Four years and a few months ago I embarked on a weeklong tour of colleges on the East Coast. This was my first time traveling, my first time in a big city, my first time using a crosswalk, and, consequently, my first time almost getting run over by a New York taxi—all with only my cousin in tow. The combination of navigating a new city and worrying about how to decide where to spend the next four years of my life made this trip extremely stressful. Here are a few tips to simplify a campus visit, from student to student.
Let yourself feel the campus vibe.
Questions such as the faculty-to-student ratio, campus housing placement, and general education requirements are absolutely important to ask, but don’t find yourself frantically searching for the next hard-hitting question. Most of these answers can be found online, by calling the university, or reaching out to your tour guide or other students you meet.
Instead, ask questions that will help you visualize yourself as a student on campus. General questions such as “What’s your favorite part about going to school here?” or “What’s your favorite course you’ve taken?” go a long way in helping you understand campus culture.
Seek out your interests.
Tours are great to get acquainted with the campus, but plan to explore areas that would be of a particular interest to you. If you’re a fitness fanatic you don’t want to miss checking out the student gym. If you’re excited to play lacrosse, try to set up a meeting with the coach or see if the coach can connect you with a student-athlete to ask some questions and see the practice field. The last thing you want to do is to fly back home and realize you forgot to see a part of campus or the city where you plan on spending a lot of time.
Follow your instincts and use what resources you have available.
Shortly after my trip to visit schools on the East Coast, I opened my mailbox to find my acceptance packet from USC. I honestly knew from the moment I held the packet in my hands that I was going to go to USC regardless of my financial ability to afford another to visit another coast to see the campus.
While visiting colleges is an amazing way to envision yourself on campus, you probably still have some preemptive feelings about where you really see yourself. Do as much research as possible, visit as many campuses as possible, but if you don’t have the resources to visit that school you can’t get off your mind, you don’t have to just let it go.
I committed to USC without visiting campus and was surprised to find two other students in my orientation group of 17 who had never been to campus either. Many schools have online resources such as campus videos, online tours, and student profiles to help prospective and admitted students get a feel for the campus when an in-person visit isn’t plausible. You can find some of USC’s resources at https://www.usc.edu/visitusc
Looking back, this all didn’t have to be as stressful as I was making it. I know, it’s easy to say that in retrospect. In the end, once you filter out any of your deal breakers (which usually happens before you hit the college visit stage anyway), all you’re left with is your intuition of where you’ll be most happy. So, next time you go visit a college, keep your campus visit checklist in the back of your mind, but remember to be in the moment and take advantage of the opportunity to experience the environment, which is what you went there to do in the first place.