Whenever returning graduates are asked, “What one thing MOST helped you in deciding where to go to college?” they always give the same response: “Visiting the campuses.” Graduates will tell you that the visits made to campuses were more important than reading the catalogs, talking with college representatives or attending the College Fair. They emphasize the importance of visiting the admissions office, taking a tour, and talking to both college officials and students in attendance. It is best to try and visit while the university is in session so you can see the school in action.
Why is visiting campuses so important? It is vital because no one should make a decision as important as where to attend college merely on the basis of pictures in a pretty booklet or on someone else’s opinion. It takes effort to determine how well a college fits you. Spending quality time on campus is the best way to measure fit. Quality time means more than taking the tour and attending a football game or campus event. You’ll want to spend a night or two in a residence hall, sit in on some classes, eat in the dining halls and spend time talking to students and faculty. Sophomores and juniors considering a particular college might choose to take part in a summer program for high school students offered at that university. These programs provide a preview of the life of a college student at that institution. While you might not be able to visit every campus you’re considering, the ideas that follow may help you to get an inside scoop without making that initial visit.
Click on the university’s website - This seems obvious, but you’ll want to take the “virtual tour” and also fully explore the resources available at the college site. Some sites offer online chats so you can talk with current students and admission officers.
Read the college’s printed material - the course catalog can be especially helpful. It outlines the college’s philosophy and mission statement, as well as providing information about majors, course requirements and offerings. When reading the glossy brochures, however, keep in mind that the university representatives are seeking to portray their school in the best possible light.
Check out the student newspaper- You’ll find links to the college newspaper either from the college’s own website l or www.greekspot.com/collegenews. Pay special attention to the issues that seem important to students on that campus - would these be important to you? You’ll also learn about student peeves and about activities on campus.
Take the student-led campus tour via videotape- At www.collegiatechoice.com you can order a copy of the campus tour filmed by college counselors visiting each campus. While none of these will substitute for a campus visit, they will help you learn more about the colleges you’re considering.
Visiting the College Campus
Select several (six or seven) campuses you are thinking about attending. Select UC and CSU’s as well as private colleges. Remember that you are just looking at colleges and that private colleges provide more financial aid, in general, than public colleges and universities provide.
Contact the Admissions Offices, ask about tours, and set up specific times when you can talk to an Admissions Officer. If you know what your major will be, try to get an appointment with the Department Chair or someone in the Department Office. If you have the time, make plans to stay overnight in a campus dorm. Some campuses have visitation days scheduled. Contact individual campuses or check their web page.
Step 1: Visit local colleges to get experience handling a college visit.
Our local colleges include all five kinds of campuses:
- UC-UC Santa Cruz
- CSU - San Jose State University, San Francisco State
- Private - Santa Clara, Stanford, Menlo, University of San Francisco
- Community College - West Valley, De Anza, Foothill, San Jose City
- Technical - Heald Business College
Step 2: Plan ahead for your tours and visits.
Before you visit the campus, consider some of the options below and create questions in advance of your visit.
- Schedule an interview in the admissions office, if available.
- Review admissions requirements (tests, high school grades, etc.) and get a realistic view by looking at profiles of the previous graduating class.
- Obtain a school calendar and fee schedule.
- Investigate your academic program or major of interest.
- Take a campus virtual tour.
- Learn about the college (departmental strengths, research opportunities, facilities, parking, ease of registration, crime statistics, etc.)
- Investigate types of student support available (academic, personal, psychological and physical) and special programs (education abroad, work-study, intercampus exchange, etc.)
- Investigate career planning and placement programs. Determine the percentage of graduates who go on to higher education and admissions rates of medical/law/business school applicants. Also, ask about employment rates directly out of college, internship and recruitment programs.
- Make a list of six or more campuses to visit with your parents or a friend.
- Call ahead for an appointment with an admissions officer and, if possible, with someone in your major department.
