You’ve done your research, carefully looking at the schools that have that perfect combination of academics and student activities. Your applications are in or in process and you’re awaiting word from the many colleges you’ve applied for.
But hold up a second; you’ve actually visited the schools you’re thinking of attending, right? With the internet giving you instant access to schools around the world, it can be tempting to want to go to a school sight unseen. But is that really the best decision?
This is the time when you need to make actual, in-person visits to the campuses on your list of prospective schools. Online tours simply aren’t enough. Visiting colleges in person can help inform your decision-making process. Here’s why:
- Schools Put Their Best Foot Forward Online
College websites are designed to show off the best assets of a college. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but you do have to take everything you find with a grain of salt.
We’re not saying that a college is going to outright lie to you. But they might not tell the whole story. Taken from the right angle using a certain lens, a dorm that’s the size of a shoebox can be made to look downright palatial. Other colleges may not be eager to share the fact that you’ll be in the same classroom as 300 other students. And those happy students on every webpage? They could be posed that way! Shocking, we know.
Every college is guilty of such things, and the only way you can find out the absolute truth is through a campus tour. A college will still try to make itself look great in person, but you’ll be able get a true sense of the school when you visit. You get to meet the people who work there everyday, see the places you’ll be studying and learn about the programs from the people who have experienced them personally.
- Proximity Doesn’t Equal Knowledge
Some of you out there may be thinking something along the lines of, “I’m going to the college up the street. I’ve rooted on their football team, been there a dozen times and know people who go there.”
Here’s a secret: just because you’ve identified with a certain college from the outside doesn’t mean you’ve experienced that college from the inside. A campus on a college football game day is far removed from that same campus on just an ordinary Tuesday.
Visiting campus with the purpose of determining if it’s the right fit for you requires a look at the day-to-day routine that you don’t get during the heightened reality of a sporting event or other activity. A personal visit lets you see the school as it appears when all eyes aren’t watching, and that’s a much better barometer of your enjoyment there.
- Going the Distance
If you’ve applied for colleges that are far enough away to require a road trip or a flight, you’ll want to make a visit as soon as possible.
Oftentimes, it’s not just the college you’ll be looking at. You’ll also want to get a feel for a city where you’ll be spending the next four years of your life. It can be quite the transition from living at home to living 1,000 miles away, and you want to be sure you’re in the right spot before you commit.
When you visit campus out of state, ask about the nearby area. Conduct some research on your own. Maybe schedule a day outside the college where you’re doing nothing but playing tourist. In doing, you’ll get a sense of the area and be able to make an informed decision when it comes time to choose a college.
- Reputation Isn’t Everything
Maybe you’ve applied to a college because you know it’s prestigious and will look good on a resume. Kudos for doing so, but remember: not even the college with the most highbrow reputation is the right fit for everyone.
Your decision will be a combination of many factors: activities, housing, academics, prestige, etc. You have to be comfortable at the college of your choice, and certain facets of the experience may surprise you. Perhaps you had your heart set on one school only to discover that the professors and students seem miserable or the facilities haven’t been upgraded since the Eisenhower Administration. Or you’re looking for a school that provides state of the art tech but the college you thought you’d attend has a computer lab straight out of the 90s.
A vaunted reputation is wonderful, but you have to make sure you’ll be happy there. And that requires a campus visit.
- Are Your Needs Met?
You have concerns that we couldn’t possibly address in a single blog post. Maybe you’re worried about the size of the campus or you want to meet some of your professors before you commit to a program of study. Maybe there’s a specific group you’d like to join and you need to make sure it’s not only available, but thriving.
Campus visits are about you. This is your one opportunity to get an inside look at the school that will set the tone for your entire future. Make it count.
Taking our advice to heart? Then download the College Visit Worksheet to keep track of the things that matter to you.