Making a college visit is like test-driving a car: it gives you the opportunity to feel it out and decide whether or not it will be the best and most successful option in getting from Point A to Point B. While part of both test-driving a car and visiting a campus is seeing how you "fit," another part is experiencing it firsthand and having the chance to ask questions to professionals.
I visited three (well, two-and-a-half, really) schools before deciding on which one I would attend. One made me feel completely at home and like I could spend a successful four years there, and one made me want to leave as soon as I got out of the car. The third I did not even get out of the car to see because I knew just driving past that I could not go there (hence the half-visit).
Going through the experience with me, though, gave my parents more insight into what to do when it was time for my sister to start thinking about colleges. They took her on more visits, knew the questions to ask, what to look at and for, and often turned to me for advice. When I accompanied her on a visit, I was much more critical and understanding of what to take away from the tour. Listening to her talk about her visits only solidified my belief in the college visit, as much of her criticisms or praise came from her experience in being on the campuses and interacting with the people there.
Of course, the Internet is always available to answer standard questions about the colleges and universities a student may be interested in, and many institutions have web pages dedicated to answering those types of questions. One of the greatest benefits of visiting a campus,though, is the potential to speak with members of the institution- professors, students, coaches, musical directors, etc. - frankly and in-person. This can help establish connections and allows students (and their parents) to ask more personal, detailed questions that cannot always be answered online.
Many institutions allow students to sit-in on classes in fields that they are interested in pursuing, giving them a feel for the learning environment and student-professor interaction. Students can see the school's average class size as well as class style, such as whether it is lecture-based or interactive, as well as seeing how the college students respond to the class. This also presents the opportunity for candid conversations with college students about how they feel about the school and its different aspects.
While the personal interactions are important, getting acquainted with the living arrangements is pivotal. If a student is planning on living on campus for any amount of time, it is best that they see the residence halls firsthand to make sure they can deal with it. Seeing the living spaces can also let parents know where their child will potentially be living and what amenities will be needed. It is likely that a student will know very quickly whether they feel comfortable in the living space, and it can often make or break their chances of attending school there.
When setting up a campus visit, ask the admissions person about opportunities to stay overnight or eat on campus. Many schools will set a prospective student up with a current student for an overnight visit that allows him or her a more personalized experience. The student will often visit classes, have meetings with various faculty and staff, and participate in other activities specific to the school. This kind of visit can also familiarize prospective students with the campus culture and the residential settings.
Most colleges offer tours to students and their families throughout the year, with many dedicating specific time during the summer to help students avoid missing classes. For example, during Indiana Private College Week, running July 21 through 25, students and their families are invited to participate in the same tour and activities offered during the school year at all 31 Indiana private institutions. Public institutions, such as IU, Purdue and Indiana State University offer group and individual tours during the summer, as well. Hit the road!
Ann Gilly is a strategic communications intern at Independent Colleges of Indiana.