Planning a college visit isn’t like planning a trip to Disney World. Sure it can and should be fun, but there is a definite strategy for getting the most from these visits.
You have two objectives.
First, you want to learn as much as you can about what it would be like to study and live there for four years of your life.
Second, you want to take advantage of any opportunities you might have to get a competitive edge in the application process.
So how do you achieve those objectives?
LEARNING ABOUT THE COLLEGE ON AND OFF THE TOUR
You definitely want to do the official information session and tour: they are really the most efficient way to get the basics. If you are interested in a particular program and there are specialized information sessions or tours for that program, then do those too.
But if you really want to figure out whether this college is right for you, you want to go off the tour and gather more information. Here on the things we recommend:
1. Do something that gives you insight into the academic experience at the college. We’re always amazed at how little attention is given to this aspect of college life on visits. There are many ways to go about finding out about what it will be like to go to school at this college. These are a few of our favorites:
2. Do something that relates to your life outside the classroom. What do you do besides go to school now? What would you like to do in college? Be on the lookout for whether you’ll have the opportunities you want during college. For example, go to the student center and check out the clubs and activities on-campus. Identify a few that would interest you. See if you can find a student who does one of them (maybe in an office for the club or on social media) and talk with them about it.
3. Do something that reveals what daily life will be like on campus. Sleeping, eating, socializing — these are the fundamentals of daily life. Hang out in front of a freshman residence hall and ask a student who is entering to if they will let you see their room, the common areas, a bathroom, and the laundry area. Check out the dining hall by having lunch there if possible. Get a feel for what students do for fun by asking students you meet ask about school traditions, big all-school events, and what happens on a typical weekend.
GETTING A COMPETITIVE EDGE
There are several ways that a well-orchestrated college visit can give you a competitive edge in the application process.
1. It demonstrates interest. Some colleges consider how interested you are in the college when making admissions decisions. The more you can demonstrate a true interest in the college, the better your chances are for getting in. Taking the time and investing the resources in making a college visit are one good way to demonstrate interest. Be sure to write down the date you visit, whom you meet, and what you do, since many colleges will ask those questions on the application.
2. It gives you great content for your Why College X essay (if the college has one). Many colleges have some version of an essay that asks you why you are interested in that particular college. If you have done what we suggest above, then you’ll have interesting anecdotes and concrete details to make your essay memorable and impressive to an admissions officer. Take time to do a college visit debrief, and make notes right after your visit so you don’t forget anything!
3. It may offer you an opportunity to have an interview. Some colleges offer on-campus interviews as an optional component of the application. Research whether the college offers them. If you can schedule one while you are there, go for it so long as you do some pre-visit homework and know why you are interested in applying to the college. An interview is a wonderful opportunity to add something to your application, provided you can do it well.
4. It may offer you an opportunity to meet with a coach, a faculty member, or someone else in the university community who can become your advocate in the admissions process. Although admissions officers will ultimately make the decision about whether you are admitted or not, other members of the university community can be advocates for you in the process and boost your chances of admission. The most common opportunity of this sort is for those of you who are potential recruited athletes. If you fall into this category, then you will definitely want to schedule a meeting with the coach for your sport and talk with them.
But there are opportunities for advocates beyond coaches. For example, if you have an unusually deep background in a particular academic discipline or are a talented performance artist or musician, you might be able to meet with the faculty or staff in your area of specialty and have them promote your admission when the time comes. Likewise, if your family members have been very active alums or generous donors to the college, you might be able to meet with someone in the alumni affairs or development office and have them advocate on your behalf.
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.