skip navigation


Don't Get Stuck At The Wrong College; Visit First!

By Bill Morrison
myFootpath College Prep Columnist6262

So many schools to visit, so little time.

Odds are you are beginning to feel like this. You are going to be a senior in the fall so everyone tells you "You gotta visit!" Your counselor tells you to visit. Your friends tell you to visit. Your parents tell you to visit. But with a summer job, a tough schedule in the fall, and participation in extracurricular activities throughout the school year, who has the time? I mean, are they really necessary?

Get there
Unfortunately, they are necessary. Every year, without fail, some student shows up at my office a week or so into the school year, and he or she is miserable. The college that they are attending is not at all what they thought it would be and they want to transfer.

"You can tell after only one week?" I'll ask.
"Yes," they'll say.
"You weren't able to pick that up on your visit?" I'll inquire.
"Well, I never actually went on a visit."


Believe me when I say that you do NOT want to be this student. The college visit is extremely important. It gives you the opportunity to not only see the campus and find out what the college has to offer, but to get a feel for the place. It helps you to see if the campus is diverse, is on a self-contained campus, has nice dorms, is clean, and is, well, somewhere you want to spend the next four to five years. There is no end to what the college visit will tell you. Visiting the school's website and looking through brochures is nice, but nothing gives you the feel for a college like a well-planned visit.

If you do your research properly ahead of time, you should be able to plan a visit where you can hit a number of schools during one trip. For instance, if you are interested in attending a school out east, there are literally hundreds of colleges and universities within an eight-hour drive of New York or Boston. Half the cost of a visit is getting there; take advantage of the opportunity to get to as many schools in a geographic area as possible.

Make it worthwhile
How exactly then do you plan this visit? First and foremost, actually plan the visit.

Do not, I repeat, do not just show up and take a walk around the campus. Make an appointment to take a guided tour. If the school allows you to make an appointment with a member of the admission staff, do so. Preferably, with the staff member that recruits at your high school. He or she will fill out an interview form and make a note in your file that you visited. Be prepared with a couple of quality questions to display your interest in attending.

Staying on campus can give you some first hand experience as to what the dorms are like. Many universities offer overnights to prospective students, either through visit programs or on an individual basis; it's also a good way to save money on your trip.

Secondly, know beforehand what you want to get out of your visit. Come up with some specific criteria as to what you want in your college or university and judge the school based on those set criteria. In other words, think about what kind of schools there are, what they have to offer, and what you want in yours.

What questions do you have that the brochures and other materials have not been able to answer? Remember that the only stupid question is one that was not asked. If you want to know what the dorm food is like, ask. If you want to know what people do on weekends, ask. If you want to know what the nightlife is like, ask.

Ask around
One thing to keep in mind as you put together your list of questions is to consider the source of the answer. Admission counselors and tour guides are good sources of information, but, lets face it, they are biased. Do you think the admission office is going to hire a student guide who will bash the school? So, always consider the source. Make a point to ask a student sitting in the commons or find a student who works as a waitress at the restaurant you eat at. Asking people who aren't trained to give the "right" answers will get you closer to the real digs on the school.

Finally, if possible, try to sit in on a class to get the feel for the school academically. If you are thinking of attending a large state school, will you be successful taking Psychology 101 with 500 others in a large lecture hall? Or what about a small, liberal arts college? If you want to be in a class with only fifteen other students, where the teacher always knows whether or not you're there and paying attention, it could be right for you. You'll have a much better idea of how you really feel about these issues once you actually sit in on a class. Attending a class that is in your chosen major may also give you the chance to speak with the professor about the department and its offerings. Admissions staff can set up these kinds of visits for you.

The old adage "Different strokes for different folks" is the key thing to remember here. Students that report satisfaction with their college choice tend to have higher grade point averages and graduation rates. In other words, being comfortable both academically and socially is important.

And if I haven't convinced you yet, know that many colleges and universities, especially the more selective ones, track applicant contacts to the college. A campus visit in your file might be just the thing to push the borderline student into the admit pool.

Subscribe to our Mailing List!

Stay updated with what's happening at Plainfield High School - Central Campus