While formal tours, information sessions and interviews can give you the facts about the school, one of the best ways to get a feel for a campus is to wander around on your own. Pay attention to the people, the places and the things you see and hear. Guided tours are designed to highlight the best parts of the campus, so you really can't get a true read on the campus culture from a tour alone. Are students complaining about professors or classes? Are they talking about fun upcoming events? You can learn a lot just by keeping your eyes and ears open.
Think about what a typical day on the campus would be like and analyze the school from that perspective. Is it easy to walk from building to building? What's the food like? Where might you go to study? To hang out? What is there to do in the area? Is the cost of living high? Would you be able to find a part-time job? Is the line at the advising office long? Of course, academics are the most important consideration, but liking the school you attend can go a long way toward making your time in college successful.
If you can, talk to students about the school. Ask them questions that would give you information you can't find in a brochure, such as what the class workloads are like, what they really appreciate or don't appreciate about the college or what it's like to navigate the various administrative processes.
Lastly, take notes. Snap a few pictures. Bring a notebook and pen with you and write down your impressions of the school -- the good and the bad. Write down any unanswered questions you have. If you don't, it's easy to forget what things you saw where, especially if you're visiting more than one school.
Think of a college visit as a chance to interview each school. You want to know the positives and negatives, and the more information you can gather, the better. For more information on college visits and preparing for college, take a look at the links on the next page.