If at all possible, you should try to visit some college campuses. A visit is an excellent way to help you narrow your list of colleges. For example, you may find that a rural, college-town campus appeals to you more than an urban setting, or that you prefer a small liberal arts college to a large research university. It is valuable to get a sense of what different places and spaces have to offer.
Visits are best made early in your college planning—at the end of your sophomore or junior year is ideal. If you will be near a college campus during the summer, stop in and take the tour. You don’t necessarily need to want to attend the school you visit; just getting a sense of what is out there can make a world of difference in the decision making process. If you would like help planning a trip, ask your SAS college counselor—collectively, the SAS college counselors have seen hundreds of schools, and they can give you advice on what might be best for you to see. Check out where our college counselors have visited.
Timing of Visit
Although summer might be the most convenient time to make such excursions, it is not the ideal time to experience a college; most schools are not in session, so you can’t see students or get a sense of campus life. But the reality is that summer is often the only time that SAS students can make visits to college campuses. Just be aware that what you see in the summer is probably not what you would see during the year.
Arranging a Visit
To arrange a visit, first consult the college's admissions office website to learn how to arrange a visit. Often there are group information sessions two or three times a day presented by an admission officer. This is often followed by a campus tour given by a current student.
A few schools, generally the smaller liberal arts schools, may offer individual interviews on campus. When you contact the college about a college visit, find out if there is an opportunity to meet with an admission counselor or a current student. If you will be meeting with someone, be prepared with possible answers and questions of your own. Before you leave the admissions office make sure you have the business card of the person you met with so you can follow-up with a thank you note.
A college tour gives you a chance to see what is on the campus, what condition it is in, and what is missing. Is there a student center? How are the dorms kept up? Is the library adequate? Check out the physical education facilities. Are the playing fields a part of the campus or a distance away? Where are the dorms in relation to the main academic buildings?
Questions You May Ask on Your Visit
Here are some areas you might want to cover as you talk with your tour guide or the leader of your information session:
- What is the typical class size for freshmen and for upperclassmen? (This is a much more useful piece of information than student-faculty ratio.) What have been the tour guide’s largest and smallest class thus far?
- All schools say their professors are accessible to the students. Does this mean more than scheduled office hours? Do professors offer coffee get-togethers or other points of contact? Does your tour guide know her faculty adviser? How well? What outstanding professors or courses might the tour guide recommend regardless of a student's major?
- Are most classes taught in lecture style? If there are discussions, do students actually participate? Are there chances for group work or hands-on work in class?
- Is there a writing center? Does the school provide tutors? Is there a fee for such additional help?
- Is housing is guaranteed all four years? What percentage of students live on campus?
- Is there Greek life (fraternities and sororities)? What percentage of the student body gets involved? Do the Greeks have their own houses? When is rush? Are parties open or closed to the rest of the student body?
- Does the administration plan any major changes in the system in the near future?
- How safe does your tour guide feel walking around the campus at night?
- How is the student turnout at sporting events?
- What is the political climate like on campus? How active are students in service and other community-related activities?
- Does your tour guide know students who have worked directly with professors? Do students have research opportunities outside of class? If so, do they take advantage of them?
- Is the student body diverse or does one type dominate?
- What happens on the campus on the weekends? Does it empty out or is there plenty to do on and/or near campus? Does it feel necessary to have a car?
If it's not possible for your parents to take you around to schools, you can join a group of other students to visit campuses for a week or so during the summer. TS Tours, for example, has paired with SAS to offer tours to a variety of college campuses.