college visits

College Visits Essentials

Embarking on college visits and campus tours marks a significant milestone in the college search process. These experiences offer invaluable opportunities for prospective students to explore potential colleges firsthand, gaining insights into campus life, academics, and extracurricular opportunities. As you begin compiling your college list and narrowing down your choices, college visits can help you make informed decisions about your future.

In this article, we’ll delve into the essentials of college visits, offering practical college visit tips and a college visits checklist for maximizing your experience. We will cover everything from uncovering the questions you should ask during a college tour to understanding how to schedule and plan college visits effectively. And, we’ll look at things you may not have thought about, including having virtual college visits, conducting a self-guided tour, and navigating college campus tours safely and effectively.

We promise this article provides everything you need to know regarding the college visit process. Whether you’re just beginning your college search or fine-tuning your college list, these insights will help you navigate the complexities of the college visit process with confidence. 

Let’s get started!

Are College Visits Important?

college visits

When making one of the most significant decisions of your academic career, the role of college visits in the college search process cannot be overstated. College campus tours are a crucial part of the decision-making process, offering firsthand insights that can influence your college search.

First and foremost, college visits allow you to immerse yourself in the campus environment and explore academic facilities, dormitories, and recreational amenities. Whether you’re passionate about conducting research in state-of-the-art laboratories or participating in vibrant student organizations, visiting a college in person lets you assess whether it offers the resources and opportunities you seek.

Moreover, college visits offer the chance to interact with current students, faculty members, and admissions staff, providing invaluable perspectives on academics, extracurricular activities, and campus life. These personal connections offer unique insights you simply can’t gain from a website or brochure. 

Ultimately, the information and impressions gathered during college visits can significantly impact your college choice. By experiencing campuses firsthand, you can effectively consolidate your college list and compare your top colleges by understanding which colleges resonate with you. Before you make your final decision, you can use the information collected on the campus tours to demonstrate your interest in the college or university, increasing your chances of acceptance. 

What Should I Ask On A College Tour?

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While college visits and campus tours provide invaluable firsthand experiences, it’s essential to do your homework before stepping foot on any campus. Here’s one of our “pre” college visit tips–conduct thorough research beforehand to help you make the most of your visit. By asking the right questions, you can gather the information you need to make an informed decision about your college choice.

Questions about academics

One crucial aspect of pre-tour research is identifying academic programs and resources that interest you. Take the time to explore the college’s website and familiarize yourself with the range of majors, minors, and academic opportunities available. Here are a couple of questions you may want to ask:

  • Can you provide more information about the [specific major/program]?
  • Are there opportunities for undergraduate research or internships in [area of interest]?

Questions about campus life

In addition to academic offerings, consider campus life and student services that you would like to know more about. Research the college’s extracurricular activities, student organizations, and campus events to understand the social and cultural opportunities available. Here are other questions you may want to ask:

  • What types of student organizations are active on campus?
  • Are there opportunities for community service or volunteer work?

More college visit questions

Furthermore, consider other aspects of the school that might not be immediately obvious. Research housing options for juniors, including on-campus dormitories, off-campus apartments, and housing policies for upperclassmen. Also, consider things like parking availability and policies regarding cars on campus. Consider asking questions such as:

  • What are the housing options for upperclassmen, and how is housing assigned?
  • Is parking available on campus for students, and are there any restrictions on bringing cars?

Conducting thorough research, and making your college visits checklist, is essential for making the most of any college visit.

How Many College Visits Should I Do?

When determining how many college visits you should do, you’ll need to strike a balance between quantity, quality, and expense. While visiting as many colleges as possible may seem ideal, college visits can get pricey. Therefore, it’s crucial to personalize your college visit plan to ensure that you make the most of your time, energy, and financial resources.

Here are some steps you can take to help prioritize your college visits and ensure you are completing the right number of college campus tours:

Four Steps to Planning College Visits

1. Start with a broad college list

Have a wide range of colleges that interest you, encompassing various types of campuses such as big versus small, urban versus rural, and public versus private institutions. Consider including HBCU college tours or schedule one or two Harvard tours. Having a broad college list lets you gain insights into the diverse campus environments and refine your preferences accordingly.

2. Prioritize your top choices

Once you’ve identified your top 3-5 colleges on your college list, prioritize visiting these campuses. Consider planning multiple trips in various capacities if you’re highly interested in a particular school. For example, you can schedule an online UCLA campus tour. Then, schedule an in-person prospective student UCLA campus tour. You can even conduct a self-guided tour versus an official UCLA campus tour to have more flexibility in where you’ll get to go on campus. 

