Visit campus first, then apply? Or apply, get admitted, and then start college visits?
Which is better: Should you visit campus first before you apply for admission or wait until your acceptances are in before heading out on your college visits?
I hate to answer with “it depends,” but where you are in the college admission cycle may make one option better than the other.
For example, if you live on the West Coast and all the schools you are applying to are on the East Coast, then you may want to wait until you’ve been accepted to visit campuses. Visiting after you’ve received offers of admission gives you the opportunity to compare and contrast each college. You’ve narrowed your selection as well as your focus. A campus visit at this stage should include a meeting with a representative from the financial aid office, an in-depth tour of campus, and introductions to students from your major or other areas of interest, as well as a look at dorms, future housing options, and the community at large. It’s a great time to ask yourself if this college is a good fit now and for the next four years.
On the other hand, if you are undecided about where you want to apply to college, then visiting a lot of schools will give you a broad perspective on how each differs and how they are similar. Campus visits, in general, are a great way to narrow the list of colleges when deciding where to apply.
To make the most of your campus visits, decide what’s important to you and make a list of that criteria (you can also download our free campus visit evaluation form to help you keep track).
Here’s a short list to consider:
- Location – how far from home do you want to be? How important is it to be close to a big city, a beach, the mountains, or where your friends are going to college?
- Major/Degree Options – does this school have the major you want? How competitive is it to get in? Are there advanced degree options? Internships? Co-op programs?
- Size of campus/classes – it’s important to ask yourself if class size matters. Do you learn better in small groups where the class size is 20 -30 people or will you be overwhelmed in a lecture hall of 500 or more students? (If you don’t know the answer to this, find out if you can sit in on a large class and experience what that’s like first-hand.)
- Student satisfaction – do the students on campus look happy? Do they seem approachable? Consider asking a current college student what he/she likes or doesn’t like about their school. Talking with currently enrolled students may give you the best insight about what it’s really like to be a student on that campus. This guide, Student-to-Student Questions to ask on a College Visit, will help you plan.