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College visits play an important role in finding a school where a student will be successful. College campuses vary greatly in size, location in a community, architecture, facilities and culture. College visits are especially important for students who are thinking about attending a school in a state or area that they’ve never lived in or if the school is far away from family and childhood friends.
To get the best feel for the school, it is best to visit when classes are in session. While visiting a campus it is important to talk to both college officials and current students. Most schools offer campus tours, often provided by a current student. Many also offer high school students the opportunity to stay the night in a dorm to truly experience campus life.
Before You Go
With so many schools to choose from it can be difficult to decide which ones to visit. However, there are several resources available that can help you narrow the search.
Click on the university’s website – This may seem obvious, but you’ll want to take the “virtual tour” and fully explore the resources available on the college website. Some college websites offer online chats so you can talk with current students and admission officers.
Read the college’s printed material – Take a look at the printed material that colleges produce. The course catalog can be especially helpful. It outlines the college’s philosophy and mission statement, as well as providing information about majors, course requirements and offerings. However, when reading the glossy brochures, keep in mind that the university representatives are seeking to portray their school in the best possible light.
Check out the student newspaper – You’ll find links to the college newspaper from the college’s own website. Pay special attention to the issues that seem important to students on that campus – would these be important to you? You’ll also learn about student peeves and activities on campus.
Take a campus tour via video – At YOUniversityTV.com you can view campus tours of various colleges. While none of these will substitute for a campus visit, they will help you learn more about the colleges you’re considering.
Visiting the College Campus
Step 1: Select a few local colleges to visit to get experience handling a college visit.
Select several (six or seven) campuses you are thinking about attending. Select public as well as private colleges. Then select a few local colleges to visit. Remember that you are just looking at colleges and that private colleges provide more financial aid, in general, than public colleges and universities provide.
Our local colleges include five kinds of campuses:
- UC – UC Davis
- CSU – California State University, Sacramento
- Private – University of the Pacific
- Community College – American River College, Cosumnes River College, Folsom Lake College, Sacramento City College, Sierra College
- Technical/Vocational – Heald College, International Academy of Design and Technology – Sacramento, University of Phoenix, Carrington College California, The Art Institute of California – Sacramento, MTI College, Anthem College, Kaplan College, DeVry University
Step 2: Plan ahead for your tours and visits.
Before you visit the campus, consider some of the options below and create questions in advance of your visit.
- Schedule an interview in the admissions office, if available.
- Review admissions requirements (tests, high school grades, etc.) and get a realistic view by looking at profiles of the previous freshman class.
- Obtain a school calendar and fee schedule.
- Investigate your academic program or major of interest.
- Take a campus virtual tour.
- Learn about the college (departmental strengths, research opportunities, facilities, parking, ease of registration, crime statistics, etc.)
- Investigate types of student support available (academic, personal, psychological and physical) and special programs (education abroad, work-study, intercampus exchange, etc.)
- Investigate career planning and placement programs. Determine the percentage of graduates who go on to higher education and admissions rates of medical/law/business school applicants. Also, ask about employment rates directly out of college, internship and recruitment programs.
- If possible, meet with someone in your major department.
- Stay overnight in a residence hall, if time permits.
- See if the colleges offer a new student orientation. The organized event can cover everything above.
Step 3: The College Visit/Tour
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions while visiting a campus! Ask about the percentage of students who graduate in four or five years and the number of returning sophomores. Ask why students choose to leave, ask about the amount of study necessary for success.
- Visit the library.
- Ask about financial aid opportunities (deadlines, forms required, merit scholarships, percentage of students receiving aid, etc.)
- Schedule a visit with a financial aid officer, if appropriate.
- Meet with faculty. Determine whether professors or assistants teach undergraduate classes.
- Talk with students. Ask what they like and dislike most about the college.
- Sit in on one or two freshman classes – witness class size, teaching style, academic atmosphere, respect accorded to students and teachers, comfort level in classes, etc.
- Find out how students use their out-of-classroom time.
- Become aware of student activities (clubs, organizations, intramurals, etc.).
- Inquire about campus life in terms of dating, social activities, fraternities/sororities, etc.
- Check the residence halls and dining facilities. Envision yourself in the living environment. Try the food.
- Check the adequacy of computer facilities and technology available.
- Examine the surrounding community, determine what cultural and social enrichment opportunities are available and inquire about safety issues.
Step 4: Make a “Quick-Check” list for each college visit.
Making a “quick-check” list can be helpful when visiting multiple schools. If you don’t, the schools will become a blur after visits to several campuses. You can include the following types of information to personalize your list:
- Name of college, date of visit, address and phone number
- Size of student body, tuition/fees and admission requirements
- Personal ranking of location, academics, atmosphere, housing, facilities, class sizes, social life, reputation, financial aid, school size, size of surrounding community, religious affiliation, athletics, special programs, special services, sororities/fraternities, prestige, rigor of programs.
- How is the internet in the Residence Halls?
- What is the weather like during the school year and what impact does it have on the school?
Take a picture of the college sign before your visit. Continue taking pictures to remind yourself of specific things that you want to remember from each college. They may end up running together, so the pictures will help you remember specifics positives and negatives from each college. Write notes and impressions during and/or immediately after the visit.
Sample Questions To Ask on College Tours
Questions to ask can be divided into four areas: academic, social, surroundings and general.
A. Academic Questions
- Do professors teach most freshmen courses or do graduate students do much of the teaching?
- What is the attitude of most professors toward students? Are they friendly? Accessible? Willing to give extra help?
- How hard do you have to work to be successful? How open is access to advisors for assistance and/or mentoring?
- How difficult is it to change majors?
- Is the learning environment cooperative or competitive?
- Does the school have adequate computer facilities?
- Some colleges are doing a lot these days in the area of career counseling. How does this college stack up? (One college, for example, devotes certain weekends to exploration of different careers with graduates coming back to tell about what they do and talk about salary, advancements, etc.).
- Is there a Career Planning and Placement Center on campus? How many graduates does it help place?
- What percentage of graduates got jobs last year?
- What percentage of graduates goes on to professional or graduate schools?
B. Social Questions
- What do students do on the weekends? Do many of them go home? Is the campus lively or empty?
- What is the situation with regard to drinking and drugs?
- Are there good places to eat, aside from the official dining halls?
- If the school is not co-ed, what kinds of social arrangements are made?
- How important are fraternities and sororities in campus life? Does most social life depend on them?
- Do theatrical companies, orchestras and other musical groups or outside lecturers come to the campus? If not, are such activities available in town?
- Are groups in the college community involved in what’s going on in the outside world – politics, international relations, community service?
C. Questions about the Surrounding Area
- For non-urban schools, find out what the surrounding community is like. How are relations between residents and students – the so-called “town-gown” relationship?
- What’s the transportation like between campus and town?
- Is any large urban area accessible?
- For urban schools, how safe is the neighborhood? Is housing available in the surrounding area? Is adequate parking available on campus?
D. General Questions
- What kinds of help are available – academic, personal, psychological?
- How are personal problems handled?
- What can you do if you dislike your roommate?
- Are there a lot of rules and regulations on conduct, etc. that must be observed?
- Are there special restrictions on freshmen?
- How safe is the campus?
- Always ask what students like most about the college. Dislike most?
- Also ask, “What’s wrong with this place?” as well as, “What’s the greatest thing about this college?”
- Finally, what is the general attitude toward students by the college admissions officers, registrar, residence hall managers, assistant deans and academic advisors?