3. Balance depth with practicality

While visiting as many colleges as possible can be beneficial, consider the practicalities of your college visits checklist. Virtual college tours and information sessions can be valuable alternatives for colleges that are harder to visit in person. For instance, Harvard tours can be in-person or virtual. Therefore, if Harvard is on your list, plan your Harvard tours accordingly based on your availability and resources.

4. Consider special programs

If you’re invited to special programs for admitted students or specific academic departments, prioritize these college visits. Special programs through HBCU college tours or college visits for juniors often offer opportunities to interact with faculty, current students, and other admitted students, giving you a firsthand glimpse into life on campus.

Next, let’s discuss how to plan and schedule a college visit.

How To Schedule College Visits

Planning your college visits involves careful coordination and scheduling to ensure you make the most of your time on campus. From considering academic calendars to contacting college admissions offices, here are some college visit tips regarding scheduling your campus tours effectively.

Here are two of the most important things to keep in mind when working on the logistics of your campus visits. 

How to Work on Logistics of Campus Visits

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Consider Academic Calendars

Plan your college visits around academic calendars. Before scheduling your college visits, consider the academic calendars of the colleges you plan to visit. Check their websites to determine the dates of important events, such as orientation sessions, midterm exams, and holidays. This is important whether you are planning college visits for juniors, HBCU college tours, or any other kind of college visit.

Contact Admissions Offices

Contact college admissions for tour scheduling. Once you’ve identified potential college visit dates, it’s time to contact the admissions offices or go to the admissions website to schedule your campus tours. Most colleges offer guided campus tours led by student ambassadors or admissions staff. Additionally, many schools host information sessions that provide an overview of the college’s programs, resources, and admissions process.

Scheduling college visits: step-by-step

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example to better understand the steps it takes to schedule a campus tour. Imagine you’re a high school student living in Chicago. You have already completed a University of Chicago tour, and now, you’re interested in scheduling a tour of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. As an in-state college, accessing the University of Chicago tour may have been simple. But let’s look at how you can navigate the scheduling process of an out-of-state college tour:

Navigating an Out-of-State College Tour

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  1. Research USC’s academic calendar to identify optimal visit dates that align with your availability.
  2. Visit USC’s admissions website to find information about campus tours and information sessions. Determine whether USC offers guided tours, self-guided tours, or virtual college visits for prospective students unable to visit in person.
  3. Use the USC campus tours website to schedule your campus tour. In addition to scheduling an admissions tour and presentation, consider scheduling an academic department presentation.
  4. Upon confirmation of your campus tour reservation from USC’s admissions office, make travel arrangements from Chicago to Los Angeles. This includes booking flights, accommodations, and transportation to and from the USC campus.
  5. Plan your itinerary for your visit to USC. Consider attending guided campus tours, participating in information sessions, exploring campus facilities, and engaging with current students and faculty members.
  6. During your visit, bring your college visits checklist. Take notes, ask questions, and gather information to help you decide whether USC is the right fit for you.

Since the cost of college visits is a big factor to take into consideration during the planning process, let’s discuss it further.

Are College Visits Free?

college visits

As you begin to make your college visit list, you’ll need to understand the costs associated with college visits. While some campus tours may be free, others require careful budgeting and planning to manage expenses. 

College visits can incur various expenses, including transportation, accommodation, meals, and miscellaneous fees. While some colleges offer free guided campus tours and information sessions, others may charge a nominal fee for certain services or events.

Tips for managing the cost of college visits

To manage the costs associated with college tours effectively, consider the following college visit tips for budgeting and finding free visit opportunities:

Plan ahead

Start planning your campus tours well in advance to take advantage of early booking discounts and special promotions. Research travel options, accommodations, and local amenities to identify cost-saving opportunities and plan your itinerary accordingly.

Utilize virtual college tours

Besides visiting colleges in person, explore virtual college tours offered by colleges and universities. Many institutions, such as Boston College and Harvard University, provide virtual college visits and information sessions that allow you to explore campus facilities, interact with admissions staff, and learn about academic programs from the comfort of your home at no cost.

Explore fly-in programs

Several colleges and universities offer fly-in programs. These programs typically cover travel expenses, accommodations, meals, and participation in campus activities, allowing students to experience campus life firsthand without incurring any costs.

Speaking of fly-in programs, let’s learn a little more about them.

