Even though most college campuses are open to the public, and you're free to walk around if you wish, it's a good idea to let the school know you'll be coming. Even if the staff can get you on a tour if you show up unannounced, you have a better chance of getting the most out of the trip if you do some planning. By doing so, you can take full advantage of campus tours, department and general information sessions, overnight stays, admissions interviews and any other special opportunities the school has for prospective students. If you don't schedule your visit beforehand, there's no guarantee that someone will be available to answer your questions.
Luckily colleges try to make it very easy for interested students to visit. A good place to start is the school's Web site. Most have a section dedicated to providing information to prospective students, including information on tours. Some schools even allow you to schedule tours online or over the phone. If you live nearby, you might consider arranging it in person, but it's just as easy to do it over the phone. Whatever method you choose, make sure to line up the tour at least two weeks before you visit the campus to be certain you can get into the tours and sessions you want.
If the school you're looking at is far from home, and you plan on doing an interview, then go ahead and sign up for one during the time you'll be visiting. It's OK to have an interview with the school before you've applied. In fact, most interviews take place before the school has received student applications. Try to set up the interview for some point after you take a campus tour, that way you'll be able to ask more informed questions about the school. If you do decide on an interview, set it up at least a month before your visit to make sure you can get a time that works for both you and the person who will interview you.
Plan to spend more than one day at each college you visit, if possible. That way you won't feel rushed to see everything in one day, and you can better account for the unexpected, such as bad weather or missing a planned tour.
Scheduling ahead isn't the only way to prepare for visiting a college. In the next section we'll give you some more ideas for making sure you'll get the most of your visit.