When it comes to choosing the place you’ll spend the next chapter of your life, college visits are absolutely invaluable. It doesn’t matter if you stalk the university’s official Instagram, watch dozens of YouTube videos, read a pamphlet, and scour the school’s website – there is nothing quite like stepping foot on the actual campus. You wouldn’t marry someone after only talking to them online, right? Don’t risk getting catfished by neglecting that pivotal in-person meeting.
Once you’ve scheduled your college visits, it’s important to maximize the benefits. Whether you’re there for two hours or two days, here are five smart things you can do to get to know your potential new school.
Take an official tour.
Check out the college’s website to see how you can sign up for an official tour of the campus. This will allow you to walk the campus with a guide who really knows the place. You can ask questions, see buildings, hear anecdotes, and learn more about your potential new home. Come prepared with questions that you really want answered but couldn’t find from other resources. Ask your tour guide about their major, their social life, and anything else that is important to you. This is your chance to investigate!
Take an unofficial tour.
The school will put their best foot forward during an official interview. If the official tour is your first date with a school, an unofficial tour let’s you go through their things while they’re out of the room. Check out campus buildings, ask a professor if you can sit in for a bit of their lecture, walk around Greek row, people-watch in the library, and grab a coffee at a campus hub. Be nosy. Choosing a college is a huge decision, so you’re entitled to get all of the information – whether it’s openly provided or not!
Eat lunch in the dining hall.
This has several benefits. First, you can see what kind of dining options this school offers. You can see firsthand what kind of foods are served and how the seating areas are laid out. Second, you can get a sense of the school’s atmosphere. Are friends huddled around tables talking, laughing, and having a good time? Are people spread out and studying through their lunch break? Is there a nice mix of the two? Third, can you see yourself eating, socializing, and studying at this waterhole? This is simply your gut reaction. Try to picture yourself there in one, two, three, or four years. Does the thought excite you?
Pretend to be lost.
I wish I could take credit for this genius idea, but it comes from this New York Times blog. It’s pretty daunting to approach strangers and start inquiring about the campus culture. If you want to get a more organic, firsthand idea about how students interact at this school, pretend to be lost. Stand in a high-traffic area with a map and look utterly confused, or kindly ask students to point you in the direction of a certain building. Is everyone too busy zooming to class to stop and answer? Are you met with rushed, irritated answers? Are students helpful? Do you feel comfortable asking for help? I know it sounds odd, but this give you a sneak peek into what it might be like to be a student there. Plus, you won’t have a glaring “prospective student” sign on your forehead, which can help you get more genuine reactions.
If you’re taking multiple college visits, it’ll be a whirlwind. Jot down notes on your phone or in a notebook so that you can read them later, when it’s crunch time. You don’t need to create a comprehensive report about the school, but take time to write down anything that stands out or is important to you. Even notes like, “The tour guide loves all of her psychology classes,” and, “The campus coffee shop has great scones,” might be helpful information in a couple of months.
It’s important to visit schools during the school year, because you won’t get an accurate idea about the school if you visit during it’s ghost town, summer months. Also, try not to go during final exams at the end of the semester. Students are buried in their books and under-slept, and you won’t see an “average” day… trust me on that one. Most importantly, go into every campus visit with an open mind. Do your best to set aside your preconceived ideas about the school and really visualize yourself as a student there.