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College Visit Checklist: 5 Ways to Make the Most of Campus Visits

by Diane Thomas, on Jul 16, 2018 9:18:00 AM

Spring is in the air and that means one important thing—high school juniors are starting to research colleges. Between internet searching and the recommendations of family, friends, and guidance counselors, college lists are forming and plans will soon be made to visit campuses across the country. Studies show that a campus visit is often the deciding factor in whether or not a student applies to a particular college, so it’s important to plan your trip for success.

To get the most out of your upcoming campus visits, be sure to follow this college visit checklist:

1. Visit campus when school is in session.

Although summer is often the most convenient time to book a college tour, there are two reasons it is not the best time of year to visit a school. First, the typical student body is not represented when school isn’t in session. And second, colleges always look their best wrapped in summer greenery, but that’s not the time of year that you will be living on campus!

To get an accurate feel for a college, you need to visit it when school is in session. Check out the cafeteria, the dorms, and the common areas. Does the campus feel social and friendly, or do the students keep to themselves? You can even arrange ahead of time to attend a class at some colleges. If you must visit during the summer, try to make plans to go back again when school is in session if it is someplace you really want to go.

2. Wander off course.

Taking a formal campus tour is a great way to get to know a school, but don’t be afraid to wander around on your own as well. This will give you a chance to see the campus in all its true glory, not just see what the college wants you to see. Attend an event that’s happening, slip into a lecture hall, or ask questions of students to gauge the general attitude and satisfaction of the student body.

3. Ask yourself, “Do I fit in?”

Once you’re on campus, ask yourself, “Do I fit in here?” A college may seem like it should be a great fit in theory, but if you visit and don’t feel like you belong, it’s probably best to cross the school off your list—even if it is a top college for your major, or your family’s alma matter. At least schedule another visit to take a closer look if you aren’t ready to let it go; sometimes, first impressions aren’t always right.

4. Leave a paper trail.

Signing in at college and attending formal tours and information sessions lets admissions officers know you have a serious interest in their school. Whenever you visit or contact a college, an official record is made—a record which eventually goes to the admissions officer making a decision on your application. Knowing that you visited the campus sets you apart from the thousands of other applicants who didn’t visit. That could make a difference in being accepted or not, especially if your application is “on the fence.”

Another benefit of leaving a paper trail is that some colleges will waive their application fee for students who have visited. And if you’re visiting a college informally, perhaps staying with a friend or family member who’s a student there, it helps to contact the admissions office and let them know you’re there as well. But, don’t  get into trouble while on campus or your chances of attending will quickly evaporate!

5. Organize your college research.

The information you collect from all your college visits can easily get jumbled up in your head over the course of several months. Luckily, there are apps for that! Using your cell phone to organize photos and notes of your visits is an excellent way to sort out which colleges you will eventually apply to in your senior year. And, by recording the names of people you meet on campus, you can stand-out on your college applications by mentioning the people who inspired you to apply!

Good luck visiting colleges, and here’s one last secret tip to help you out. If a college seems too expensive to visit because of its distance, ask them if they offer travel reimbursement. Some colleges will reimburse you for visiting expenses if you ultimately attend; shhh!

Diane Thomas is the editor of,, and, a group of websites offering education resources to students of all ages. She has also sent five children to college.

Topics:college admission