You’re thrilled to explore a few campuses, catch the vibe, and find the one that feels most comfortable and most closely fits your goal. But with almost 6,000 colleges to choose from across the U.S., you might feel overwhelmed by the options. Here’s how to plan your college visits, and when you should make them happen.
When Should You Make Your College Visits?
You can begin narrowing your college choices at any time, but the best time to begin visiting schools is in the winter and spring of your junior year. This lets you get an accurate idea of what your final GPA will look like while still leaving ample time to apply to the colleges you choose.
How to Choose the Right Colleges
Not only are there many colleges to choose from, there are many options to sift through within those colleges. Think about these main categories as you review them:
Which schools have the offerings you’re most interested in? These may include:
- areas of study
- geographic location
- financial investment
- athletic opportunities
Once you prioritize this list of needs, take some time to explore each college website. This will tell you a lot about life on campus, class structure, student body size, and general personality of the school. What sort of student clubs do they offer? Is it a rural or urban setting?
Often, parents get excited when it’s time to plan your college visits and, in their enthusiasm, may make plans you aren’t quite ready for. Talk through these college visits together. Before you make any solid plans, reflect on what you’re really looking for in a school and take the time to research each opportunity. Everyone involved will appreciate your investment of time and energy on the front end.
What to Do During Your College Visits
It’s best to visit while school is in session, so check the school’s academic calendar before you firm up plans. If the school offers tours, schedule one in advance. Mom and dad will probably ask a lot of questions, so it may be helpful to schedule one tour for them and another for the student on the day you visit. You can compare impressions after you’re both done.
Plan to visit both the academic centers and student areas while you’re there. Each will give you a different impression, but together you’ll get a better picture of what campus life is like on a day-to-day basis.
Don’t be afraid to ask current students what it’s like to be enrolled. Ask what they love and what they would change if they could. These highs and lows will help you get a more accurate snapshot as well.
After your visit, jot down your impression: what you liked, what you didn’t, and how you felt about everything. After a few college visits, you may forget certain aspects of each. Your notes will serve as a useful tool as you review each college and make a final decision.
How to Track Your Trip and What You Learn
Keep a running list of your top options. You can create a google doc, track it in a notebook, or assemble an online collection of notes and reflections. Include all pertinent information in the one place, so jogging your memory and narrowing your choices is easy, accurate, and as stress-free as possible.
Keep an open dialogue with your parents or other adults who are helping you in your decision making. While your peers will likely have some interesting thoughts on where you should attend, the insight and perspective of the adults in your life is extremely valuable. Ask these mentors for their insight based on what they know of you, your goals, and their own experience. (If you need a mentor, we can help! Learn how we empower students here.)
Planning for college may feel overwhelming from time to time. By systematically narrowing your choices, reflecting on what you learn from your college visits, and touching base with your mentors, you’ll be able to rest much easier, knowing you’re being circumspect and intentional about choosing the school that’s just right for you.