Juniors and sophomores are off and running in their second semester. Spring is the time when college visits may be on your mind. Visiting universities is time consuming and costly (especially if air travel is involved) and as such, careful planning and research is essential to ensure campus visits provide valuable information. Before embarking on a multi-state tour of buildings and rolling green lawns, spend a few weeks doing online research. Absolutely everything you need to know about a potential institution’s programs of study, graduation requirements and financial aid can be found at the university’s website. Using the search engine on the university homepage, locate the course catalog and/or programs of study for each separate college/major at the institution of interest and also explore options to design/customize your own major. Read about potential majors you may not have heard about while a high school student. Explore courses and graduation requirements in the course catalog and see what you find attractive. As an example, if you are considering majoring in chemistry or musical theater – compare the various degree requirements across different institutions. Are these the similar? What is unique that you find attractive about a given program of study (keep notes- this is a typical essay question you’ll be asked to answer on the common application later in your senior year when you apply). What you’ll probably observe is that course requirements are essentially quite similar across colleges. What you will observe as different are the various research institutes and faculty that distinguish programs across institutions. Now that your curriculum research is underway, also explore student clubs and information on housing and dining options. All of this information is obtainable online. So why should and when should you actually schedule a campus visit?
The primary reason to visit a school is to meet the student body and to experience your gut reaction as to whether you might “fit” into a campus. Larger schools can always be made to feel smaller by finding your group of friends and clubs. A smaller school can never feel large. The best way to get a sense of “fit” is to participate in weekends devoted to campus visits which place you in a dorm and where you shadow a currently enrolled student. Your campus host and her friends will provide you with insights on workload, professors, courses, food and a variety of issues related to living and learning at a given college. Also valuable to assessing the campus pulse is spending time in dining facilities, attending a club meeting or sport practice or arranging to attend a class (admissions staff provide these options). While on campus, don’t be bashful—talk to students! Above all, if you are going to visit a campus do NOT do so in the summer or during an institution’s campus break. Doing so defeats the point of a campus visit. Remember, everything you want to know about the programs of study is available to you online. You are visiting a campus to meet students – you don’t visit for a glimpse of beautiful buildings and rolling green quads. So as you plan your schedule, make sure first not to interfere with your own preparation for this spring’s AP exam. Second, avoid arriving on campus when students are on their spring break or studying for their final exams. Finally, if airfare is cost prohibitive and distances too far, there is no adverse impact on your application if you defer a visit until after you are accepted and attend a special ‘accepted student’ program in the spring of your senior year.