Even if you’ve taken a guided tour or listened to an admissions officer talk about a school, overnight college visits can show you a completely different side of a university than what you see on a daytime campus tour.

Staying at a US college overnight is a great opportunity to live in the dorms, eat cafeteria food, and see what students do in their free time when they’re not studying. Outside of academics and affordability, it’s these elements that can really help you narrow down your college list and ultimately help you choose your home for the next few years.

Still wondering whether an overnight college visit is right for you? Think about these frequently asked questions:

Why stay at a college overnight rather than visit during the day?

Daytime campus visits offer a lot of possibilities to prospective students, and can give you a good sense of how the college runs and what the facilities are like. But overnight visits let you get closer to the students and find out for yourself how you would fit in with them.

On your overnight college visit, you’ll be able to participate in campus activities, listen to what current students talk about, and check out the nightlife in the surrounding town. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to ask students any questions you have, and they can give you honest answers!

You might also consider an overnight visit if you’re submitting an early decision application to a US college. Spending time at the college overnight and seeing how students interact can make you feel more comfortable about making a commitment to one school.

What should I bring on my overnight visit?

Once you decide to schedule an overnight college visit, there are a few things you’ll want to pack. First, bring a pillow and sleeping bag — your host might have an air mattress or couch you can sleep on, but it’s best to be prepared for sleeping on the floor.

You’ll also need pajamas, a change of clothes for the next day, and whatever toiletries you need to get ready in the morning. And don’t forget a towel and flip-flops if you plan on showering.

Important electronics, like your cellphone and charger, should also be on your list of things to bring.

Keep a book or some homework in your suitcase as well for downtime on your overnight visit. You might also find it helpful to bring a notebook or journal with you to jot down your impressions as they happen so you don’t forget later on when making your college decision.

What will happen when I get there?

On an overnight visit, the college will match you with a student who will host you in his or her room for the night. Typically, your host will take you to a campus dining hall for a meal, and show you around campus. Even if you’ve already had a daytime tour these one-on-one tours with your college host can be extremely valuable. For one thing, they may show you more places than your tour guide, especially if you tell your host what types of activities you’re interested in (i.e. theater, the college newspaper, athletics, etc). For another, this provides a great stress-free opportunity for you to ask any questions you either didn’t get a chance to or forgot to ask during your scheduled tour.

Aside from getting an insiders perceptive on campus, your overnight campus host is also likely to take you to some evening student activities. These can include anything from open mic nights and school dances to dorm hangs and group meetings.  If you’re particularly interested in an activity – like a singing group or debate team – ask your host if there’s a meeting you can attend during your stay at the college overnight. Most college activities, clubs, rehearsals, practices, and parties will be open to you, and your host should be able to find out where to go.

What if my host is busy?

You might want to just follow your host to see what a typical night is like at the college, or chat with your host and his or her roommates. But keep in mind that even if you don’t have school the next day, your host might have schoolwork or an activity that takes up the evening.

If your host is busy on your overnight college visit, ask them to introduce you to a friend who shares some of your interests. You might learn even more about the areas of the college that interest you.

In addition, you can also use this time to walk around the college on your own to make sure you feel safe and comfortable talking to other students.

It’s easy to judge a whole college by your one host. Remember to keep an open mind and observe what’s going on outside of your host’s room on your overnight college visit. You can still have a great time and learn a lot about a college even if your host is busy.

How can I schedule an overnight college visit?

Because overnight trips require more than a full day, wait to schedule your overnight college visit until you’ve narrowed down your top choices to a few schools. Check out the schools’ admissions websites to see what days the colleges host prospective students overnight.

Colleges usually have limited availability for overnight stays, and their schedules might be full. If so, talk to some students during your daytime visit and spend time getting to know the campus. Or, if you cannot fit a visit in because the school is too far away, ask the admissions office to put you in touch with a current student via email.

Although an overnight college stay can tell you a lot about a school, there are plenty of other ways to connect with current students and get a good idea of the academic and social environment.

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