Planning College Visits (Part 3 - On Campus Checklist)

Posted by Andrew Jungclaus on 7/24/15 9:00 AM

Fingers crossed for good weather. [Image source: Columbia University, where Andrew spends most of his time] 
This post is part of a 3 part series. Check out Part 1 on Getting Started, and Part 2 on Traveling Efficently. 

Once you’re finally on campus for the visit and information session, you may feel like the battle has already been won.  I see kids like that at Columbia every day – herds of sullen, blank-faced high school students shuffling from one academic hall to another.  Admittedly, it can be an overwhelming experience to start visiting these grand, bustling institutions.  But you need to remember that this is both your first glimpse at the school and its first look at you.  Try incorporating a few of the suggestions listed below to your next campus visit and see if it makes you feel – or at least seem – like the engaged, passionate, admissions candidate you want to be.

Ask thoughtful questions

The silent and miserable students are the ones who are clearly there because their parents have forced them to be there.  Before arriving, think about what you want to know about the school that you couldn’t learn from the website or brochure. Make a list.  Almost anyone you meet on campus will be equipped to answer these questions for you.  These questions will help you present yourself as serious and thoughtful.

Ask about bad things too

These kinds of questions should be geared more toward students than admissions officials, so if you find yourself in a candid moment with your student tour guide or overnight host, try to find out what’s bugged them about the college or perhaps something they wish were different about the campus, or even something they wish they had known before applying.

The pitches you’ll hear during information sessions are sometimes so saccharine and positive that they start to blend together.  But asking a (slightly!) negative question or two can often be revealing.  And if you don’t feel comfortable asking about what students like least or wish they could change, you can try some trickier ways of getting at thorny topics.  For instance, one way to get at issues of work/life balance is to ask if the campus library is open twenty-four hours per day – lots of schools try to tamp down on academic exhaustion by closing study spaces at a certain time of night.  

Sit in on a class

Many colleges offer this option to students on campus or overnight visits, and it’s a great idea to take them up on it.  Ostensibly, the classroom is what you’ll be paying for here.  Choose a topic that interests you, but don’t be afraid of attending a lecture on something you know nothing about.  Once you’re there, take a look around you.  Can you imagine these people as your peers?  Take a look at how engaged they are.  Are they taking notes?  Are they on Facebook?  Are they actively participating in discussion?  Is the professor engaging?  Essentially – could you see yourself learning here?

Go to a club meeting or sports practice

Here you’ll have to do a little research, and a friend in place at the college or a helpful admissions officer will be your best bet.  But also, try the internet – google the college of your choice and an activity you’re interested in.  Most clubs and activities have their own sites now and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the Dartmouth Young Democrats Club or George Washington intramural soccer.  

Few prospective students take advantage of extracurricular opportunities when they do their visits, but really it can be the best way to get a feel for the school’s culture.  Of course, if there’s something you’ve been passionate about in high school, try that.  But also don’t be afraid to use this as an opportunity to get a sense of the breadth of offerings on campus.


As always, these are just some guidelines to get you thinking in the right mode before heading out on your college campus tours. For more college visits-related tips from me, check out Part 1 on Getting Started, and Part 2 on Traveling Efficently. We’re always here to help, so if you’re still feeling a bit confused about how to make the most of your time visiting college campuses, don’t hesitate to be in touch with one of our consultants! 

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Tags: college admissions