My College:
High School

How to Optimize Your Campus Visits

V. Peter Pitts, M.A.


The campus visit is the most important part of a student’s college search process. Here are some suggestions for making the most of those visits. Most of these apply more to small colleges than large universities, but some apply to all.

First, Some General Guidance

DO make an appointment to visit at least a couple weeks in advance, and be on time. If you’re running early, stop for a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes helping your student come up with a list of questions they can ask the tour guide.

DON’T be a helicopter parent. Don’t speak for your student or answer questions they should answer.

DO make sure to tell the tour guide about your interests (major and extracurricular) so they can tailor the tour to you. Ask to see a dorm.

DO stop by the college bookstore (especially if you had a positive visit). Collecting T-shirts from colleges and wearing them at school is always fun!

DO take notes and discuss your impressions on the way home from the visit.

High School Sophomores

Attending a general open house is a good way to get a feel for a college and to figure out the size of institution that feels comfortable. On the other hand, if a family is on vacation, and happens to be in the area of a college of interest, an individual visit with folks in the Admissions Office is even better. I know families that schedule their vacations in or near college towns so their sophomore can check out some campuses. One family even drove from the East Coast to the West, visiting a dozen colleges along the way!

High School Juniors

The best times for a junior to visit are

  • during the academic year (not during summer);
  • during the week (Monday through Thursday tend to be best);
  • while classes are in session but not near or during exam periods (check the academic calendar on the school’s website);
  • during midday hours so they can eat lunch on campus.

Parents and students should request a chat with an admission counselor, a campus tour by a current student, a visit with a faculty member or an opportunity to sit in on a class, and lunch on campus with a current student.

High School Seniors

In addition to the “chat/tour/visit/eat” opportunities described above, second visits are welcome and encouraged. Students also should, for sure, request visits with faculty in their offices or in their labs, and ask to sit in on classes. Asking to “shadow” a student for a day is also a great idea.

Senior year is also the time to request visits with specialized offices (e.g. students with an I.E.P. should request a face-to-face visit with an advisor in the office of educational accessibility). It is also a good time to get some advice from a college financial expert.

What About Other Types of Visits?

Student bus trips (from an agency, high school or sponsored by the college): These are a lot like open houses. A great chance just to get a basic feel for the campus. However, if the student visits without a parent, they need to return later with a parent.

Walk-ins: These are hit and miss. You may be able to get a tour, but don’t expect a complete tour. I have seen these visits not work at all, like the time the entire admissions staff was off campus on a retreat. On the other hand, I remember the time a family visited on a Sunday morning. They bumped into the president of our college who was walking to his office to do some paperwork. The president gave an impromptu tour which impressed the family so much the student enrolled.

Summer or Sunday: Better than not visiting at all, but not very effective if students just drive or wander around on their own.

Weekends during the school year: Again, better than not visiting at all. People seem to favor Saturdays, but a lot of admissions offices close at noon, and the students may just be thinking about getting out of bed. Plus, faculty are usually not available.

After a visit, email the admissions office with any positive or negative feedback. Colleges appreciate these kinds of comments. They are continually striving to make visits as perfect as possible.

V. Peter Pitts, M.A., is an advisor with My College Planning Team based in the Chicago area. He retired after 42 years in the college admission business, most recently spending 27 years at Monmouth College. Peter holds a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s from Wartburg College.

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