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In order to really know a college and get a sense of what a school is truly like, prospective students must visit the school. College tours can be interesting and informative, but they are also designed to present the school in the best possible light and offer little in the way of personalized information. For that, prospective students will need to explore campus and talk to people beyond the guided tour. Here are some suggestions for soon-to-be college students to get the most out of their campus visits.

Spend a night in the dorm. Undoubtedly, kids are excited to attend college in part because it means that they can live away from home for the first time. One of the best ways for students to learn more about college and find out about what dorm life is like is to stay a night in the dorms with a current student. Not only will college-bound students get a good sense of what it is like to live in the dorms, they will be able to speak with current students to learn more about the college as a whole. Students will need to plan ahead of time for this, so they should let the admissions office know that they would like to spend a night in the dorms to facilitate the visit.

Speak to current college students. Few resources are better for finding out more about a college than the students that attend it. High school students should make every effort to speak to as many current students as possible and pick their brains about the college. The more applicants learn about colleges when they visit, the better.

->Why did you choose this university?

->What is the best part of attending this university?

->What is your least favorite part of this college?

->What do you know now about the school (or college generally) that you wish  you’d known before?

-> What is the campus culture like? Is there a lot of (partying, studying, deep conversation at 2 a.m., etc)?

->How much interaction do you have with professors/teaching assistants?

->How well supported do you feel here?

->What are some of the campus traditions and hangouts?

Sit in on a class. Another activity that prospective students will need to plan ahead of time, which means they’ll have to let the admissions office know so that the staff can arrange it. Sitting in on classes will give students a sense of what classes are like. If possible, students should visit classes that are related to their academic interests or courses that they’ll be required to take if they were to attend the college.

Speak with the admissions officers. True, admissions officers students to want to attend their schools. But admissions officers are also concerned with finding students who fit the school well and will succeed there. They can not only be useful in facilitating other aspects of the visit (dorm stays, sitting in on classes), but also are valuable sources in their own right. Ask them thoughtful questions (admissions officers will tire quickly of questions about which majors are offered and whether the school has a football team; besides, such information is available online and admissions officers may well wonder if students were so uninterested in the college that they didn’t bother to research it beforehand).

->What makes this college unique?

->What kind of student does best here?

->What sort of support can students expect to receive from the university?

->What do students go on to do after they graduate?

->specific questions about student interests and plans (likelihood of financial aid, the possibility of doing a double in major in history and math, etc.)

->Ask for more detail about subjects only briefly mentioned elsewhere, whether on the website, in the brochures, or on a college tour.

Also, admissions offices usually employ recent graduates, which means that students can also ask them about their experiences as undergraduates. If so, ask them why they have chosen to remain on-campus after graduation.

As students ask questions or soon after their conversations on campus, they should take notes so that they can refer to them later as they decide where to apply or attend. (For more on processing information after the visit, http://galined.com/archives/what-to-do-post-college-visit.)

Bottom line:

Students should never attend a school without having visited in person at least once. Campus visits are an excellent opportunity to speak to the people who spend their lives on campus, and would-be applicants can learn a great deal about a school by spending a couple of days talking with students and staff and exploring on their own, beyond taking the tour. The more people they can speak with on campus, the better prospective students can figure out how well a school fits them.

(For more on campus visits, also see these blog entries:

http://galined.com/archives/research-college-before-you-visit

http://galined.com/archives/college-visits-a-parents-role)