Fly-in programs

Here are three great fly-in programs/opportunities for low-income students.  

1. QuestBridge College Prep Scholars Program

College visits for juniors are incredibly important. QuestBridge offers a College Prep Scholars Program for high-achieving, low-income high school juniors which, you guessed it, sponsors college visits for juniors. This program provides participants access to college admissions resources, mentorship opportunities, and fly-in college visits for juniors to top colleges and universities across the United States. Beyond giving fly-in college visits for juniors, QuestBridge takes it a step further and will help fund your attendance to top summer programs at some of the most prestigious colleges in the country.

2. Tulane University, PreviewTU Program

PreviewTU is a campus visit program at Tulane University that typically occurs in the fall. While open to all, students who identify as first-generation college attendees, LGBTQIA+, are from low-income backgrounds or rural/small-town residents, and/or students of color are particularly encouraged to attend. The program is offered both virtually and in person. PTU activities include campus tours, student panels, admissions and financial aid sessions, lunch with Diversity Fellows, and opportunities to connect with professors and support partners. Financially disadvantaged students may qualify for partial travel reimbursement stipends of up to $500 for themselves and one guest. 

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Weekend Immersion in Science and Engineering (WISE)

MIT’s Weekend Immersion in Science and Engineering (WISE) is a three-day program for rising seniors to explore MIT life. It’s fully funded, covering transportation to and from MIT. Applicants from underrepresented backgrounds, including Black, Latinx, and Native American students, those from lower socioeconomic statuses, and first-generation students, are strongly encouraged to apply. WISE typically occurs in September. Participants reside on campus with MIT undergraduates, engaging in academic and campus life activities. They meet peers and faculty and attend college admissions and financial aid workshops. Applications are due in August, and the program generally takes place in October.

At this point, we’ve covered college visit tips for preparing for your visit. Now, let’s discuss what to do when you’ve finally made it to campus!

Things To Do On A College Visit

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As shared earlier, college visits offer students a chance to get a feel for the college campus and community. Therefore, while on a college visit, it’s important to take advantage of all the things to do on campus and within the surrounding community or area. Here are 3 things to do on your college tours and college visits:

3 Things To Do on College Visits

1. Attend information sessions and campus tours

This may seem obvious but don’t bail on the planned tours and sessions. They’ll give you valuable information about the school and campus. These parts of the college visit are just as important as exploring on your own. Don’t forget to bring your list of questions and ask about anything that isn’t answered! 

2. Inquire about attending classes or talking to current students

Besides attending information sessions and campus tours, ask about the possibility of attending classes or speaking with current students during your visit. Observing a class in your area of interest can provide valuable insights into the college’s academic rigor and teaching style. Similarly, chatting with current students can offer firsthand perspectives on the overall student experience. 

3. Explore the campus

Don’t be shy when you’re visiting a college’s campus. Wander around and imagine yourself living or studying there. Check out all the different areas of campus. Basically, get a feel for the vibe of the school–trust your intuition and see if it feels like a fit.

Don’t forget to consider the area outside of campus. Evaluating the surrounding community of a college campus can provide valuable insights into the overall quality of life and opportunities available to students during their college experience. Think about the amenities and resources that are important to you. Consider adding these questions to your college visits checklist. Are there nearby music venues, art galleries, or cultural attractions that align with your interests? What transportation options are available, including airports or public transit systems? No detail is too small to ask about on your visit to campus.

When Should You Start Visiting Colleges?

Navigating the college search process is undoubtedly complex. Next, we will cover some tips on when to set up your first college visit. There isn’t a hard and fast rule to this question, but there are certainly some best practices when it comes to planning college visits.

Tour early

It is never too early to begin visiting colleges. College admissions offices receive tour requests from students as young as 6th grade. If you plan to visit a college any time before your 9th-grade year, it is important to remember that you may need to tour the college again before applying and certainly before enrolling.

Going on a college visit as a younger student can begin planting the seeds for what college is like. But very rarely will a college visit before high school provide you with meaningful admissions information that you will be able to retain and act on when it is time to submit your application.

College visits for juniors and seniors 

As you get closer to your junior and senior year of high school, college visits become more than just an opportunity to understand college more broadly. College visits for juniors and seniors can help students discover their preferences. At this stage of the college search process, students can begin to discern the type of college campus they might see themselves ultimately enrolling at.

