Visiting Colleges: What to Look for and How to Leverage Your Visit for Admissions

The only real way to find out whether or not you will feel comfortable at a school is to visit the campus. Not a stroll around the public access areas of the campuses on your own. A guided tour through the college’s admissions office will go furthest to give you a sense of the college’s academic life.

If you visit during the week, you might even be able to sit in on a few classes. If you visit on the weekend, you’ll experience campus social life and activities such as concerts, movies, and sporting events.

All this can also help you gain admission to the college of your choice. Let the administration know you’re planning to visit and accept any help they offer. You want the school to log your campus visit and the classes you sat in on. Schools look a lot more favorably on students who have actually experienced the college’s environment and academic rigor.

Three things to keep in mind when visiting every school

Whenever you visit, make sure you allow plenty of time to explore. Many schools offer the possibility of overnight stays with an on-campus student host; this is an excellent way to get an inside view of what life is “really like” at a college.

  • Talk to people. Talk to current students. Many of them will be happy to talk about their schools—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Talk to faculty if you can, especially in the departments in which you plan to study. Talk to the admissions office, too, and make sure to ask every question you can think of, even if the question seems silly.
  • Don’t judge too quickly: Even if something goes wrong on your visit, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong with the school. A rainy day visit may not show the school in its best light (though some campuses are beautiful in the rain). The class you attend might be boring. And not everyone you talk to—be they staff, faculty, or student—will be the best gauge of the people you’ll get to know in class. Especially if they’re a zero personality-wise or having a bad day. Make sure you’ve given the school a thorough going-over before writing it off. That being said…
  • Trust your gut.  Sometimes a place just feels right. And sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes you will fall in love with a school from moment one.  And sometimes it will take a while. Or sometimes something is “off,” and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Make a note (mental and/or written) of these feelings and use them to evaluate the schools during your decision-making process.

12 Ways to Gain Insights Into What A School Has to Offer 

Here are some things you’ll want to do at every school you visit. You might not be able to do them all at every school. But they will give you a smart basis for comparing the colleges you see:

  • Get a copy of the college newspaper
  • Browse the library and campus bookstore
  • Find out what the parking situation is for students (if applicable)
  • Explore the student center
  • Attend a cultural event such as a student art show or musical performance
  • Visit the campus gym and health center
  • Attend a school sporting event
  • Explore the academic buildings
  • Have a meal in the cafeteria
  • Stroll the neighborhood around the college, taking note of restaurants, stores, and cultural landmarks.
  • Visit the campus security office and ask any questions about safety you might have. The Clery Act ensures that every college in the USA must provide local crime statistics. You can find this data on the Department of Education’s website.  

Most of all, be sure to have some fun. There’s a lot of stress in applying to college and choosing a school. Touring a college should be a fun part.

Make sure you get all the benefits of a college education that you seek. This article can help you understand the types of colleges you can choose from.  And be sure to check out The Alliance College Guide. It explains what you need to know about choosing, preparing for, applying to, and paying for college. All in clear, no-nonsense language.

Additional Resources

Day Tripper University – Helps you plan your college tours, so you learn about school life and academics.

Campus Safety and Security – The tools you need for Campus Safety and Security analysis.

BigFuture – How to use campus visits to find your dream college. 

US News and World Report – Offers suggested itineraries and must-sees for the leading schools in the magazine’s annual rankings.