In this page:

  • Before visiting
  • On your visit
  • - Official activities
  • - Unofficial activities

College visits

One of the strongest signals your child can send to show a college they’re interested is the campus visit. College visits are an important part of learning about whether a school is a good fit and about showing "demonstrated interest."

There are lots of good reasons to visit in person:

  • The best reason: to find out if the school is a good fit. It’s the best way to get a feel for the college. (My daughter’s visit to an elite school at the top of her list resulted in that school dropping off the list completely. It was an expensive investment, but a good one.)
  • Most colleges keep track of who visits.
  • Your child can personalize their essay after the visit to show that they’re familiar with the school and have a true interest.
  • Many schools offer an interview to seniors who visit in person.

Before visiting

Start early! In late summer, look at the school's website to see what they offer to visitors.

  • Plan your trip wisely. It can be difficult when visits are to colleges far away from home, but try not to cram too many colleges in too short a period of time. Your brain will overload and everything will all run together. If you visit more than one college in the same trip, collect their marketing materials, as the brochures and their photos will jog your memory about what they offer when you get back home. Take pictures while you're on campus and make notes afterwards to help you remember what you learned, what you liked, and what you didn't.
  • Visit close schools. If you apply to a school within a three-hour drive and don’t officially visit, that school will be wondering why. If you’re close enough to drive, visit, and drive home in a day, you really need to do that.
  • Book early! Some schools stop interviewing or offering overnights after the first couple of months of the semester, and the spots may fill up quickly.
  • Check the school calendar. Don’t visit during finals week or when the school is on a break. Make sure you know if there will be anyone on campus. Usually summer is the worst time to visit because there aren't many students around and few classes offered, so you can't get a real feel for campus life. Be aware that spring break happens at different times for different schools.
  • Read the college website. Also, look at the Common Data Set for the school. That way you’ll have some background knowledge of the school, which will help you to learn more about the school’s culture and offerings once you’re there.
  • Read the website for the major of interest if your student has one, and look at that degree plan. The student should schedule a meeting with someone from that department if at all possible. Some of the most productive visits happen when the student has a chance to visit with someone in the correct department, not just the admissions people.

On your visit

Take advantage of everything they offer, all of which can usually be arranged online:

  • Sign up for the official tour (student and parent). The one-hour campus presentations and tours will be fairly similar from school to school, but what they emphasize may give you a sense of what the school wants to project about itself (e.g., athletics, Greek life, religious services, volunteer opportunities, environmental sustainability, community, housing, fine arts, etc.). If there's a tour that allows you to see a dorm room, then that's a good one to take.
  • Attend the information session (student and parent).
  • Sit in on a class (student).
  • Stay overnight in the dorms (student). If the college doesn’t offer overnights or if they’re all full, arrange an informal overnight with a friend or a friend-of-a-friend.
  • Have lunch with a student (student).
  • Set up an interview (student).

Fit in some unofficial things in addition to the official activities (you do the legwork yourself):

  • Have your student set up meetings to meet with professors (student).
  • Arrange to have your child attend a meeting of a student group they might be interested in (student).
  • Talk with students who are there and not affiliated with the admissions office (student and parent). Talk to students in the cafeteria, the kid behind the desk at the rec center, or the student staffing the newspaper office, for instance. Those unofficial remarks are some of the most valuable in determining what campus is really like.
  • Walk around campus and watch how the students interact (student and parent). Are they sitting in groups? Eating alone? Do they look happy? What’s the environment like? Can your student see themselves here?
  • Eat on campus (student and parent).
  • Visit the area around campus (student and parent). Is it safe? Is there stuff to do? How expensive is it? Is it walkable? Is the surrounding town accessible? Does the school offer transportation into town?
  • If you, as the counselor, can meet with an admissions officer to take in an up-to-date transcript to get their opinions on it, that's really helpful (parent). Keep in mind, however, that most admissions officers won’t look specifically at your transcript, but you can still ask them to look over the organization to make sure you’re giving them the info they want.
  • Ask students where else they were accepted and why they chose this school (student and parent). Ask what they wish they had known when making the choice. Ask what they think a "typical" student at the school is. Ask what there is to do on weekends. Ask who their favorite professor is and why (or what their favorite class has been and why). These are especially useful with students in the same major and activities that your child is interested in. Ask, ask, ask.
  • Take pictures of everything on campus, because all the schools will run together in your mind. Take pictures of the campus bulletin boards, which are really informative as to the culture of the campus. One school might have almost NO student participation on the bulletin boards, just "official" office stuff. Some schools might have student posters up that will cause a student to say, "There are weird/unconventional students here JUST LIKE ME - I'd LOVE to attend that group/ event/etc.,” and others that will have them say, "Do students here organize ANYTHING except drinking parties?”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions (student and parent). See Questions to ask on college visits. 

For more information about college visits, see Demonstrated interest - what's that?