Updated January 2019
Visiting colleges is such an important step, and it is time consuming and expensive. No pressure, right?
It’s o.k. — visiting colleges also can create some of your best travel memories ever, with your parents or in some cases, maybe even on your own. Just be sure not to fall into any of these potholes on your journey!
10 Common Campus Visit Mistakes
- Don’t sabotage your trip by trying to shorten it. You’ve come a long way! Or maybe you haven’t. Regardless, you’ve taken time and spent money to visit. Don’t skip activities to “beat the traffic” or get an extra hour of sleep. Don’t try to squeeze in a couple of hours on the way to somewhere else, either. Wanting to stop by a campus on the way to vacation is understandable, but don’t expect to get a full experience if you are under a severe time limit. Of course, if you’re just stopping by to see if it looks interesting enough to investigate fully another time, then carry on!
- Don’t let the opportunity to see the local area slip by. If you are already there, and considering making the area a home-away-from-home for several years, find out about some of the great things to do in town or just over the border, neat places to see, local restaurants you can find no where else. You won’t be making an informed choice if all you see are the main highway and the canned campus tour.
- Don’t miss the visit. Look up. Turn your phone off and engage. If you are missing the majority of the presentation, you’re not going to get any kind of feel for the place. Dig in and enjoy. You can turn on your phone to take pictures, but turn it right back off. Promise?
- Don’t miss the chance to go off the beaten path. Once you’ve experienced the structured activities, take a look around campus on your own. (But don’t skip the official tour and information sessions. Colleges have been welcoming visitors for years, and they have the information everyone asks down to a science. These are almost always worth your time.) While you’re out and about, ask current students questions. A good start is what they love about the school, and what they like least.
- Don’t blame the school for the weather. This sounds ridiculous, but it’s well known that students who tour on rainy days are less likely to apply. If you didn’t get to see the school at its best, decide whether the circumstances were beyond campus control. The college made your list for at least one compelling reason. Make sure you don’t remove it for something that, in the end, shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. And pack an umbrella. Rain happens.
- Don’t blame the college for road construction/poor signage/traffic tie-ups. You handle the travel issues, let them concentrate on things they can control. Check traffic and weather sites online before leaving, make sure you have directions and a paper back-up to your GPS, and leave in plenty of time to handle a delay. (These days traffic delays are as sure as death and taxes.) With a little homework, you won’t be the people tiptoeing in the back as the presentation is ending.
- Don’t allow rotten apples to ruin your trip. If you see campus folks behaving badly, know that it’s highly unlikely they represent the majority. One or two bad apples among hundreds (or thousands) of very fine citizens should not spoil the bunch. As for fellow travelers, any time a number of people get together, it seems like there’s always one guy in the audience who just can’t be quiet. Should you wind up in a group with Rude Guy, maybe you can use your best “shhhhh!” face, or move to a new spot so you can hear better. Remember it’s not the college’s fault since they have to welcome all visitors, not just nice ones. Oh, and don’t BE that guy. You are not the only group in the audience, and other people have spent their time and money to get there, too. Don’t complain loudly, don’t monopolize the presenter’s time by asking all the questions, and don’t assume everyone there has your same background knowledge.
- Don’t visit when classes aren’t in session if you want to see campus when classes are in session. No brainer, right? But campus admissions departments often hear the complaint from summer visitors that “the campus did not have enough activity” during their visit. Well, duh. Similarly, if you don’t want crazy traffic and parking issues, maybe the quiet between semesters is the best time for you to travel. Just make an informed choice and go when the time best suits you.
- Don’t feel out of place. Will you look like an obvious visitor? Probably. This is fine. Most of the students you see will be fondly remembering when they were in your shoes — and they’ll be happy to help if you’re lost or have a question. Just try not to stand out in an overbearing way, by wearing your current high school t-shirt or letter jacket, or — heaven forbid– another college’s logo. (Seriously, this is not the day to make a statement, unless the statement is that you’d rather be anywhere else than this particular campus.)
- Don’t expect to park near the front door. In other words, wear your walking shoes. College campuses tend to be beautiful — and large. Most campus tours are labeled walking tours for a reason. You can expect the tour alone to be about an hour long, then you will need to get yourself to other locations for campus appointments or dining centers. If a member of your party needs an accessible tour route, be sure to plan in advance. You should be able to find accessible routes and parking on the college’s web site, or contact information for someone who can help you with accessible trip planning.
Above are just a few college visit don’ts. What are some college travel potholes you’ve encountered?
Some of these items may come in handy as you hit the college visit trail.* Absolutely pack rain gear and other weather-appropriate items. No need to be miserable when a little planning prevents it.
*Smart College Visit is an Amazon Affiliate Partner.