10. Get to know what you like and don’t like in a school
During the early part of high school, it can be helpful to make short, informal visits to a variety of campuses. You don’t have to go on the full tour of each campus, but if you happen to live near a college campus or are visiting a location with a school of interest, take a look around when you can. Early tours will help you conceptualize what you’re looking for in a school: urban setting or campus feel? Large student body or small classes? Campus-wide sports culture, strong arts scene, or both?
9. Form a basis of comparison
Even if you think you know what you want in advance (e.g. a school in the center of a city), it’s hard to be certain until you’ve seen both your ideal and its opposite. By touring as many schools as you can, you will start to develop a feeling for what makes a good “fit” for you. When you walk onto a campus, do you feel at home? Can you see yourself spending 4 years there, or not? Once you have a true basis of comparison, you can be more certain of whether your ideal school matches with your preconceived notions. Think of it like a test drive of a car you want to buy.
8. Start to narrow down your list
During your junior year, you should narrow down the list of schools you want to apply to. One important way to do this is by learning more about schools you’re interested in. This is the time to take the full tours, visit classes, and attend events. By immersing yourself in a school culture, you’ll be able to determine which schools are your top choices, and whether you want to apply early.
7. Get motivated
Junior and senior years of high school can be rough. Between rigorous course work, extracurricular activities, test prep, and the tests themselves, it’s easy to get worn out. By visiting universities, you’ll get a glimpse of the exciting opportunities ahead of you. This small taste of the future can help motivate you as you push through the application process.
6. Demonstrate your interest in a school
The Common App makes it easy for applicants to apply to many colleges without significant extra effort. As the number of submitted applications has increased, many schools have begun to worry about their “yield,” or the number of admitted applicants who choose to matriculate there. Why do universities care about this? Because it factors into many ranking systems. Thus, admissions offices look to see if an applicant has “demonstrated interest” in their school, beyond just checking a box on the Common App. So where possible, applicants should try to visit their top choices schools to demonstrate to the admissions committees their strong interest in attending the school.
5. Check out dorms and off-campus living & dining options
While many applicants are looking forward to the freedom of college, it’s tough leaving the comforts of home (and those home-cooked meals!). One aspect of college life you should be sure to check out is where you’ll live. Do most students live in dorms or off-campus? How many students live in a typical dorm room/suite? How close are dorms to food options like cafeterias, kitchens, or restaurants? Is the food any good? Where will you do laundry? Or, how close is the nearest store at which you can just buy new underwear instead? You can answer all these questions and more on your campus tour.
4. See specialized resources (theaters, labs, gyms, and libraries) for yourself
Whether you’re an aspiring athlete, musician, scientist, or entrepreneur, you’ll be taking advantage of specialized campus resources to hone your skills and develop new strengths. So, you’ll want to check out how well-suited those resources are to your own needs. When you take a campus tour, don’t forget to check out each college’s theaters, labs, athletic facilities, and libraries (yes libraries – you gotta study too!). You’ll likely be spending a lot of time there in the coming years.
3. Get answers to your questions
While you may feel like your head is swimming with questions about what makes a school right for you, it turns out that lots of applicants have similar questions. When you take an official school tour, many of these questions will get answered for you. And for those specific, unique queries, you’ll have the chance to speak with your tour guide and admissions officers to get the low down. To make sure you have your most important questions answered, it helps to have a list prepared to take with you.
2. Talk with actual students
When you visit a campus, you’ll have the opportunity to meet current students, often as a campus tour guide. Don’t be afraid to go up to other students and ask questions as well, to get a second opinion. Ask them what they like or don’t like about their campus. Ask what made them choose this school over others. And don’t forget: In order to talk with actual students and get a real feel for campus life, make sure that you visit the school while class is in session an not during exams.
1. Learn how the university sells itself – so you can use it in your app
Pay close attention to what is said when you tour a school and you will discover how the university markets itself. Your tour guide will likely emphasize a few different features that the school believes make it stand out: e.g. its diverse faculty, its winning teams, its partnership with industry. The more the guide talks about a certain aspect of the university, the more you know this asset matters to the school. Use the information you’ve learned about what the school values when you’re answering supplemental questions in your application or during an interview to establish what a good fit YOU are for their incoming class. The more specific knowledge you can demonstrate about a school’s academics, culture, extracurriculars, and campus, the stronger your application will be.
Turning it up to 11
A little extra advice…
Every applicant doesn’t have the resources to tour lots of schools or even their first choice schools. Some schools are too far from where you live, or too expensive for you to visit. Universities understand that applicants and their families have a variety of limitations, and will not hold it against them in the application process. If you’re in this situation, make sure to review each school’s website and marketing brochures carefully, to learn as much about the school as you can. If a college you’re interested in visits your high school or comes to a local college fair, be sure to attend the event and sign in. You can also connect with recent alums on Admit.me and reach out to the admissions office to ask to speak with current students to learn more about campus life. After admissions decisions come out, many schools offer visiting weekends for admitted students. Such opportunities will help you narrow down your choices and select your ultimate destination.