Photographer: Michael Marsh | Source: Unsplash

In the following article, Admissions Expert Kim Phan (Harvard ‘21) shares tips for planning your college campus visits. For more guidance on the college applications process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Summer break before your senior year is one of the best times to tick those college campus visits off your checklist. As you begin to finalize your college list, touring campuses will give you the opportunity to gauge whether or not the school is a good fit for you.

Note that some colleges have changed their visiting protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before you visit, look online to see if there are virtual tours or information sessions available. In some cases, you may be able to walk around a college campus with masks and social distancing, but the typical guided visits may not be offered.

If you are planning to apply to colleges that are far away from home, consider making an event out of your campus visits. While you’ll gain a lot of valuable information through these trips, enjoying them as a road trip with family or friends will make for a quality bonding experience—especially as you plan to potentially leave home in the upcoming year. Here are some tips to begin your planning:

First, plan your itinerary.

To start, look at your current college list and identify several institutions that are located near enough to one another so that you would be able to travel by car from one to the other in no more than a few days. Ideally, the colleges should be no more than a few driving hours apart, on average. However, this mostly depends upon your personal schedule, preferences, and timeline.

Once you have your top college campus destinations identified, input their addresses onto Google Maps. Play around with the ordering of the colleges on your itinerary in order to identify a route that will minimize the total distance that you will have to travel.

Preparing for your college campus visits

Assuming that you have transportation, food, and housing logistics covered, let’s think about how you can prepare for each college visit. Before your trip, make sure that you have specific goals and questions in mind for every college. Think of college visits as a way for you to interview the college. You should do a bit of background research on your schools to start, and consider questions that are still on your mind.

Here are some questions you might consider asking while you are on a tour:

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. How do you feel on the campus? Can you see yourself living, studying, and working here?
  2. What aspects of the campus do you like? Dislike? What about the surrounding city?
  3. Would you be happy to spend the next few years of your life here?

Questions to ask the admissions officer:

  1. What’s unique about this college?
  2. What leads most students to choose this college?
  3. What qualities and experiences are you looking for in applicants?
  4. Can you tell me more about the application evaluation process?
  5. Does this college track candidates’ demonstrated interest?
  6. How large of a role do SAT scores, GPA, interviews, etc. play in admissions?
  7. Do you have any advice for applicants? Does this differ for early versus regular decision applications?
  8. What sort of student would succeed here?
  9. What are the college’s most important values, and how does it demonstrate this to students?

Questions to ask students on campus (oftentimes, if you sign up for an official tour, your tour guide will be a current student at the institution):

What is your personal experience with life at this college?

  1. Why did you choose this school?
  2. Are you happy here?
  3. What are your school’s strengths? What are its weaknesses?
  4. What’s it like to be a first-year student here?
  5. What’s a typical day like?
  6. How accessible are professors, teaching assistants, administrators, registrars, financial aid officers, etc.? Do your professors hold office hours, and will they meet with you outside of class?
  7. What kind of dorm choices are there?
  8. What percentage of students live on campus? Off-campus?
  9. Is it easy to get around campus?
  10. What are the facilities like (science labs, libraries, theatres, gyms, etc.)?

What is the student body like?

  1. How would you describe the general campus culture of this institution?
  2. How much time do students spend studying per week?
  3. What makes the student body unique?
  4. Do you see diversity on campus?
  5. How would you describe the level of school spirit at your college?

What is some basic information about the academic environment at this college?

  1. What majors are popular?
  2. What departments or programs have the best reputations?
  3. What’s your favorite class?
  4. Are your professors good teachers?
  5. Are most of your classes taught by professors or teaching assistants?
  6. Were you able to take most of your first-choice classes?
  7. Are your classes lecture-based or discussion-based?
  8. How often are collaborative work or group presentations required?
  9. How satisfied are you with academic advising?
  10. How big are your classes?
  11. Where do you like to study? What types of study spaces and/or collaborative working environments are offered on campus?

What is some basic information about the extracurricular environment at this college?

  1. What clubs or extracurricular activities are you involved in on campus?
  2. What clubs are offered?
  3. How significant is greek life on campus? What percentage of the study body belongs to a sorority or fraternity?
  4. How have you found community and created friendships on campus?

What is the surrounding environment on the campus?

  1. What is the city in which the institution is located like?
  2. What is your favorite restaurant or cafe in the area?
  3. How often do you or other students go into the city and explore?
  4. What is there to do in the area?
  5. How safe is the neighborhood?

What does career and financial support look like at your school?

  1. Are internships available? How do you find them?
  2. Is the Career Services center of your college helpful? What resources do they offer?
  3. Does your school have a co-op program and part-time campus job opportunities?
  4. Are there opportunities to build leadership skills on campus?
  5. How easy is it to find summer jobs and other kinds of work through your school?
  6. Is it popular to study abroad? Are there opportunities and funding resources available to support study abroad?

Now, don’t forget to record the answers to all of your questions, as well as your general impressions of each college. You can simply jot this down in a notebook that you carry around with you on the tours. A further step you can take is to input all of this information into a spreadsheet. This may help you better compare colleges.

College Campus Visits: Final Thoughts

As a final note, if you find other colleges along your trip, feel free to find a parking spot and take a quick look around! There is no harm in checking out campuses of colleges about which you may not have any knowledge or interest. The more you know about the broad range of colleges and college environments that exist, the more informed you will be in your college decisions. Best of luck!

This informational essay was written by Kim Phan, Harvard University ‘21. If you want to get help with your college applications from Kim or other Admissions Experts, register with today.