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What should I do during a college visit?

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What should I do on a college visit

Before discussing what to do during a college visit, it’s important to note that visiting colleges is a critical part of developing a good college list and making a wise college choice. In addition, college visits offer one of the best opportunities to develop a relationship with the college admissions representative assigned to your high school. This is important because he or she is likely the first person to read your application and possibly make the accept/waitlist/decline decision.

How to Time College Visits

Some students are ready to visit colleges as early as their freshman and sophomore years. Others may wait until the last minute and begin visiting colleges the summer before or during first semester senior year. Junior year is probably the ideal time for college visits, because this gives a student time to carefully consider colleges rather than throwing together a college list at the last minute.

Visiting a campus when classes and activities are in full swing gives you a much better picture of what life at that college is really like. However, visiting campuses during a weekend, the summer, or winter and spring breaks is preferable to not visiting a campus at all.

The time students and families spend at one college campus can range anywhere from

  • a fifteen minute drive-through (called a “windshield tour”) on your way to some other place,
  • an hour or two,
  • a half-day or all day, to
  • a full weekend.

Regardless of the amount of time you initially spend on a college campus, what may be most important is your “gut feeling” about it. Author Malcolm Gladwell calls this “the blink factor.” That is, if you like (or don’t like) the look and feel of a school during the first few minutes, you probably will feel the same from that point on.

Visit the College Admissions Office While on Campus

With the exception of large state universities who cannot personalize their admissions, many colleges today give admissions preferences to students who show “demonstrated interest.” One of the strongest demonstrations of interest is visiting a college campus. But just visiting is not enough. For the admissions office to know that you have visited, you must stop by their office and sign in. This is also the time to ask to meet the admissions representative who is assigned to your high school.

Having frequent, personal contact with a college admissions office can be a “tip factor” in getting admitted. Daniel Golden, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has noted that “…all things being equal, colleges tend to favor strong applicants who make the most contacts with the school—interviews, campus overnights, visits, college fairs, and the like.”

Group Information Sessions

Many college admissions offices offer group information sessions, where a staff person gives a short presentation about admissions at the college and answers questions from the audience.

What If the Admissions Office Is Closed?

If you’re on campus when the admissions office is closed, be sure to let the office know that you visited by sending a short email note to the admissions rep assigned to your school. If you don’t already know who your admissions rep is, call the admissions office and ask for his or her name and email address when you get home.

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Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz is author of adMISSION POSSIBLE: The “Dare to Be Yourself” Guide for Getting into the Best Colleges for You, and founder/director of, a free college admissions information and resources website. An award-winning author, speaker, and professional counselor, Hansen Shaevitz is a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultant’s Association (IECA) and a Unigo Expert Network columnist. She is a former member of Stanford University’s Parents’ Board and chair of the Advisory Council for Stanford’s Institute for Women & Gender. She spent twelve years as a trustee for La Jolla Country Day School. Hansen Shaevitz has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Stanford University, was Orientation Officer at the East West Center, a member of the Dean of Students staff at Stanford, and directed the College Re-Entry Program at the University of California, San Diego.

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