Visits to universities typically happen during the summer after Grade 11 or during the early autumn of Grade 12. For some students, an earlier college visit (Grade 10) to “browse” and narrow down the type of school can help to streamline the process later on.
While many international students aren’t able to visit universities in the US, if you are able to visit, we highly recommend you do so. For most students, it’s probably best to visit in the summer, when you are not as bogged down by extra curricular activities, tests, and preparing your applications. Not only do visits provide you with a better idea of what the school and its facilities look like, you also have the opportunity to speak with real students, sit in on classes, and even eat in the dining halls! You can also explore the surrounding area of the campus and see if you like city life, suburban life, or rural life.
Additionally, school visits might even impact your application. At many schools, visits are considered by the admissions committee as a sign of your serious interest in that particular school. But be aware that many big schools, especially the Ivy Leagues, get thousands of visitors and it probably won’t help your chances as much. Most schools require that you register for school visits which often are made up of an information session and a campus tour. Registration can be completed online on most institutions’ admissions pages. If asked, be sure to sign in to get “credit” for the on campus visit!
When making the decision to visit schools in the US, consider organizing your visit in either three ways.
Visit Type #1: Just the Favorites
With this strategy, if you have limited time or resources, so you may just want to consider visiting your dream schools or the schools that are at the top of your list. By just focusing on a few of your top schools and spending more time on the campuses, you can get a better feel of what it would be like to go there. Best case scenario: you love it and it’s reinforced as your dream school. Worst case scenario: you don’t like it and don’t need to waste the time or money on the application later!
Visit Type #2: Choose a Coast or Area
It may be worth it to plot your college list onto a map to see if any of the schools are nearby each other. Many big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston are home to a plethora of universities just waiting to be visited. In this way, you can save money and still see a few different colleges while you’re there! If you have additional time or resources, you could even take a short flight along the East or West coast to visit different universities that are still a bit close by each other. We recommend that you do not visit more than 2 schools per day; you need adequate time to explore the campus!
Visit Type #3: Early Decision/Early Action/ Regular Decision/Likely
If you have the time and resources to visit more schools, but not all of them, you may want to consider visiting the school or schools that you are likely to apply to early (in October or November) first. If you are admitted to a school Early Decision, you must attend, so it is important that you know you like an Early Decision school. If you have additional time, you can visit a couple other top schools on your regular decision list (applications due in December or January), followed by one of your likely schools. In this way, you can ensure that you would be satisfied with attending schools that fall into your Reach, Target, and Likely categories.
Visit Type #4 : All the Schools
If you have time and resources, you may consider visiting many, or all, of the schools on your school list. In this way, you can begin to trim your college list based on these visits. By the end of your visits you may learn that you don’t really like your dream school as much as you had thought, which will actually save you more time and money in the long run.
Once you’ve made it to the physical campus, it’s important that you make the most of your time there. After all, you didn’t travel halfway across the world to just take part in the standard tour of your dream school, did you? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 1 in 5 students transfer from one four-year college to another, so it is important that you do your best to make the right choice the first time. Make the effort to speak with staff and faculty, try and find a student who shares your academic interests and ask them about their major. With enough advance notice, some schools will provide students the opportunity even sit in on a class or spend the night in a dorm with a student! Don’t hesitate to reach out to a faculty member of a class you are particularly interested in and ask if you can attend their class. If you would be interested in US based companies that offer college visit planning and accompaniment trips for students please contact ARCH and we will provide you with a reference.
You may think that you will remember all schools, but if you are planning on visiting several schools, it is best to take notes and perhaps snap some pictures of highlights that you don’t want to forget. We provide our students with ARCH University Research Organizer to help them keep track of their school visits. Spend some time on campus after the official tour and try to speak with students (other than paid tour guides) about their experiences at the school. Explain that you are a prospective student and ask them about what they like best at school and in what areas would they like to see changes and why. Some professors are happy to speak with students about their area of study, so don’t hesitate to reach out to meet faculty and learn more about the academic areas that you may be interested in. If it is offered, sit in on a class or schedule an overnight visit. There is no better way to know what it would be like to be a student than to be a student, even if just for one class or an overnight!
The National Survey of Student Engagement put together the booklet that focuses on what's most important - a school's academics. A Pocket Guide to Choosing a College, Are You Asking the Right Questions on a College Campus Visit?
Here is a list of questions that you may want to ask students and admission officers. Asking these types of questions will help you determine what type of academic experiences and opportunities you could expect.
- How much time do students spend on homework each week?
- How much writing and reading are expected?
- How often do students discuss ideas in class?
- How often do students make class presentations?
- How many students work on research projects with faculty?
- Are faculty members accessible and supportive?
- What type of honors courses, learning communities, and other distinctive programs are offered?
- Is a culminating senior year experience required?
- What opportunities are there for undergraduate research?
- How many students participate in undergraduate research?
- Do you have an honors college?
- What activities are offered to students?
- What clubs do you have on campus?
- What are the housing options?
- What is your four-year graduation rate? Your five-year graduation rate?
- What percentage of freshmen return for sophomore year?