Only a campus visit can tell you if the college of your dreams is really your dream college.
Not only will a campus visit give you a glimpse of the buildings, student housing and other facilities, but it can also help you determine if the college is a good fit for your personality and lifestyle.
Is the campus too large for your tastes? Too small? Can you imagine strapping on a backpack and studying there?
Schedule a tour by calling the college at least a few weeks before you want to visit. A guided tour will give you a good overview of the campus. It will also provide you with an opportunity to meet students at the school, so prepare a list of questions beforehand.
Ask your guide about:
If you visit on a weekday during the school year, you might even be able to sit in on a class or two. Take notes on your impressions, and don’t forget a camera. You’re probably going to visit multiple colleges, and it could become difficult to remember which campus had the great green space or the lousy library.
Don’t just depend on an organized tour. Leave enough time during your campus visit to tour on your own.
Visit the student union or another busy area and watch the students closely. Is everyone in a hurry, or do they linger on their way to class? What are they wearing? Take a seat at the library or at a coffee shop. Are you comfortable there?
If safety is a concern, look for plenty of emergency call-boxes and well-lit sidewalks and roads. If you often work out, take a look at the gym. If you like to read, check out the local bookstores and campus library.
For a more in-depth campus visit, ask the college if it sponsors a program for potential students to stay overnight in a dorm. The college can pair you with a current student, and you can learn first-hand about having roommates and sharing a bathroom.
You’ll have more time to see the campus, and your temporary roomie could take you to sample the cafeteria’s fare, show you the surrounding community and fill you in on the best nearby pizza, cafes and bookstores.
If you live in a different country – or even just a few states away from the university – an in-person campus visit might be difficult.
However, many universities offer virtual college tours online, allowing you to view photos and maps of the campus or even take a peek inside a residence hall. Just keep in mind that those photos are chosen by the university to showcase the best and most scenic areas of campus.
For a more balanced view of campus life, all potential students should find the online edition of the student newspaper for photos and information about current events on campus. The college may also have a school-sponsored blog, or you can search for blogs created by current students.
Whether your campus visit is done in-person or online, continually ask yourself if you can imagine living there.
Maybe you’re looking for a large campus in a busy urban area. Perhaps you want to study in a small, close-knit town. A campus visit is the only way to know for sure that the college and its surrounding community have exactly what you’re looking for.