What's the importance of campus visits in college admissions?

Don't just envision yourself on a college campus. Visit the campus, and see if it's a good fit for you. See more pictures of investing.
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So, you've endured 10 or 11 years of school, and the end of your compulsory education is finally in sight. Congratulations! However, if you're reading this article, it's pretty safe to assume you're contemplating continuing your schooling for at least another four years, and the only way to be sure you're going to get the collegiate experience you're looking for is to visit several college campuses.

Picking the right college is about more than just academics. Sure, there's still homework and tests, but you're an adult now, so everything from the courses you take to the food you eat is all up to you. Therefore, you need to be sure that your university of choice has everything you need to learn and survive, from stimulating coursework to proper housing.

All this freedom is very exciting for most incoming freshman students, and while it might seem like any university that won't require you to remain living at your parents' house will do, there are many things you need to consider before choosing a school. Even if you're planning on going to a local college and will still live at home or are an older, nontraditional student going back to finish your degree, it's always a good idea to visit the universities you're considering attending.

In this article, we're going to school you in what to look -- and look out -- for when visiting college campuses. We'll teach you not only why it's important to visit multiple schools, we'll also explain how observing a university's faculty, students and surrounding area can help you to determine where you need to be.

Click over to the next page to learn why the quality of a university's cafeteria could be considered as important as its programs of study.

Getting a Feel for the School Campus

Visiting prospective colleges can be fun, but it's also a lot of work. There are certain critical pieces of information that you need to know before you decide which universities you'd consider attending, and the answers aren't always obvious.

To begin with, try getting a feel for the school. Take a tour of the college and get a firsthand look at the different buildings and departments. Make sure you visit the university during a week when classes are in session so you can get a taste of what life on the campus is actually like. Walk the grounds, or sit down on a bench and observe the students at lunch or hustling to the different buildings between classes. Can you see yourself there?

After you're done with the tour, sit down with an admissions representative to discuss the university. Find out what kind of programs the school offers and what it's looking for in its applicants.

Also, be sure to sit in on a class or two in a discipline you'd consider studying. How do the professors and students interact with one another? How many students are in the classes? What kind of teaching style are the professors employing? Would you feel comfortable in that learning environment?

Don't be afraid to ask the students themselves what they think of the school. Most of them shouldn't have a problem discussing their experiences with you, and their answers will most likely be quite candid.

Finally, eat a meal or two in the cafeteria. How palatable is the food? How many options do you have? Remember, this is the place you might call home for the next four years of your life, so you better make sure you can stomach the meals. It may sound like a trivial issue, but it's going to be pretty hard to study if you're hungry all the time.

Scoping Out College Living Arrangements

When you visit a campus, don't just peek inside the cafeteria and lecture halls. Be sure the dorms are up to your standards, too.
When you visit a campus, don't just peek inside the cafeteria and lecture halls. Be sure the dorms are up to your standards, too.
James Woodson/Getty Images

While the importance of getting a feel for a school can never be underestimated, the most important question you need answered has nothing to do with a school's cuisine, its students, faculty or even its academic programs. You need to find out if that university is a place where you could see yourself living for the next four years of your life.

Are you looking for a sprawling urban campus with an exciting nightlife, or are you seeking a close-knit rural college with plenty of space for meditative study? Do you want to attend a large university and be one of tens of thousands of students, or would you rather know everyone in your graduating class by name? These are important questions that will have a huge impact on your overall education and life for the next several years, so try visiting universities of different sizes and locations before settling on a school.

Even if you think you know what you want, be sure to check out all your options. The city life may sound great, for example, but you might change your mind if you sit in on a class and struggle to hear the professor over the sounds of a nearby construction project or frequent police and ambulance sirens.

Be sure to pay close attention to the dorms. Note their size and amenities. With how many students will you be living and sharing a bathroom? Are the rooms clean? Are they well-maintained, or are they falling apart? You can even ask some of the students you meet how they like living there. Living arrangements can vary greatly from school to school (or even building to building), so be sure you choose a campus where you can feel comfortable when you aren't in class.

