The only real way to find out whether or not you will feel comfortable at a school is to visit the campus. While you can stroll around the exteriors of most campuses on your own (provided you stick to the areas where the public is allowed access), a guided tour through the college’s admissions office will allow you to see the school in-depth. If you visit during the week, you’ll get a good sense of the college’s academic life and possibly be able to even sit in on a few classes. Visiting on the weekend will give a view of the campus social life and weekend activities such as concerts, movies, and sporting events. Whenever you visit, make sure you allow plenty of time to explore. Many schools also offer the possibility of overnight stays with an on-campus student host; this is an excellent way to get an inside view of what life is “really like” at a college.
Three things to keep in mind when visiting every school:
- Talk to people. Talk to current students. Many of them will be happy to talk about their schools - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Talk to faculty if you can, especially in the departments in which you plan to study. Talk to the admissions office and make sure to ask every question you can think of even if the question seems silly.
- Don’t judge quickly. It may be rainy the day you visit (though some campuses are beautiful in the rain). The class you attend might be boring. The person you talk to, be they staff, faculty, or student, might be kind of a zero personality-wise or might be having a bad day. Make sure you’ve given the school a thorough going-over before writing it off. That being said...
- Trust your gut. Sometimes a place just feels right. And sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you will fall in love with a school from moment one. And sometimes it will take awhile. Or sometimes something is “off” and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Make a note (mental and/or written) of these feelings and use them to evaluate the schools during your decision-making process.
Here are some ideas of things to do at every school you visit. These actions will give you an idea of what the college is like and give you a basis of comparison between the colleges you see:
- Get a copy of the college newspaper
- Browse the library and campus bookstore
- Find out what the parking situation is for students (if applicable)
- Explore the student center
- Attend a cultural event such as a student art show or musical performance
- Visit the campus gym and health center
- Attend a school sporting event
- Explore the academic buildings
- Have a meal in the cafeteria
- Stroll the neighborhood around the college, taking note of restaurants, stores, and cultural landmarks.
- Visit the campus security office. Ask any questions about safety you might have. The Clery Act insures that every college in the USA must provide local crime statistics. You can find this data at the Department of Education’s website. While schools located in the middle of cornfields and mountain ranges might have less crime than more urban schools in major cities, it’s a good idea to review these statistics for any school you are considering.