Ah, the college visit. The hectic, iconic and overwhelming day and a half through which students are expected to make a decision about the next four years of their lives.
While college visiting is always in season (when in Rome, or, uh, Boston, right?), summer vacation is a popular time to load up the car and hit the road in hopes of finding your dream school.
As a self-proclaimed college application enthusiast, here are my tips to make the most out of your trips year round.
1. Beware of Summer
While June through August is a nice time to travel without missing school, remember that college students are also on vacation; it’s difficult to get the vibe of a desolate campus. Don’t cancel your plans just yet, but keep this missing piece in mind when comparing different schools.
Schedule permitting, you may be able to visit certain colleges during one of their first weeks of class and before you’ve gone back to school yet.
Also take note of weather traps: August in Vermont is beautiful, but you’ll likely spend that month next year at home, not at college. This goes the opposite way (a word of encouragement, not warning!) for extremely warm weathered schools.
If school is in session, make like Inspector Gadget and spy. Do students use the school’s common spaces? Are they constantly on the go? Do they sit in groups or by themselves? Do they seem happy?
These things are sometimes difficult to assess from afar, but they can help differentiate schools with otherwise similar offerings on paper.
3. Blend in
Another way to get a picture of a college beyond a basic information session and campus tour is to pretend like you’re a student. Bring a book, find a crowded place like a library or coffee shop and just hang out.
Say hi and even make a friend or two, if you’re feeling bold. Again, it’s a small gesture, but it can help you get the feel of a place and figure out what students are like when they’re not trying to recruit you. Sneaky.
4. Find a friend
If possible, do an overnight visit. It’s not a perfect way to picture life as a student, but it’s probably as close as you’ll get. Oftentimes, colleges will set you up with an overnight host if you just email the admissions office (did someone say demonstrated interest?) Otherwise, ask around for a friend of a friend.
Let’s face it: it’s the college’s job to sell themself, so they’re going to be biased. To help make the best decision for you, go in knowing a few things that are important to you and a few that aren’t.
Brown University may be proud of their open curriculum, but if you like the structure that General Education Requirements provide, that’s great too! UNC Chapel Hill may love their sports teams, but if athletics aren’t your priority, that’s okay! Just bcause a college is excited about something doesn’t mean you have to be excited about it too.
Remember, every admissions officer will tell you that they love their college. Don’t judge how they present their information, but rather the things they choose to emphasize. That being said, don’t be afraid to change your mind about things you think wanted or didn’t.
Finally, the information session isn’t everything; some good old fashioned internet research at home will augment your information and prove just as helpful.
6. Don’t overthink it
Some places will just feel right. Some places won’t. But for a lot of schools, you may not feel strongly either way. That’s okay. Whether or not you leaving convinced you’ll apply Early Decision somewhere or your list of applications now numbers more schools than you have digits, you’ve gained valuable insight and are one step closer to dining hall food and doing your own laundry (hooray!)