So, you’ve had your heart set on a certain university, and you are 100% sure that if you get in… that’s where you’ll enroll. The programs offered are right up your alley, you have friends that are going to go there and the university is held in high regard. But have you visited the campus?
Unless you’re willing to risk one of the most important decisions of your life over the things you’ve heard and read about online, it would be unwise to accept enrollment without going on a tour of the campus. Campus visits play a crucial role in determining whether a school is the right fit for any student. A website or brochure can only tell you so much about a school, and a picture is not always worth a thousand words. These are the next four years of your life… you need to be sure!
That said, why are campus visits so important?
The Distance May Be Too Much, Or Too Little
Some students want to go as far away from home as they can, others find something that is drivable, and some choose to stay close. Everyone is different, but it’s entirely possible to have a change of heart after making the trip for a campus visit and really understanding what you’re up against when it comes time to travel home for the holidays.
A Day In The Life
Now, you may not decline admission for the sole purpose of bad dining commons food… but it’s still an important thing to experience! A campus visit should be more than just a walk-about of the grounds. You should truly experience a day in the life of a student to truly understand the culture and the makings of the school. Sit in on a lecture or two, eat at the dining hall, check out the recreational facilities if you’re into sports and fitness, tour a few dorms and poke your head into the rooms, explore potential study spots, take a walk from the dorms to the lecture halls to get an idea of distance, visit the library, and find out what types of extracurricular activities are available! Imagine yourself learning, eating, sleeping and living in this place. Can you picture that life?
Note: Many schools are open to over-night visits, so if you’re able… take advantage of a night in the dorms!
Pick Their Brains
If you treat your visit like a day-in-the-life experience you will have ample exposure to real students, faculty members and admissions officers. Don’t be shy, get your answers! Some questions you may ask:
- What is the best dorm to live in as a freshman?
- How accessible is public transportation? Do freshman tend to come with or without a car?
- What’s the average class size?
- What’s the teacher/TA to student ratio?
- How hard is it to get into [BLANK] program? Or, [BLANK] class?
- Is Professor X, Y or Z best for [BLANK] class?
- Are there used book stores in the area?
- What conditions are the dorm rooms in?
- What types of clubs and activities are available?
- Are there work-study opportunities for new students?
The list goes on. You can look for answers online, or you can talk to someone and get a real, first-hand opinion.
Information Sessions and Tour Guides
This goes hand-in-hand with picking people’s brains. The people leading your information sessions and tours are often current students who love their school and aren’t afraid to show it. They also aren’t afraid of giving prospects the honest truths about what to expect, and maybe sharing their favorite university secrets. These sessions are intended to familiarize you with the layout of the grounds, to give guidance on the admissions process, and to help trigger your excitement about the school. Getting that deeper insight is a key element in the research and decision-making process, because you can’t get those answers through promotional material. Be sure to grab business cards, print-outs and all other informational paperwork offered!
Believe it or not, some admissions committees would rather be told why you want to go there, rather than why they should pick you. Whether you learned something intriguing on a tour, discovered a club or activity of interest, or met a faculty member that really spoke to your soul… a visit provides the all-important content. It will help you visualize and communicate why a university is right for you.
This is where the “fit” comes into play. When you step onto your future university’s campus and get that knowing feeling in your gut, you’re in the right place. That feeling of comfort, excitement, motivation and drive. Universities tend to have a vibrant layer of life that flows through the campus, even during the most stressful parts of the semester. Each has it’s own culture, dynamic and way of life. If you don’t feel eager, then you should probably keep looking! What if that school that you were 100% sure about didn’t end up feeling right? Applying to and enrolling in university requires a lot of time and money, so don’t risk the waste!
It’s entirely likely that you will not be able to go to all of the schools that you are applying to, but if you have a top 3, you should make your best effort to find time for visits. The best time to visit is prior to applying because if it isn’t what you expected, then you don’t waste your time and cash on an application. However, if you don’t manage to do your tours before applying, at least be sure to fit them in before sealing the deal.