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10 top tips for college and university campus visits

What strategic steps can potential applicants take to make the most of campus visits?
What strategic steps can potential applicants take to make the most of campus visits?
10 top tips for college and university campus visits – graphic created by this user – with public domain artwork

High school upperclassmen visit college and university campuses in droves each year, exploring options for advanced education. Many students take such trips during school holidays or breaks.

Admissions officers at institutions of higher education eagerly court qualified students, while sports departments seek to attract top varsity athletes. Often, parents will plan college tours with their high school juniors and seniors, plotting out maps of several schools for potential visits. Transfer students may opt to see other options firsthand as well.

On-site tours and interviews help prospective students assess the academic, athletic and cultural climates of colleges and universities before making formal applications for admission.

What strategic steps can potential applicants take to make the most of campus visits?

These 10 tips can help students and parents maximize college and university excursions.

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1. Make a college admissions appointment in advance.

An in-person meeting with an admissions counselor can significantly affect an applicant’s chances of acceptance. Plus, such a session gives the prospective student the chance to inquire about academic offerings, class sizes, extracurricular activities, post-graduate job placements.

This is the time to ask about tuition and living costs, financial aid, scholarships, and other special programs.

2. Request a list of students and alumni from your hometown.

Current students and recent graduates can offer inside insights on college life. In addition, successful alumni often make ideal references for university applicants. Usually, admissions officers are able to provide contact information to prospective students.

3. Ask for a student-led campus tour.

Colleges routinely offer tours of their facilities and grounds, usually led by student guides, who are trained to answer a host of potential questions about campus life, academics and related topics.

4. Try to sit in on an actual college class.

While on-site, savvy prospective students take advantage of opportunities to audit class sessions, ideally in their likely majors or scholastic areas of interest. Science laboratories, libraries, and art studios may reveal plenty to those interested in applying for admission.

5. Eat a meal in the campus cafeteria.

School food offers constant fodder for humor, as quality varies dramatically. Before selecting a residential college or university, campus visitors often choose to eat in on-site cafeterias. Such an experience not only brings a chance to sample food choices, but also to size up campus culture.

6. Walk through a couple of the university dormitories.

Campus tours usually include strolls through a few dorms to see student housing options. The smartest visitors try to chat up a couple of residents, asking questions about student life. Usually, this elicits considerably more candid responses than those provided by trained tour guides.

7. Visit the university bookstore.

A college store sells much more than school supplies, logo sweatshirts, and snacks. Often, these shops provide textbooks and recommended reading materials for students. What novels do literature students read? What texts are history or science students studying? Browsing through various book departments reveals plenty about academics.

8. Go window-shopping in the college town.

Local color paints another picture of university life. It pays to cruise around a bit and take in the surroundings outside the campus. Does the area seem safe? What sorts of retailers and restaurants are nearby? What buses, trains, or other transportation options exist?

9. Stick around for a university sports event.

If possible, prospective students may find it fun and enjoyable to catch a football, baseball, soccer, or other game on campus. Such events offer glimpses at casual campus living. Some may attend plays, concerts, lectures or other proceedings for similar reasons.

10. Take home copies of student publications.

Course catalogs and promotional materials may be found online, but campus visitors usually pick up plenty of publications while on campus. The student newspaper can be a gold mine of information about college news and student life. Many potential applicants also study social networking sites for universities in which they are interested.

What’s the single most important strategy for visiting prospective college and university campuses?

The smartest college- and university-bound students take the time to see multiple schools, including their favorite choices and a few additional options. Sometimes schools surprise folks, and applicants never know which colleges or university may issue them letters of acceptance.