Capstone College and Career Advising

The spring break campus visit

February 18th, 2015 by

The formal campus visit is an important part of the college application process. I always advise juniors and rising seniors to visit at least their top two or three choices to get a clearer idea of whether a school that looks great on paper is actually a good fit for them in reality.

But students don’t have to wait until they’re already knee-deep in the application process to start touring schools, and every visit doesn’t have to be a two-day affair. Spring break is a great time for students to put their feet on a college campus and start trying schools on for size, even if they’re still early in their high school career.

Going out of town? Get out the map; there’s bound to be a school near your destination. Staying home? Then this is a great time to visit one of the many fine schools right in our own back yard, within an easy hour or two drive.

Since the college you choose may also be on spring break during your visit, this isn’t necessarily the time to schedule an in-depth visit. You may not get to take a formal tour or meet a professor or advisor.

Instead these shorter, informal visits are a good time for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors (and even their tag-along younger siblings) to start getting a general feel for what college might be like. Even if classes aren’t in session, some services and buildings may remain open, and restaurants and shops near campus can still give you a sense of a school’s atmosphere.

So, what can you learn in a short visit? More than you’d think.

First of all, you’ll have a chance to get an up-close look at the campus and start forming an idea of your personal preferences. Is it big and sprawling, or compact and super-walkable? If it’s an out-of-state school, what might it be like to walk 20 minutes to class in the dead of winter? Are there lots of public spaces where students can congregate? Is it in a busy urban setting or a remote rural one? Is it a modern complex of industrial-looking buildings or a classically beautiful collection of old-school edifices, and do those things matter to you?

During your walking tour, poke your head in any buildings that are open, including the bookstore, student union, and the shops and restaurants of the student “village” that is often located just off campus. Eat lunch, look at posters and bulletin boards to see what kinds of activities and services are popular, and people-watch. If students are on campus, do they seem stressed and heads-down, or are they open and friendly?

If your schedule allows, enjoy a campus activity. A sporting event, a film screening, a lecture, a concert, or an art exhibit will help you get a sense of the cultural life. You can find these by visiting the school’s website or picking up a school newspaper during your visit. The paper may also shed light on what issues current students are concerned about. Are the top stories about funding cuts, a sports team’s success, or awards that faculty have won? Either way, you’re gaining important insights into that university’s priorities.

So no, a 90-minute side trip to a college on the way to your ski trip may not be enough to convince you to put a college on your list—or to take it off. But the more schools you visit, the clearer a picture you can start drawing of the one that’s right for you.