As mid-October quickly approaches, those of you who are high school seniors are probably narrowing down your college application choices. Perhaps you love the core curriculum at one school and you hate the lack of Swahili courses at another. Of course you can look at guidebooks or ask around (friends at college, guidance counselor, alumni, etc.) to figure out what kinds of programs and characteristics each institution possesses. However, I would not underestimate the importance of campus visits, especially overnight visits.
1. Before you plan your visits, make sure to look for any requirements or recommended actions for applying to that school. For example, some schools may actually require that prospective students visit the campus. I personally have not encountered such schools in my application process, but it is a good thing to research. As for the recommended actions, there are two very important to keep in mind: whether the college “highly recommends” campus visits and interviews. Whenever a college, especially a small-liberal college, “highly recommends” visiting and/or scheduling an interview, consider it an automatic red flag. Unless you live unreasonably far away, you really should make an effort to visit the campus and schedule an interview with the Admissions office ahead of time so that you can interview while visiting.
2. As you know, road trips and plane tickets cost precious time and money. One way to save time and money is to group together colleges that are fairly close to each other and use one trip to visit them all. For example, you can visit UPenn, Haverford, and Swarthmore in one trip in the Philadelphia area.
3. The best thing about an overnight is that you can get the perspective of an actual student. For anything that sparks your curiosity, ask away, and hopefully you will get honest opinions. Another awesome aspect of staying overnight is being able to witness what students actually do at night. How much homework does an average college student have? You also have the opportunity to get a feel for the atmosphere of the college. You may notice certain things that you would not have if you simply took a campus tour and sat through an information session. For example, you may find out that the bathrooms are the most disgusting places ever. You know will have to use the bathroom sometime in college even if you get too lazy to shower everyday.
4. Your main concern when you go to college is probably the quality of academics, so you might want to know what the classes are like before you even choose where to go. Overnights are perfect times for sampling a class or two. You can go to class with your host. Pay attention to the professors’ teaching styles, the class size, and of course, how hard the classes are.
Of course, you do not have to visit all of the schools on your list, but when in doubt, I would visit. I knew my first choice after several overnights and visits.