You’re in high school, or you finished it recently, and you’ve decided you want to pursue higher education. Congratulations! Get ready for a crazy but rewarding journey ahead.
But before you start your college adventure, you have some business to take care of: mainly, you need to pick a college to attend. And with there being thousands of 4-year schools in the United States alone, there’s a lot of narrowing down you need to do. Once you’ve done that, you might end up with a handful of schools you’re considering, but where do you go from there?
One of the things my family emphasized when I was looking at colleges was visiting them. I know for some people, this isn’t possible, especially if one or more of the schools you’re looking at are a long distance away. But if you can, visiting a college campus can definitely give you a better idea of the school as a whole – after all, there are some things that can’t be put into statistics and mission statements.
However, college visits can be overwhelming and confusing. When I was doing this, there were plenty of times when I felt like it was too much to take in. I know I’m probably not the only one, so today, I wanted to share some of my advice for visiting colleges, including things you might not hear as often.
There are two main ways you can visit colleges: you can attend an open house, or you can plan your own individual visit. While both of them have their benefits and drawbacks, I personally found it more beneficial to make my own individual visits, especially the more I narrowed down my list of schools. I won’t spend too much time discussing these, but I’ll run through a few pros/cons quick
Although I highly recommend individual visits, regardless of which you choose, there are a couple of things to look out for when you’re visiting. Sometimes these will be covered by the tour guides and other staff you interact with, but other times, you might have to find out for yourself.
Eat the Food in the Dining Hall
A lot of campuses, especially for open houses, will give visitors tickets for a free meal in the dining hall during their visit. Take advantage of this! Not only will you get a free lunch out of the deal, but you’ll get to see what the typical fare is like at the school you’re considering. One word of warning, however: at least at my school, open house days often mean to food is better than normal, so if you really want to know how good the food is on campus, you should consider an individual visit.
Learn About the Admissions Process
Depending on how you visit campus, this could change, but either way, most schools will offer some way for you to learn about the admissions process, either through a one-on-one meeting or a large group presentation. Though it might sound boring, these are actually very useful, especially for colleges you’re considering more seriously. Whether you’re wondering about AP credits, major requirements, or just how to apply to school, many of those questions will be answered here.
Attend a Class
And, if you can, find a class that relates to your intended major. That might not always match up completely – at one school, I attended an education class, even though my major was English – but it’s not so much about the subject matter than it is about experiencing what a class feels like. You’ll get to see how students interact with their professors, what class sizes feel like, and how a typical class is structured.
Connect with Faculty (especially in your major)
I had the opportunity to meet with two English professors at Messiah during my many visits to the campus, and although they likely don’t remember those interactions, I do. Yes, it might be awkward to talk to a professor, but more often than not, they’ll be happy to talk with you can tell you about what they do. Plus, these might be your future professors – might as well see what they’re like!
Ask about Academic Support
Whether or not you struggle with school, knowing what support is available to you is important. Even as an English major, I often utilized the campus Writing Center when working on big papers during my freshman year. It’s not something that’s always are the forefront of your mind, but it can be an important factor.
For some people, transportation is a major factor in picking a school. For example, one of the big factors in my brother picking his school was that they allowed freshman students to have cars on campus. Mine doesn’t, which, admittedly, did make things hard sometimes (like when my glasses broke). This isn’t something you can always find in school propaganda, so it’s worth asking about.
Look at Dorm Rooms (but don’t take them as the rule)
When colleges show off dorm rooms, they’re going to try to do it in the most appealing way possible. Sometimes that means using a “staged” room, which doesn’t even look lived in, or it might mean showing prospective freshman a room in an upperclassman dorm. That’s not inherently wrong, but just remember: ask questions, and take the Pinterest-perfect rooms with a grain of salt.
Health Services Available
Yes, this one’s boring too, but you’ll be better off knowing in the long run. I know you’re thinking, “I’m never going to get sick in college!” but the fact is, when you’re in close proximity with people for the majority of your day, you’re bound to get a cold at least once. So know what types of services your school provides and how to access them. This goes for sickness, injuries, and mental health services.
That’s just a quick run-through of the things I found most important to know when picking my school, and so as you begin or continue your search for the perfect college, I hope this is useful to you!