How to make the most of your college visits

campus visits college admissions
By Tara T.

College visits are an important process of the application process, whether they are in-person or virtual tours. Here's how you can make the most of these visits:

1. Wander on your own

Tours and info sessions are wonderful for the nuts and bolts about undergraduate class size, number and rigor of general education requirements, but let’s be honest…after two or three, they all start to sound the same. Instead, I recommend checking out some of the student spaces on your own. Is there a student center on campus or a central coffee shop? Go there and just sit. Maybe even eavesdrop a little. Ask yourself, Is this an environment that invigorates me? Can I see myself here? It sounds silly but it is absolutely essential that you enjoy the vibe of your future campus, whatever it may be. 

2. Talk to current students

My favorite question to ask current students is, “What would you change about <insert institution here>?” I know it sounds overly negative, but when it comes to making choices for the next four years, you probably want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. Once you get an answer, though, take it with a grain of salt because every person’s experience in college is unique to them and their response may be universal, or it may be one-size-fits-one. Think critically. 

3. Walk around off-campus

Make sure that the environment and location is one that you enjoy. This is also an underrated part of the college visit process, and while you’ll likely spend the majority of your time in the bubble of your campus, make sure that the surroundings are either urban enough or sufficiently rural to match your tastes and preferences. Do you want to do jobs or internships during the semester? Then maybe you want to prioritize proximity to a major metropolitan area. Are you looking to go hiking or camping on the weekends? Then confirm that would be feasible. Check how convenient it would be to travel home for breaks or holidays, if you anticipate wanting to do so. These are all important considerations that can and should factor into your future decision-making process.

4. Write down your notes and impressions IMMEDIATELY

I urge you to heed this advice! If you are visiting more than one school (and especially if you are visiting five or more), they will all start to blur together. Therefore, while the experience is fresh, write down your top 3 pros and cons for the school, as well as a little anecdote about how you felt during the visit. I promise this will be immensely helpful in subsequent months when you’re faced with a decision and trying to put yourself back in the headspace. 

5. Finally, for those who aren’t physically traveling to visit colleges, there are still so many options available to you!

In the Zoom era most universities will have virtual information sessions where you can meet admissions officers and ask questions about the school and the application process. Take advantage of those! Much like on-campus tours and info sessions, however, these spiels can start to sound the same, so I would urge you to make the most of your network. Reach out to anyone you know who is a current student at the school and ask if you can chat on the phone for 30 minutes about their experience! Go onto the website of a department you’re interested in and send a faculty member an email about course offerings for the fall. Talking to as many people as possible who are close to the school will be immensely valuable, since every new perspective can help you get a better sense of the community. 

Tara is a PhD Candidate in Biology at MIT. She holds a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Brown University, and has experience working in life sciences consulting.

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