15 Tips for High School Students on College Campus Visits
With spring break coming up and summer not long after that, rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors have the gift of time to visit campuses. A campus visit is the best way to evaluate whether a college suits you. Of course, not all campuses are open for in-person tours yet so be sure to check college’s websites as you plan your itinerary.
Most colleges have created alternatives to in-person, student led tours. There are Self-Guided Tours which allow you to see campus at your own pace, driving tours where you explore campus from the comfort of your vehicle, and some places like Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas have set up a QR Code Tour that let you see the SMU campus by scanning and following the marked QR code tour stops.
If your college list is not finalized yet, visiting a variety of campuses can help you determine which learning environment suits you best:
Small (<5,000), mid-size (>5,000 <10,000), large (>10,000 <35,000), or huge (>35,000) undergraduate students.
Faith-based or secular
Private or public
Liberal arts, pre-professional, or polytechnic curriculum
Here are my best tips learned from going on over 150 campus visits
1. Learn about the college before you visit. Check out their website. Read write ups from College Factual. Plan to spend at least a half day at the college.
2. Visit the admissions office and participate in the information session (these are happening virtually as well). Ask questions that help you understand any unique characteristics of the academic program(s) you’re interested in. Be sure to ask what type of student is most comfortable and successful there. Dress nicely, but not out of character.
3. Take the student-led tour of campus. If visiting virtually, attend a student-led panel. Take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about campus life from a peer.
4. Check out the dorms. Find out about the dorm options available, such as all-freshman or coed floors, living learning communities (LLCs), honors dorms, etc. Given the lingering pandemic and its aftermath, visiting dorms in person will be off limits for a long time to come. Check out these resources to get virtual tours: CampusReel.org, YouTube – search “Virtual Residence Hall Tour XYZ University,” and the 360° Virtual Tours on the college’s website.
Picture yourself living in a dorm. Are you comfortable with where it is located on campus, such as the proximity to classes or the student center?
5. Arrange for campus meetings with department heads in the subject that interests you most. Also meet with coaches in sports where you excel, as well as former graduates from your high school. Bring a resume that highlights your experience in your area of expertise. Ask about opportunities based on your skills and interests. Write down the names of any officials you meet with and send personal thank-you notes when you return home.
6. Plan to explore academic departments that interest you. A great way to start can be touring facilities, sitting in on a class, and meeting professors. Many universities are offering these opportunities virtually as well.
7. Sit in on classes and check out the library. How is the rapport between students and faculty in the classroom? Look through the books and explore the technology available at the library. Are there lots of quiet places to study?
Photo from University of Washington Library
8. Look into life beyond academics. Check out the athletic facilities, theater, and student center. Read the notices posted on the bulletin boards. Can you see yourself joining in?
9. Safety first. The Department of Education has a site that allows users to research crime statistics by institution: https://ope.ed.gov/campussafety/#/. You will also be able to find the information through a university’s website. Look deeper than how many blue lights are on campus (The blue light system is still used throughout campuses all over the country. The system was designed before cell phones became a staple in society.).
10. Eat lunch in the student center and watch student interactions. Talk with students all over campus about their impressions of the school. Look at the students themselves. Do you feel comfortable among them?
11. Type in your impressions of each college you visit into your phone using an app like InkPad, Evernote, or Todoist. After a while, the visions of different schools start to blur if you don’t immediately stop to record your impressions. Keep a list of pros and cons for comparison. Also consider taking some photos to help you keep track of the campuses you visit. Take a selfie with Tommy Trojan, the Bruin Bear, UCSD’s Triton, or Santa Clara University’s Bronco.
12. Read the student newspaper, even the ads. Read the bulletin boards in the student union and in the academic department you're interested in. What’s being discussed? Reported? What are students concerns?
13. Since you may be living four years of your life in the area, walk or drive around the community surrounding the campus to explore the surrounding area.
14. Find out if there is public transportation or if you can have your vehicle on campus.
15. Assuming you liked what you saw, join the college’s mailing list. Being on the mailing (primarily email) list is the best way to have access to all the content universities are creating in lieu of visiting high schools.
For those that have read this far, here’s a bonus: great questions to ask students that attend and recent alumni.
Why did you decide to attend this college?
If you had to power to change anything about the school, what would it be?
What do you like best about your college?
What do you like least about your college?
What kinds of students succeed on your campus?
What is your academic advisory system like?
What are the main reasons why students don't graduate on time?
How easy or difficult is it to enroll in the courses you need?
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This blog was written Janice Royal, MA. She is the Founder and CEO of Royal College Consulting.
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