Planning for college can be super stressful, and during your final few years of high school, it can be difficult to find time to visit colleges you want to apply to, or one you’ve already been accepted to. But once you do, you’ll only be there for a couple of hours at the most. Here’s an unofficial guide to make the most of those short few hours.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- In college visits, there are no dumb questions. Ask about small details and statistics. And don’t be afraid to ask questions at any time during the visit. Most tour guides are friendly and extroverted by nature, and are okay with questions any time. If you get embarrassed to ask something, wait until the tour is over and ask them in private, often times they stick around for a few minutes. If you can’t think of any, here are some sample questions to ask your tour guide:
- Do you like the food here? (seems small, but trust me, you do not want to end up eating bad food every day for four years)
- Are the [your intended major] majors happy? Do they seem to enjoy the environment and resources?
- Do the people in the [your intended major] major have lots of opportunities for research/internships?
- Are the professors here miserable, or are they helpful and invested in the students?
- Is there a [club you are interested in] here?
Do some preliminary research.
- Please don’t schedule a visit for a college you know absolutely nothing about. It takes up valuable time, especially if you are visiting colleges far away from your home. It will also give you the chance to think about questions to ask the admissions officer or your tour guide. Also, if the location is far away, do some research on the location itself. Is it close to a city? Is it nice and secluded? What are the nearest restaurants and attractions?
Experience the surrounding location.
- Don’t just visit the college. Eat at a local restaurant, take a walk around the neighborhood. If you are checking out a city like Chicago, take the L system to the different locations around the city. If you want a more rural setting, take a car trip to the nearest grocery store to see how long of a drive you will need to make regularly.
Go during the time when the weather is at its worst.
- This sounds a little counterintuitive, but its important to see if you can withstand that weather every year. Obviously, this doesn’t apply if you live near the college already, but also keep in mind the differences in types of weather. If you live in Arizona, don’t assume Mississippi summers are the same, and vice versa. Dry and wet heat are very different. So if possible, go to Minnesota in the middle of winter, go to New Mexico in the dead of summer. If you find snow repulsive, you might want to reconsider that University of Chicago or Harvard application.
Go to an open house if you can.
- I just had a great experience at the Loyola University Chicago Open House this past weekend. It was great to go to the department fair and talk to different departments. There were also separate tours for dorms, you could see classrooms, and there were many helpful students. They’re a great way to get a lot of information at once, and if you are an admitted student, there are sometimes exclusive open houses and tours.
Look around once in a while at the students faces and activities.
- Students usually mill about while you are on a tour, so pay attention. If the students look miserable, that’s probably a bad sign. But it can be good to happy faces and chatting. If you see many students hanging out in groups, that’s a sign that there’s a strong community and many tight knit friendships. But that can be bad if you don’t like parties, or want to focus on your studies.
Imagine yourself as a student there.
- Try to forget for a second you are a high school student. Imagine living in the dorm, imagine how you would arrange it. Imagine going to the dining hall with your friends. Imagine going to the library. If it’s very easy for you to imagine doing these things, that’s a good sign. If you have some difficulty, you might want to reconsider. A college could have the perfect academics for your major, be in the perfect city or town, could look amazing online, but if you get there and it just doesn’t feel right trust your gut.
Above all, try to realize that you get a great opportunity by getting to visit a college. A lot of students don’t have the resources to check out a college before they apply, or even after they are accepted. And if you are disappointed by a college visit, it isn’t a waste of time because now you know what you don’t want in a college.