Researching highly competitive colleges through websites, books, and college fairs is an important part of any application process, but the best way to learn about a school is a visit to see the campus, the surrounding town, and the students who attend it in action. Colleges host campus tours led by students who are knowledgeable about campus life, information sessions featuring detailed outlines of the school's offerings and community, and - occasionally - overnight stays that allow you to get a sampling of both academic and social life at that particular school. It is inadvisable to visit a campus when most, if not all, of these events are not available (like on Sundays or during exam periods).
Visiting a school is important for two reasons. First and foremost, it allows you the opportunity to see the campus for yourself and determine whether or not it's a good fit, as well as the chance to ask questions that might not be easily answerable through the school website or viewbook. Secondly, scheduling a campus visit and admissions interview demonstrates that you are interested enough in the school to travel to campus and really consider the possibility of attending. Though many competitive colleges do not require interviews or visits for admission, it is highly recommended that you arrange both--particularly for schools you are seriously considering.
The most important aspect of any campus visit is planning, which admissions offices make incredibly easy. Be sure to visit the college website and look at schedules for tours, information sessions, and interviews--as well as contact information if you have further questions. If you'd like to schedule a meeting with a particular person on campus (such as an academic department head or a sports team coach), the admissions office will provide the information you need.
It is recommended that you have a notebook and writing implement to take notes throughout your visit. A useful practice is to have one notebook with separate sections for each college being considered, where notes can be added before, during and after the visit.
Oftentimes, your visit to a college will begin with an information session hosted by an admissions counselor. These sessions usually consist of a general overview of the school, facts and figures about academics, the student body, and admission statistics and requirements. In most cases, they also will highlight specific aspects of the college that make it unique. Some info sessions feature a panel of students who can offer their insights and specific, varied experiences at the college. There also may be an opportunity for questions, so be sure to take advantage of the expert in the room and ask any questions that may come to mind.
College visits normally include a campus tour led by a current student. The tour is an opportunity to engage with someone who is knowledgeable about nearly all aspects of the school and can speak to the college's academic and social life. Depending on the school, tours usually involve an academic building, a residence hall, the dining hall, and other facilities such as athletic centers, libraries, and performing arts centers. Tour guides are usually chosen for their enthusiasm and knowledge about the school, so be sure to pay attention during the tour and don't be afraid to ask specific questions. If your tour guide doesn't know the answer, they should be able to put you in touch with someone who does!
Some schools also offer specialized tours for certain aspects of campus, such as the sciences, arts and engineering. If you're interested in pursuing either of these aspects in college, research whether the college offers such tours.
Some very-highly-competitive colleges do not do on-campus interviews by admissions officers. It these cases, students who have applied will have an opportunity to be interviewed by an alumnus in their area.
Most colleges have admissions interviews that are either mandatory and an important factor in the admission decision process or are characterized as being informational to answer questions a prospective student might have. It is highly recommended that interviews be done in either case, because, even in the latter, it is an opportunity to make a good impression on someone who likely will be a part of the decision process.
Usually available starting the spring of junior year, admissions interviews provide an invaluable opportunity to meet face-to-face with a knowledgeable school representative and showcase your personality, passions, and interest in the school. While the notion of being "interviewed" may be intimidating to many, admissions interviews are merely relaxed and enjoyable conversations - they simply want to get to know you! Oftentimes they will ask you about the classes you're taking in high school, your involvement in your school and community, and your interests and hobbies. The interviewer frequently will give the opportunity to ask questions, so be sure and take advantage of this. For list of common college interview questions, click here.
You want to make the best impression possible in a college interview. Our tips on dressing will ensure that you dress the part.
If you have questions regarding a specific major, program, or sports team, you can contact the admissions office to ask about arranging an interview with a coach or department head to talk in detail about the program.
While day visits to college campuses are a great way to gain insight into a school, a better way to experience even more areas of campus life is to plan an overnight stay. Many admissions offices will put you in touch with a student (sometimes one who shares your particular interests or field of study) who will host you overnight and take you to a class, practice, or rehearsal while you're on campus. If you're seriously considering a school, we highly recommend you look into staying overnight, as this is the best way to experience a true "day in the life" and sample classes, extracurricular life, and--perhaps most importantly--the college's dining hall.
When you identify a college that is worth a closer look, you can take advantage of our fortunate location in the Northeast to make a two to three day trip to visit several colleges along the way. In taking these trips, you may stumble across a college that speaks to you more in person than it does in pictures or in writing. We recommend our list of suggested college trips to maximize your campus visit.