Visiting Colleges

An important part of the college search is the campus visit.  It can offer students and families an idea of the context and experience that a college provides.  Setting foot on campus can sometimes be an instantaneous confirmation, or rejection of how a student feels about the campus and whether or not to apply.  As we emphasize the importance of finding the right “match” in your college search, a campus visit can provide an opportunity to get a sense if this place could be a “fit” for you.  Take full advantage of your visits by asking questions and getting a feel for the personality of the institution.

If you are unable to travel across the country for college visits, you can get an idea of the size and atmosphere of a campus by visiting similar campuses here in Florida.  You might visit Rollins College in Lakeland to see what it would be like to attend a small, private, liberal arts campus of about 2000 students.  You can experience a medium-sized private campus like the University of Miami, a campus in a residential section of a major city with a student population of approximately 12,000 students.  Or, you can experience the life of a large public university at Florida State University, University of Florida, or the University of Central Florida.

For those who qualify, some colleges/universities sponsor stipends to assist in travel costs for students who are economically disadvantaged.  Please inquire.

When to Visit

It is helpful, but not always possible to see a college campus when students are present and classes are in session.  Campus tours at most colleges are offered once or twice a day throughout the year.  Some colleges sponsor “visit days” when students can spend the entire day touring the campus, visiting classes, hearing about activities, visiting the dorms, and eating in the dining hall.  Spring vacation is an excellent time to visit colleges assuming our vacation calendar does not align. The summer is likely easier for families and is also an excellent time to visit.  Contrary to past perceptions most colleges are enrolled and fully attended during the summer.  Classes are in sessions and admission offices are open, offering tours, information sessions, and at some colleges, interviews.

Before Your Visit

Look at the school’s website or call the admission office directly several weeks or more ahead of time to determine when they offer tours and group information sessions.   Many schools offer tours on a drop-in basis; while others require you to make an appointment.  The admissions office can help you organize your visit and arrange accommodations.

Research the campus.

Familiarize yourself with the departments and majors that are offered, campus life, the type of living arrangements available to students, events occurring during the year, clubs and activities, the environment and attractions of the surrounding town or city, and available transportation.  The more you know about the campus before you visit, the more prepared you will be to evaluate the college when you arrive.  Before you visit check the admissions website, and call or email the admissions office about:

  • Campus tours and information sessions, and any special days that might be scheduled for all-day programs for prospective students.
  • Classes you can attend, especially classes in the subjects of your interest.  At a few campuses, you need to know a student in attendance to be able to visit a class.
  • Dining Hall information (hours and availability to visitors).
  • A schedule of activities on weekdays and weekends.
  • The possibility of faculty appointments in subjects of interest.
  • An appointment with a coach, if applicable.
  • A list of area attractions worth seeing.
  • An interview appointment, if desired (these are not necessary).  Ask if on-campus interviews are offered.  On-campus interviews can be very limited according to what the admissions officers have available and must be made months in advance.  If a college requires an interview as part of the admissions process, applicants will usually meet with a college alumnus in the student’s home area.  The college will contact students and arrange for such required interviews.

Allow plenty of time for your visit. Plan to spend several hours at each college. When planning your visit, find out about directions and driving time.   It is recommended that you visit no more than two campuses in one day.

What to do when you visit

Attend the group information session. These are usually held at the admission office and are especially helpful if you haven’t scheduled an interview.  Take a tour. These are usually led by a current student.  Talk to students.  Don’t be afraid to approach someone and ask them about his/her experience.   A visit might include some of the following suggestions and questions:

  • Visit the Academic Departments of the subjects you may want to study. Check out the life of the department. Do the services and personnel seem supportive?  What are the facilities like?  Do they have the latest equipment and labs for research?
  • Attend at least one class in an area of your academic interest (if possible).  Was it interesting?  Do students look engaged?
  • Speak with a Professor.  Is he/she friendly?  Encouraging?  Intimidating?  How involved are the professors in advising undergraduate students?
  • If you have Special Learning Needs visit the academic support center and ask the questions provided in the Special Needs and Accommodations link.
  • Visit the Student Center. What sort of activities do you see? Are your interests represented?  Is transportation provided to local activities off campus?
  • Tour Athletic Facilities. Is there an equipment facility available to all students?  What hours is it open?  Check on the facilities specific to the sport/activity of your interest.
  • Tour the Computer Centers.  How crowded are they? What hours are they open?  What is the access to and level of tech support and service?  Is printing readily available?  Are computer centers conveniently located around campus?
  • Visit the Library. Are there quiet, comfortable areas in which to study?  Group study areas? What hours is the library open?
  • Visit facilities of special interest.  For example, the art museum, dance studio, campus theater, or music hall.  Are there exhibits or performances of interest?
  • Eat at least one meal in a campus dining hall. How was the food?  Are there many, varied choices?  If important, are your dietary choices/restrictions accommodated? What other food/snack options are on campus?  Meal plans available?  Hours?
  • Spend the night in a dormitory, if possible. Check with the college about overnight visiting policies. In any event ask questions about living situations. Are dorms single sex or co-ed?  How large are the rooms? Are the bathrooms co-ed? How convenient/crowded/clean are the facilities?  Does the dorm have visitation hours? What safety measures are in place?
  • Visit the Student Health Center.  What are the facilities like?  Hours?
  • Visit the Career Center. Is it professionally staffed? How extensive are the job postings? What companies recruit on campus?  What types of internships are available?
  • Read a recent copy of the student paper.  What are the current issues that are making the headlines?  What impression do you get about the student/faculty/administration relationships?  How often is the paper published (electronic or hard copy)?
  • Listen to the college radio station.   Do the programs reflect your taste?
  • Stroll the campus and surroundings and look at the students — observe all ongoing activities.  Do the students seem friendly?  Happy?  Can you picture yourself making friends with them?  What appeals to you as you walk around?
  • Consider visiting the financial aid office if you want to make an appointment to have specific or personal questions answered.
  • Check security on campus.  What is the crime rate on campus?  In the community?  Is there a security escort service available 24 hours a day?
  • Personal interview.  Usually not necessary (See above). If you do have an on-campus meeting with an admissions, athletic, or department representative, try to have a campus tour first. Save your most thoughtful questions for your interviewer. Remember to write thank you letters to your interviewer.

Be sure to record your impressions for later comparison. This is very important!  You may find the following checklists useful or create your own!  College Board Checklist  Questions to Ask When Choosing a College

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