College tour season is upon us! It's an exciting time for high school seniors - albeit a little overwhelming, too. With the right approach, a campus visit can help you pick a college experience you'll cherish for life. Here are some tips:
1. Prepare your questions
This is a big step on your academic path - most of you are about to invest more time, energy and money in your studies than ever before - so the school you choose should be a reflection of your goals and needs as not just a student but a human being.
That's why we recommend doing a little homework in advance and preparing any questions or concerns you might have. You might have general questions that could apply to most any college - keep those questions handy for all your college tours - or you might have specific questions about a specific facility, service or department that interests you. Either way, come prepared!
Your campus tour guide should be able to answer most if not all your general questions about the college - and even some more specific ones too. At the very least, they should be able to direct you to someone who can. We also recommend chatting with some of the students: what are their thoughts on campus life? Are they enjoying their experience so far? What advice do they have for new students? Their insight is very valuable.
Finally, with a little foresight you might get a chance to chat with Admissions, or even an Academic Chair or two. More on this later.
2. Vibe check
These are formative years – not just academically, but socially too. You deserve a quality of life outside of your classroom and dorm. What kind of energy are you picking up around campus?
Take note of the quad: does the community feel friendly, inclusive, and dynamic? Do you see any fun extracurricular activities taking place? What kind of events do you see advertised on posters and bulletin boards?
Also, take note of the classrooms: some are huge, accommodating hundreds of students at a time for those introductory survey courses you’ll take, while others are much more intimate, designed for discussion and participation.
Can you picture yourself spending the next few years in these spaces, concentrating on your lectures and taking part in deeply academic discourse? Do you think these spaces can set you up for success? If the answer isn’t yes, is this really the school for you?
3. Can you picture yourself literally living here?
You won’t enjoy your college experience at all if you don’t like where you live. Pay close attention to the quality of the dorms: they should be comfortable, safe, and user-friendly. Ask to see both the freshmen and upperclassmen dorms to get an idea of the quarters you can look forward to as you progress in your studies.
While you're at it, visit the health centre to see how the school values not only student health at large but your specific health and wellness needs too. A health centre should be a safe space for all students. This also applies to the athletic facilities: if fitness is important to you, it should also be important to your school.
And you should absolutely eat at the cafeteria! For the time and money you will spend here, you deserve good food with healthy, inclusive options that accommodate your taste and, more importantly, dietary restrictions if applicable.
4. Put in some face time
Sometimes, putting a face to a name can really boost a first impression. That’s why we recommend stopping by the Admissions Office with those questions you prepared. You’ll need to make an appointment with an Admissions Counselor ahead of time (don’t show up unannounced, that could do more harm than good). Nothing’s guaranteed, but simply showing the initiative that you’re not only visiting the campus but also following up on your application with a few questions about the school demonstrates you’re proactive, organized and resourceful – qualities schools look for in their applicants.
Speaking of which, if you already have an idea of what you want to study, visit the corresponding department and, ideally, its Academic Chair (again, book ahead). This might not help your chances of getting accepted (it could, but again nothing’s guaranteed) but either way, the more you know about the subject(s) that interest you, the more clarity you’ll have on your academic path. Who knows? Maybe the visit will have you changing your path entirely. Nobody likes going back to the drawing board, but think of all the time (and money) you’ve just saved yourself.
5. Beyond the campus
Some schools are so remote you’ll likely spend most if not all your time on campus (all the more reason to get to know every facility and service as much as possible before committing). But if you’re visiting a more urban school, or one that’s part of a ‘college town’ where students tend to interact a lot with the community at large, it’s worth visiting the school’s surroundings to get a sense of the life you could be leading off campus too. How safe and accessible is it? Is there student-friendly housing with budget-friendly rent? Are you walking distance (or at least a short commute) from essentials like grocery stores, social activities and, if applicable, student jobs?
Some of you might be looking to add some off-campus autonomy to your college experience, and that’s perfectly normal. So long as it doesn’t interfere with your studies and, more importantly, your wellbeing, a little independence can go a long way towards your entry into adulthood.