high school students talking to an admission counselor on a college campus tour

Given the rich visual detail of most college websites, it might seem like you don’t have to physically visit a college’s campus to get a good feel for the school, but when done right, a college campus visit can offer a lot of insight and give you a bit of an edge in the admissions race. Read on for our tips for a successful college visit.

Go prepared.

Make a list of questions for students, admissions staff, faculty, and anyone else you hope to meet so that you can be sure to remember everything you wanted to ask. Researching the college in advance can help you to better plan your visit so that you can explore the aspects of the college that mean the most to you.

Be open-minded.

Visit colleges you aren’t really interested in attending. Every campus visit gives you insight into what you do and don’t want in a college—and you never know, you might find a school that you love that you would never have otherwise considered.

Don’t let one negative experience sour you on a whole college. For example, maybe the class you sat in on was dull, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of other amazing class experiences to be had.

Time it right.

Although a campus visit can be enlightening at any time of year, the best time to visit is while regular classes are in session. This gives you the most accurate idea of what life on the campus is really like.

Make it official.

Sign up for the official tour. What the college chooses to highlight tells you a lot about its priorities and culture, so the official tour is always enlightening. Plus, college admissions officers consider taking a tour to be a sign of demonstrated interest, which can be a factor in admission decisions.

Get off the beaten path.

What the college highlights is certainly enlightening, but what’s not placed front and center can be just as revealing. Explore the campus without a tour guide to learn more about student life, campus culture, and the perks and drawbacks of the school.

Talk to students.

No one is better informed about the student experience at a college than the students themselves. Most students are happy to talk about their schools—which is a sign of student satisfaction in and of itself. Be prepared with questions so that you can learn the nitty gritty details of student life—how’s the food? What are the dorms like? How’s the social scene? Are the staff responsive? Is the faculty dedicated?

Meet the decision makers.

Stop by the admissions office to introduce yourself. This is another way to demonstrate interest, and if you’re lucky, you might get to learn about the admissions process straight from the source.

Keep good records.

After three or four campus visits, details tend to run together. Document your visits with photos and notes so that you remember the pros and cons of each school.

Sit in on a class.

Most colleges will let you sit in on a lecture. Look at the course catalog to find a class you’re interested in, and consider looking for professor reviews so that you can sit in on a quality lecture. Don’t judge all the classes at a college by this one experience, but take the time to explore the academic side of the college.

Save the best for last.

You’ll get better at campus visits with practice, so start with schools you’re not that interested in and work your way up to your dream school.