- Stay overnight in a residence hall, if time permits.
- Be prepared with questions.
Step 3: The College Visit/Tour
- Discuss your chances for success. Also, ask about the percentage of students who graduate in four or five years and the number of returning sophomores. Ask why students choose to leave.
- Ask about the amount of study necessary for success.
- Visit the library.
- Ask about financial aid opportunities (deadlines, forms required, merit scholarships, percentage of students receiving aid, etc.)
- Schedule a visit with a financial aid officer, if appropriate.
- Meet with faculty. Determine whether professors or assistants teach undergraduate classes.
- Talk with students. Ask what they like and dislike most about the college.
- Sit in on one or two freshman classes - witness class size, teaching style, academic atmosphere, respect accorded to students and teachers, comfort level in classes, etc.
- Find out how students use their out-of-classroom time.
- Become aware of student activities (clubs, organizations, intramurals, etc.).
- Inquire about campus life in terms of dating, social activities, fraternities/sororities, etc.).
- Check the residence halls and dining facilities. Envision yourself in the living environment. Try the food.
- Check the adequacy of computer facilities and technology available.
- Examine the surrounding community, determine what cultural and social enrichment opportunities are available and inquire about safety issues.
Step 4: Make a “Quick-Check” list for each college visit.
If you don't, the schools will become a blur after visits to several campuses. Include the following type of information to personalize your list or use the sample in this booklet.
- Name of college, date of visit, address and phone number
- Size of student body, tuition/fees and admission requirements
- Personal ranking of location, academics, atmosphere, housing, facilities, class sizes, social life, reputation, financial aid, school size, size of surrounding community, religious affiliation, athletics, special programs, special services, sororities/fraternities, prestige, rigor of programs.
Questions You Should Ask on a Tour
Questions to ask can be divided into four areas: academic, social, surroundings and general.
A. Academic Questions
Do professors teach most freshmen courses or do graduate students do much of the teaching? What is the attitude of most professors toward students? Are they friendly? Accessible? Willing to give extra help? How hard do you have to work to be successful? How is access to advisors for assistance and/or mentoring? How difficult is it to change majors? Is the learning environment cooperative or competitive? Does the school have adequate computer facilities? Some colleges are doing a lot these days in the area of career counseling. How does this college stack up? (One college, for example, devotes certain weekends to exploration of different careers with graduates coming back to tell about what they do and talk about salary, advancements, etc.). Is there a Career Planning and Placement Center on campus? How many graduates does it help place? What percentage of graduates got jobs last year? What percentage of graduates goes on to professional or graduate schools?
B. Social Questions
What do students do on the weekends? Do many of them go home? Is the campus lively or empty? What is the situation with regard to drinking and drugs? Are there good places to eat, aside from the official dining halls? If the school is not co-ed, what kinds of social arrangements are made? How important are fraternities and sororities in campus life? Does most social life depend on them? Do theatrical companies, orchestras and other musical groups or outside lecturers come to the campus? If not, are such activities available in town? Are groups in the college community involved in what’s going on in the outside world - politics, international relations, community service?
C. Questions about the Surrounding Area
For non-urban schools, find out what the surrounding community is like. How are relations between residents and students - the so-called “town-gown” relationship? What’s the transportation like between campus and town? Is any large urban area accessible? For urban schools, how safe is the neighborhood? Is housing available in the surrounding area? Is adequate parking available on campus?
D. General Questions
What kinds of help are available – academic, personal, psychological? How are personal problems handled? What can you do if you dislike your roommate? Are there a lot of rules and regulations on conduct, etc. that must be observed? Are there special restrictions on freshmen? How safe is the campus? Always ask what students like most about the college. Dislike most? Also ask, “What’s wrong with this place?” as well as, “What’s the greatest thing about this college?” Finally, what is the general attitude toward students by the college admissions officers, registrar, residence hall managers, assistant deans and academic advisors?