Whether you are on a UCLA campus tour in California, a University of Chicago tour in Illinois, or a Harvard tour in Massachusetts, you can begin to explore your regional preferences. Additionally, experiences on HBCU college tours can give you some insight into distinct institutional types. Note how you felt about your HBCU college tours at institutions like Spelman College or Howard University compared to other universities. College visits do more than show you what colleges you might like, they also expose you to colleges that might not be a good fit.

Managing the logistics of college visits

Campus visits are often hard to arrange because of the time and resources they require. If you are planning to go on multiple college campus tours, you may find a strain on time and resources. A student who lives in Florida may find that attending a UCLA campus tour is much harder to plan than attending a campus tour at the University of Florida. Because of this, many families begin planning their campus visits far in advance. There are also opportunities to visit campus at the last minute. However, these trips typically align with other travel or are at campuses close to the student’s home.

In addition to prospective student visits, you may have the opportunity to visit campus as an admitted student. Admitted student college visits often include a more immersive experience than a college campus tour for a prospective student. Even if you have already visited campus, admitted student visits will often equip you with all the information necessary to make your final college decision.

College Visits During Coronavirus

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The coronavirus pandemic resulted in additional access to college admissions information. During the pandemic, colleges and universities added an increased number of virtual college tours, online information sessions, and other virtual opportunities to learn more about colleges in the absence of in-person college campus tours. Virtual college tours allow students to access information at any time and refer to these virtual college tours when questions arise.

The pandemic also resulted in additional safety measures for college campus tours.  At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, college campus tours were completely halted. As campus tours resumed, colleges adopted mask mandates, reduced tour capacity, and made changes to tour stops. The largest safety measure during the coronavirus pandemic was COVID-19 testing prior to attending college campus tours.

While many of these safety precautions are a thing of the past, it is important to understand the heightened awareness around health that is still present on college campuses. Before you visit a college campus, it can be helpful to review their policies to confirm that there are no additional requirements for their campus tours. And, don’t be afraid to take personal precautions to take care of yourself, like wearing a mask on your visits.

What Colleges Are Open For Tours?

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Thousands of colleges and universities across the country offer college tours. Most colleges offer campus tours throughout the academic year and in the summer. To learn more about the campus tour availability on a specific campus, you should visit the admissions or welcome center website. Some colleges also provide the opportunity for a self-guided tour which allows families to visit campus outside of the scheduled tour times.

Virtual college visits 

If you are unable to arrange an in-person college visit, don’t fret. There are several ways to experience a college without stepping foot on campus. Virtual college tours and virtual college visits allow students to experience a campus from the comfort of their homes. For example, if you are unable to attend the UCLA campus tour or the University of Chicago tour, you can sign up for one of their virtual college visits or virtual college tours.

In addition to virtual college tours and virtual college visits, social media has also offered opportunities for prospective students to explore a college campus from their cell phones. Following institutions on your college list on Instagram or TikTok can often provide a current student’s vantage point of their campus. Social media is one of the best ways to get to know a college virtually!

What Happens During A College Visit?

college visits

College visits come in all shapes and sizes. Most college visits include some type of campus tour. Campus tours can be led by a student ambassador or experienced as a self-guided tour. The first stop on college campus tours is typically the Office of Admissions or the Welcome Center. This introduction to campus usually provides basic information on the college and orients the guests with the rest of the tour.


College campus tours introduce students to the academic buildings, student life opportunities, and residence life offered on the campus. Academic buildings on campus tours can include the school library, tutoring center, or architecture building. Understanding where your major classes are located can give you insight into the classroom and lab spaces available to students in your major.

College campus tours can also be enhanced by exploring additional personalized experiences. Some colleges will offer a general admissions information session as part of the campus tour. Other institutions might offer academic information sessions for students interested in majors like engineering, computer science, or business.

Student/residence life 

Student life opportunities can be found throughout the campus tour and are an important deciding factor in the college search process. College visits highlight the student organizations available for you to join. You may also find your tour guide pointing out popular hangout spots around campus. Student guides on Harvard tours might point out the Stone Hall Basement or Squash courts in the athletic complex. Student life opportunities also include campus events and traditions. Student guides on HBCU tours might talk about their epic homecoming celebrations.

Residence life also tops the list of the most popular campus tour stops. Residence life information includes touring a dorm and seeing the cafeteria. Facilities such as the campus gym and study spaces might also be included in the residence life portion of the tour.

What To Wear To A College Visit?

