Spring break is a great time to visit colleges. Whether you’re near or far from home, the time off of school can be great for touring colleges while students are on campus. But, much like the rest of the college selection and application process, visit plans look different for every student. To make the most of your visits, consider the following questions before making your plans and scheduling tours.
- Is this your first time touring colleges? That’s great! Don’t worry too much about whether or not the specific college you’re visiting feels right for you. Even if you don’t end up liking it, the visit won’t be a waste of time because you can still learn about what you DO want, and the overall characteristics of colleges that you might not have thought about before. Also, keep an eye out for any deal breakers. Maybe the student body isn’t as friendly as you’d like, the travel time to get there from home is more than you can accommodate, there aren’t many options in the dining hall for your dietary restrictions, or the major you’re interested in isn't available. Use this first round of visits to figure out your priorities and preferences. It’s totally ok - and often advisable - to sample lots of different types of campuses as you’re getting started. Visits can be expensive, so I always recommend starting with local colleges to build your list of priorities. It’s much easier to visit the local liberal arts college to get a feel for it, rather than fly across the country just to find out that you’d actually prefer to be at a large research university instead.
- Have you visited other colleges already? Think about what you’ve seen so far and make a plan according to what you want to learn more about. For example, you may have done some visits already and decided you really like small schools with anthropology programs. Try to focus this next round of visits on colleges that meet your criteria. Ask yourself: What am I doing this round of visits for? If you already know that these are your preferences, consider what it would take for you to actually apply. What's the deciding factor for you? The more you focus on that during your next round of visits, the more clearly you can articulate to a college "I'm applying to you not just because you're small and have the major I'm interested in, but also because of ___" -- basically, the visit should help fill in that blank! Think about what is most important to you and do your research before you visit to make the most of your time on campus. You can even prepare a list of questions you want answered for each college.
- Where are you planning to go for spring break? Lots of students will actually take a break during spring break (shocking, I know), so you may want to fold just a few visits into your vacation plans. If that’s the case, make your vacation plans first and then look at which colleges you may be interested in near your chosen vacation spot. I had a kid last year who always visited family in New Hampshire over the summer. In the months before senior year, her family visited colleges in Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. She got to see a lot of different schools and road trip with grandma - it was a win for all involved!
- Do you know any college students who would be willing and able to show you around? It’s super helpful to have someone you know and trust show you around. Tour guides and admission folks will often stick to the highlights of their respective campuses, but friends and family are more likely to give you an authentic sense of what it’s like to be a student there. Sure, they might love the frozen yogurt machine in the student union, but they’ll also tell you how annoying it is to try to get to class in time during the busiest passing periods. You might consider reaching out to your school counselor to see if any alumni from your high school would be willing to connect with you, too.
- Is something you’re seeing on campus bringing up an awkward question? Don’t be afraid to ask. Admissions representatives and tour guides are there to answer your awkward - yet respectful - questions, and you will NEVER be penalized if you eventually decide to apply to that college. When I was an admissions counselor, I always appreciated the students with the hard-hitting questions the most because I could tell they were really thinking carefully about their options. Some of my favorite awkward questions were: “This place seems like a party school, how do students stay focused?” and “What do you do about the middle-of-nowhere vibe I’m getting right now?”.
Some DO’s and DON’Ts
- DO NOT plan a week-long marathon of visits. They all start to blend together if you’re doing more than two visits per day. Not only that, but students often get so burned out at the end that over-scheduled families will often skip some altogether to just have a little rest.
- DO take your time with each visit. Take pictures and notes so that you actually remember each college. Your future self will really thank you when you’re writing supplemental essays down the line based on your experiences there rather than the college’s Wikipedia entry.
- DO NOT prioritize visiting only the most famous and selective colleges in the area. Admissions staff are trained to show you the very best so that you fall in love with those colleges. They can, however, also be very intimidating when talking about the statistics of their incoming students and how few applicants get in.
- DO balance your college visits with colleges in a range of selectivity. Give yourself the opportunity to learn about, and fall in love with, colleges that are likely to admit you. At Collegewise, we believe it’s important to dedicate time to each of the colleges on your list, so that you really know what your options are once decision letters arrive in the spring of your senior year. It’s way more fun to get good news from all the colleges on your list if you’ve given yourself the opportunity to get excited about attending.
Keep in mind that no college is perfect. Trying to find your “dream school” on a visit puts a lot of pressure on your time there and doesn’t allow you to see the full picture of what they have going on. Start a list of pros and cons, take off the rose-colored glasses, and stay curious about everything you’re seeing. You’ll know you’ve had a successful visit when you have a stronger sense of all the good, the bad, and the ugly at each place you’ve seen.
About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.