenting yourself. Practice a firm handshake and dress presentably – leave the hooded sweatshirt in your hotel.
- Take Notes – Bring a notepad along with you to take notes, whether it’s on the tour, or in the information session – you don’t want to be typing notes on your phone, as it can very easily look like you are texting a friend. Bring a standard notepad with you, and take notes – write down your tour guide’s name (and the name/role of anyone else you interact with), the name of the buildings that you would do life in (academic, student union building, etc.), any fun facts or unique traditions of the school, any personal stories the tour guide shares that really resonates with you, write it all down as it will help you tremendously while trying to craft your supplement essays.
- Parking/Campus Map – I mentioned this above, but it will be incredibly helpful to know where admissions recommends that you park, and to understand the navigation to/from that lot.
- Be On Time – Obviously, things happen, but the last thing you want is to be late to your tour. In fact, you may completely miss the tour if you are late. Plan to get to campus early, if possible, so as to avoid any last minute panic.
- Pay Attention & Engage – Please remember that your tour guide works for the admissions office. If your mind is not on the tour, and you have your head down and seem genuinely uninterested, your tour guide may very well share that with the admissions team when they return (I know I certainly did this when I was a tour guide). Show every single person you interact with, respect, and give them your undivided attention when they are speaking to you. Similarly, use your time with them wisely. Ask questions!
- Research In Advance – In advance of your time on campus, it’s important to research the school. This will help you ask more targeted questions, and really helps to maximize the impact of your time there.
College Admissions Interview
Just as important as showing demonstrated interest by visiting campus if you are able, is accepting a college admissions interview if granted one. Not every school offers admissions interviews, and of those that do, some run them through admissions, and others, through their alumni network – it all depends on the school. If you are able to do an admissions interview because the school offers them, you absolutely want to do one. You may be encouraged to sign up for an interview time slot on the school’s website, or the alumni interviewer will reach out to you to schedule something that works with their schedule – but you want to sign up as soon as it’s offered to you and schedule the time that works best. Interview slots do have a tendency of filling, especially at the top schools, so take advantage of this opportunity as soon as it is offered (or encouraged) to you. Let your Solomon Admissions Consultant know when your interview time will be, and they will be happy to run through a mock interview with you to best prepare you for it.
What If I Can’t Make It To Campus?
If a trip to the physical campus is just not possible, there are still other ways to explore the campus and learn more about the school outside of your typical online research. Many colleges are represented at your local college fairs, this is a fantastic way to meet an admissions representative and learn more about a school. Similarly, if your school hosts college visits by admissions representatives, take a look at the visit calendar, and plan to attend any sessions from schools you are considering applying to. You can learn a lot from these sessions, and you will also be able to demonstrate your interest by attending.
To “see” campus, you can always take a look at a school’s website images and social media channels, but many schools now offer virtual information sessions and virtual tours. While some virtual tours are available without registration, more and more schools are asking you to register first. Go ahead and register for the virtual tour or information session, but also plan to attend. Remember that colleges are tracking everything – so if you register, they expect you to attend. You can also check out campus tours on sites like CampusTours and YouVisit. YouVisit, for example, has over 600 digital college tours, all of which are free and include a virtual tour guide filled with facts. This is an incredible resource to you, take advantage of it!
In what can be an overwhelming process, it’s important to remember that this is also a time of celebration – you’re so close to closing one amazing chapter, and soon, you will be starting a whole new exciting one. While you are busy prepping for exams and writing your applications, don’t forget to enjoy this process some too. Go on the college road trips if you are able. Have fun experiencing different parts of the country. Try to really experience this journey and remember that the ultimate goal is finding a campus community in which you will flourish. What that looks like is going to be different to everybody.