If you like a school but hate its dorms, try checking out some nearby apartments. After all, living in a dorm isn't a requirement at most schools, and apartment complexes near universities are often filled with college students and can have a very dormlike atmosphere. Many of these complexes also have competitive rates that may even end up being cheaper than a dorm once you add a few roommates. Plus, you can bring your pet cat or dog (a no-no in virtually all dorms), and you're pretty much guaranteed to have more personal space than a university's standard rooms can provide.

In addition to the campus and living quarters, you should also familiarize yourself with the school's surrounding area. What is there to do outside of class? Remember that you're not going to be happy if your free time is limited by your location, so make sure the area has whatever it is you need. If you're planning to party, drive by some of the local bars and package stores. If you're a regular Sunday school attendee, make sure there's a church of your religious denomination nearby. The local area can even have an impact on your studies. If you're majoring in film, for example, and the nearest movie theater is 50 miles away, you may want to pursue your degree elsewhere.

Alternatives to Campus Visits

Visiting prospective colleges is great, but let's face the facts: Not everyone has the luxury of being able to take time off from school and work to jet about the country touring various campuses. Don't stress if you simply don't have the time or finances to take such a trip; as long as you have a phone and an Internet connection, you can still get enough information to make an informed decision.

For starters, look at various colleges' promotional packages and material. How does each school identify and market itself? If, for example, a university's mission statement stresses the importance of original research and collaborative learning, and you'd prefer to avoid inquisitive studies and hate group work, you might want to scratch that school off your list.

Also, don't be afraid to reach out and contact a school's admission representatives via phone or e-mail. They should be happy to answer your questions, and since some of them are probably current or former students (many universities offer free or heavily discounted tuition to employees), they may be quite candid in their responses.

While it's always preferable to physically visit a university, it is possible to get a good feeling for a school online. Many colleges' course catalogs are available in PDF format on the university's Web site, so it's easy to see if they have any classes you'd find interesting. You can also look up satellite images of the campus in Google Earth. You'll be able to view a university's layout, building placement and surrounding area. If you're looking for vibrant city life and the campus is surrounded by cow pastures, you probably wouldn't have wanted to waste your time visiting that school anyway. You'll also want to look up the crime statistics of a given school or town to make sure it's a place where you'll feel comfortable and safe for the next four years.

Of course, if you're still not sure, you can always find a university's current students or recent alumni on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. Just look for a particular group that's somehow affiliated with the school. Honors societies, sports teams and virtually every other kind of student group and organization should be easily accessible through these sites. In fact, many schools have established official online presences on social networking sites for just such a purpose, so don't hesitate to reach out and ask a few questions. Choosing the right college is extremely important, so be sure to get as much information as possible before making your final decision.

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Sources

  • AdmissionsConsultants. "Visiting Colleges -- Is It Really Important?" 2009. (Dec. 22, 2009) http://www.admissionsconsultants.com/college/visiting_colleges_important.asp
  • Christie, Judith. "Do Not Underestimate the Importance of a Campus Visit." College Planning Consultants. (Dec. 22, 2009) http://www.selectingcolleges.com/home/col/page_177/do_not_underestimate_the_importance_of_a_campus_vi.html
  • Obenschain, Jessica. College Transfer Evaluator and Former Admissions Representative, Kennesaw State University. Personal interview conducted by Chris Obenschain. (Dec. 18, 2009)
  • Springer, Sally P., Marion R. Franck and Jon Reider. "Where Should You Apply?: College Visit." Education.com. 2009. (Dec. 22, 2009) http://www.education.com/reference/article/where-should-you-apply-college-visit/
  • UAHuntsville ChargerNews. "The Importance of Visiting Campus." February 2008. (Dec. 22, 2009) http://www.uah.edu/admissions/ChargerNews.pdf