Different Ways to Visit a College Campus

From Virtual Tours to Overnight Stays, Learn All About Campus Visits

A Campus Visit is an Important Part of the College Application Process
A Campus Visit is an Important Part of the College Application Process. Steve Debenport / E+ / Getty Images

To craft an effective application to a selective college or university, you need to know the school well. A campus visit is an important part of the process. When you make the most of your college visit, you'll learn if a school is a good match for you, and you'll gain valuable information for writing school-specific application essays. Also, your visit will often put you into the school's applicant tracking software and help demonstrate that your interest in the school is more than a superficial or fleeting fancy.

Place yourself in the perspective of the college: you're going to want to admit students who are making an informed decision about your institution and who have invested some time and energy into choosing to apply to your school.

Colleges are often wary of "stealth applicants" — applicants who have no contact with a school until the application arrives. Such applicants might be applying simply because a parent wants them to, or because it is easy to apply thanks to options such as the Common Application and free Cappex Application.

A campus visit is a great way to learn more about a college, avoid being a stealth applicant, and demonstrate your interest effectively. To find out what kind of visits your target colleges offer, check their websites or reach out to your high school guidance counselor for more information on what may be available in your area.

Below you can learn about some of the possible ways to visit a college. 

Campus Tours

The campus tour is an important part of the college selection process.
The campus tour is an important part of the college selection process. Steve Debenport / E+ / Getty Images

Campus tours are the most common form of college visit, and they offer several benefits. For one, they are often run by a current student, so you'll get a student perspective on the college. Also, they tend to be offered throughout the week and on weekends, so they are typically easy to fit in around the busy schedules of high school students.

Make the most of your tour by asking your tour guide questions that will help you understand the college better and whether it's a good fit for you. 

Expect a campus tour to take an hour or more.

College Information Sessions

An information session can be a great way to learn more about a college.
An information session can be a great way to learn more about a college. Hero Images / Getty Images

College information sessions tend to be more formal than campus tours, and they are offered less frequently, often on Saturdays and select Fridays. Attendance can range from a small group to hundreds of students depending on the school and the time of year. The majority of information sessions are run by a member of the admissions staff, but you'll also encounter some that are run by students, Deans, or a combination of staff and students.

At an information session, you can expect to learn about a college's distinguishing features and the opportunities it affords students, and you may also get tips for applying and financial aid information. There will typically be time for questions, but for large groups an open question period can be a challenge. 

College information sessions are usually 60 to 90 minutes long, and you'll often have the opportunity to linger afterwards to ask the staff any specific questions you might have.

Open Houses

A college open house will provide a more in-depth look at a school than a tour or information session.
Pete / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Typically in August and the fall, colleges will hold special admissions open houses for prospective students. These events can be challenging for high school students to schedule since they are offered just a few times a year, but it is worth making the effort to attend if at all possible.

Open houses can be half-day to full-day events. Typically they will include a general information session and a campus tour, but they will also include events such as lunch with students and faculty, a meeting with financial aid, academic and activity fairs, program-specific tours and events, and student-centered panels and discussions. 

Because an open house offers you multiple ways to get information and interact with the staff, students, and faculty, you're likely to come away with a much better sense of the college than you would after a typical tour or information session.

In the spring, colleges will often hold similar types of open houses exclusively for students who have been admitted. These open houses are an excellent tool for helping you choose the college you will attend.

Overnight Visits

An overnight campus visit is by far the best way to get to know a college.
An overnight campus visit is by far the best way to get to know a college. Blend Images - Hill Street Studios / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

An overnight visit is the gold standard of campus visits, for there is no better way to get the feel of a college and its campus culture. If at all possible, you should do one before making your final college choice. 

During an overnight visit, you'll eat in the dining hall, sleep in a residence hall, visit a class or two, and mingle with students who haven't been paid to make a good impression on you. Your host will have been selected by the admissions staff as an upbeat and positive ambassador for the college, but the other people you encounter during your stay will not. 

For highly selective colleges, overnight visits are often an option only after you've been admitted. Top schools simply don't have enough resources to accommodate requests from thousands of students, most of whom won't actually be admitted. At less selective schools, an overnight stay might be an option at any point in the admissions cycle.

College Bus Tours

A college bus tour can be an efficient and economical way to visit campuses.
A college bus tour can be an efficient and economical way to visit campuses. Hinterhaus Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images

A bus tour won't be an option for all high school students, for they tend to be more common in highly populated areas. If you do have the opportunity for a bus tour, it can be a great way to visit a school or multiple schools.

Bus tours can take many forms: sometimes a college pays to bus in interested students from a particular region; sometimes a high school or private company organizes a tour of multiple campuses; sometimes several colleges will pool resources to bring students to an area to visit their campuses. Schools with out-of-the-way locations are most likely to leverage bus tours as a way to get prospective students to their campuses.

Bus tours can be fun and social excursions, and they can be an economical way to visit colleges. Some will be free (paid for by the colleges), and others will still be much cheaper than if you were to drive yourself and handle your own lodging arrangements. They also make organizing your trip easy, for the tour planners will arrange your campus tours and information sessions.

College Fairs

A college fair is useful for collecting information about multiple colleges.
A college fair is useful for collecting information about multiple colleges. COD Newsroom / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

College fairs are typically held at a high school or other large community space. Even if there are no fairs at your school, you may find one in your area. A college fair gives you a way to collect information about many colleges, and you will have the opportunity to chat with a representative from schools that interest you. They can be a good first step in your college search process, although you'll want to follow up with an actual campus visit to those schools that you think might be a good match for you.

Don't be passive at college fairs and settle for simply picking up brochures. Talk to the representatives and get your name on mailing lists for those schools that you like. This will get you into the computer database for the admissions office, and it will show that you had contact with a school representative before you applied.

College Visit to Your High School

Sometimes a college representative will visit your high school.
Sometimes a college representative will visit your high school. Blend Images - Hill Street Studios / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

College admissions offices have a small army of counselors who spend the fall on the road visiting high schools. Each counselor is assigned to a specific geographic region with the goal of reaching out to prospective students in that area.

When a college representative visits your school, that visit can take different forms. Some schools hold an open assembly for all students. More frequently, the representative will be in a specific location such as a conference room or the library, and interested students can go meet with the admissions counselor during lunch period or a study hall.

Take advantage of these visits when they happen. College counselors are eager to talk to you (that's why they're there, after all), and this is one more way to learn more about a school and get your name into the school's recruitment pipeline. If you can build a relationship with your regional recruiter, that person may go to bat for you when admissions decisions are being made.

A Final Word on Campus Visits

Be sure to walk away from your campus visit with as much information as possible.
Be sure to walk away from your campus visit with as much information as possible. Hill Street Studios/Tobin Rogers / Blend Images / Getty Images

Whether you meet with a counselor at your high school or stay overnight at a college, make sure you come away with a better understanding of the school, and work to make a positive and personal connection with the school. Your engagement with a school does matter at many colleges, and campus visits and meetings with admissions personnel are one of the better ways to demonstrate interest. Building a relationship with a college representative and putting in effort to get to know a school well can play in your favor

While this point might be rather obvious, the more time you spend on a campus, the better your understanding of a college will be. This is why open houses and overnight visits are the most effective tools for figuring out if a college is a good match for your interests and personality.