Discover a low-stress method for planning college visits to help you get the most out of your experience
If you’re a rising senior, you must be feeling excited about going on college visits! After so many college campuses shut their doors in 2020, I’m sure you’re extra grateful you get the chance to visit colleges before you apply to them.
But even though visiting campuses is exciting, planning college visits can feel overwhelming. After all, you’ve never visited colleges before, so you’re not exactly sure how a campus visit should go.
Where should you stay? How do you schedule your visit? What should you do while you’re on campus? What are your college visit options?
If you’re looking for a little guidance to make sure your college visits go off without a hitch, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to walk step-by-step through the process of planning college visits.
1. Decide which colleges to visit
Your first step in planning college visits is to solidify the list of schools you want to tour. If all your colleges are local, you might have any easy time arranging and scheduling your college visits.
But what if you’re interested in colleges that are further away? Then you’ll have to be highly organized to make sure your college visits go smoothly. Either way, it’s important to define your campus list early in the college visit process.
You’ll want to start by researching potential colleges to determine if they deserve a spot on your college visit road trip. To help you decide, consider these questions:
- Does this college offer the major(s) I want?
- What are my chances of getting accepted to this college?
- Is this college realistically affordable for me and my family?
- Do I like the size and location of this college?
- Does the idea of attending this college excite me?
If you can answer yes to these questions about a particular school, then it’s worth visiting!
2. Determine the logistics of your campus visits
For this step, you definitely want to get your parents involved—you have a lot of financial, travel, and scheduling decisions to make.
Here are a few things to consider as you organize the logistics of your college visits.
Try to group multiple colleges together by location, or combine college visits with your family vacations. If you have to travel away from home, you might as well maximize your time and travel miles.
Consider if you’ll have to miss school to attend your college visits. Senior year is tough! You don’t want to miss more school than is absolutely necessary. That’s why visiting colleges during summer break or days off from school is a smart move.
Figure out the best way to travel to your college visits. Depending on your budget and the location of the colleges, you might drive, fly, or take a train to reach your destinations.
Determine who will join you on your college visits. Maybe your parents can go with you, or perhaps it’s better to hitch a ride with your friend and their family. Some seniors even visit colleges alone. Think about which option works best for you.
Once you’ve worked out these details with your parents, you’re ready to start scheduling college visits for real!
3. Contact admissions offices to reserve your college visit spot
You never want to just show up to a college and expect to receive a red carpet visit. It just doesn’t work that way—especially in this post-COVID landscape.
Every college is different, but as many reopen for college visits, they might have a few modifications in place:
- Masks required
- Smaller tour groups
- Restricted (or zero) walk-in spaces for tours
- Limited access to campus buildings
Make sure to research each college’s COVID restrictions ahead of time so you’re not caught unaware when you arrive on campus.
So, how do you make a college visit reservation? Many colleges have you fill out a form on their admissions website. Others might ask you to call or email the campus visit coordinator to make your visit request.
Here’s a word to the wise. Always be polite to the visit coordinator and whoever you’re in contact with on the admissions team. It’s important to make a good impression—not just so you’ll have a good college visit, but also so they’ll leave positive comments on your future college application!
4. Explore the additional college visit options
A standard college visit includes going on a campus tour and attending an admissions presentation. But if you want to get more out of your visit experience, there are a few extra options you can explore.
- Meet one-on-one with an admissions counselor
- Eat in the cafeteria
- Attend a college class
- Spend time with a current college student
- Meet with a professor who teaches in your intended college major
- Stay overnight in the dorms
Most of these extra college visit opportunities take time to plan in advance. Make sure to submit your requests at least two weeks prior to your visit.
A quick warning: sometimes the college’s academic calendar will limit your options. If you visit during summer break, you won’t be able to stay overnight or attend a class. Or if you visit the week of finals, you might not be able to spend time with current students or meet with professors. Just be aware and adjust your expectations.
5. Make transportation and lodging arrangements for your college visit
Once your college visit is scheduled with the admissions office, you’ll want to make all your travel arrangements right away. Remember, other families are going on college visits, too. Flights and hotels can fill up quickly.
If you’re traveling alone, the college might have some special assistance to offer you, such as a pick-up from the airport and meal credits for the cafeteria. You just have to let them know your plans, and they’ll tell you what they can provide.
If you’re traveling with family, ask the admissions office if they have discounted rates arranged at local hotels for visiting students. It never hurts to save a few dollars on hotel costs.
After you’ve picked the hotel where you’ll be staying, make sure you plan your routes to the college. And don’t forget to consider peak traffic hours, especially if you’re not familiar with the area. The last thing you want is to be late for your college visit.
6. Plan out your time in the area
As a college student, you won’t spend 100% of your time on campus. That’s why it’s important to see what’s around the college and evaluate if you’ll enjoy living in the area.
Check out the local coffee shop scene—they’re great places to do homework with friends.
What do you love to eat? Ice cream? Pizza? Donuts? See what options are nearby to provide you with your favorite types of comfort food.
How do you like to spend your time? Shopping? Seeing movies? Hiking? Swimming? Make sure you’ll have access to your favorite leisure activities. It’s important to have ways to help you unwind from the inevitable college stress you’ll experience.
Figure out what the best local spots are and carve out some time to visit them. You can use Yelp, Tripadvisor, or word of mouth to make your itinerary. Trust me, liking the area surrounding the college you attend is just as important as liking the college itself!
7. Get excited about your college visits!
At this point, you’ve essentially finished planning your college visits. Now you just have to wait for your visit days to arrive.
In the meantime, keep researching as your college visits get closer. Be flexible to adjust your plans if you discover new information or opportunities.
Talk to family members and friends familiar with the area, or any current or former college students in your circle. They might direct you to a delicious lunch spot or a unique area of campus you would never have known about otherwise.
And above all else, remember to enjoy yourself on these college visits! This is an exciting time in your life, and you should make the most of it while you can.
Final thoughts on planning college visits
I am so thrilled that colleges are open for campus visits again. Visiting colleges is truly one of the most enjoyable aspects of the college application process.
Even when planning college visits becomes a bit stressful, keep your eyes on the prize—identifying your dream school and starting an amazing college career. And if you follow this step-by-step guide for planning college visits, you’ll be sure to do just that.
I’d love to hear from you! What colleges are you visiting in the coming months? What part of college visits are you most excited about? Drop a comment below.