When you schedule your first college visit, it is unlikely that your email confirmation will include a dress code. The type of clothing you choose to wear may vary based on the type of college visit you are going on. As a rule of thumb, you should wear clothing that you feel confident in–and that you’d feel comfortable meeting admissions officers in. Considering the weather and walking requirements will also provide insight on what to wear. 

Beyond what to wear, let’s discuss what additional items should be included on your college visits checklist.

What To Bring On A College Visit?

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College visits can often be long days in cities you are unfamiliar with. So, it is critical to think about the items you might need during the day. Check out this college visits checklist:

College Visits Checklist

  • Notepad and pen
  • Umbrella or poncho for inclement weather
  • Phone to take pictures and videos
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Money to visit the school bookstore

All the items on the college visits checklist may not be necessary for every college visit. You should use your best judgment to discover if these items would be useful for the campus you are visiting.

College campus tours can be impacted by several variables. Campus visits are subject to weather, campus emergencies, holidays, and many other contingencies. Your college visits checklist may shift depending on any of the events above. Check out this resource as you are compiling your checklist.  

5 Tips for Maximizing Your College Visits

college visits

Throughout this guide, we’ve discussed the importance of college visits, when to begin planning college visits, and what to include on your college visits checklist. Before we wrap up, let’s discuss five college visit tips for maximizing your time.

5 Tips for College Visits

1. Do Your Research

Studying a college ahead of time allows you to better understand its programs, campus culture, and the opportunities it offers. Identify specific areas of interest, such as academic departments, extracurricular activities, or campus facilities you want to explore. Having a basic knowledge of the campus and how it aligns with your interests will allow you to focus on the more nuanced questions and observations once you arrive for your campus tour. 

2. Engage with the Campus Community

Talking to campus community members apart from your tour guide is one of the best ways to have an authentic experience during college visits. Campus community members include current students, faculty, and staff. Conversations with people who are on campus every day will give you firsthand insights into the college experience there. And, you don’t have to worry about whether someone is just telling you something because it is their job to do so (tour guides are great, but they are extensively trained to share specific information). Ask questions about academic programs, student life, support services, and anything else that will help you gauge if the campus is the right fit for you.

3. Attend Information Sessions and Campus Tours

Some students might think that arranging an unofficial tour will be more beneficial and honest. While you may receive some inside information that an official tour won’t provide, you will also miss out on some critical information. Always register for the official campus tours and information sessions to gain structured insights about the college. These sessions often provide valuable information not available on the website or in brochures. Meeting a current student or family friend for lunch or taking a self-guided tour after an official information session can give you the additional freedom you are seeking out on your college visits. 

4. Explore Beyond the Tour

After your official tour, it is highly recommended to explore campus on your college visits. Spend time wandering around the campus to get a feel for the environment and the student body. It is of growing importance to students that they like the town or city that their college is in. Visit the surrounding area of the campus to see what amenities and off-campus activities are available to students. If you are unfamiliar with the city, you might benefit from visiting some tourist attractions like museums, parks, or special events. Another great way to explore the environment around campus is going out for a simple lunch or dinner to get a better feel for the culture beyond the college campus. 

5. Document Your Visit

After going on several college visits, they may begin to all run together. Be sure to take notes and photos during your visit to help you remember what you liked and disliked about each campus. This is especially important for college visits for juniors and sophomores, as these students may have more time between their college visits and submitting the admissions application. Once your tour is over, reflect on each of your visits to compare the different colleges. You will need this perspective once you begin receiving admissions offers and are facing a finite time to make such an important life decision. After all, one or two details may be the difference between a college making your college list.

College Visits – Takeaways

college visits

College visits are an essential part of the college search process and creating a college list. Thankfully, planning an informative college visit is not as complicated as you might think. 

Successful college campus tours begin with doing your research early. This research might include location, academic offerings, and student life opportunities. Whether you are attending HBCU college tours, Harvard tours, or Boston College tours, feel free to look back at our college visit tips.  

During your college visits, do not forget to register for an official tour, engage with the campus community, and explore the environment beyond the campus tour.  Your college campus tours will be beneficial far after the visit has ended. Read through your notes and look through pictures of the campus when it’s time to fill out your college applications. We hope by the end of this guide, you feel prepared to plan and go on your college visits. For more resources, check out this college visit webinar on making the most of your visit and how college visits show demonstrated interest. And, after all those college visit tips, here’s one more for the road–have fun!

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This article was written by senior advisor, Ashley Hollins and Chelsea Holley. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how can support you in the college application process.