Key West. Myrtle Beach. Yosemite National Park. A college admissions office. Maybe that last one isn't a top vacation destination but it's worth a visit.
Just as you wouldn't waste precious vacation minutes sitting in a hotel room figuring out what attractions are in the area, some planning before you head for campus will help you maximize your visit.
Pick Up the Phone
Schedule an appointment, even for a group tour. Generally, campus tours are coordinated out of the admissions office. When you call, be prepared with multiple dates and times in case your first choice is booked. Ask about available options outside of the typical tour. For instance, can you take a tour individually versus in a group? Is it possible to sit in on classes or stay overnight? Can you meet with professors or coaches? Depending on where you are in your college search, you might visit the financial aid office.
During the summer, admissions offices may keep shorter hours than in the fall; make sure that the office will be open when you arrive. Advance planning should allow you to successfully view multiple colleges in a few days. Whatever you do, avoid showing up at a school unannounced and expect to be given a tour.
Use the Internet
Knowing that you want to visit a college is one thing, but knowing why you want to visit that college is something else. Think about your preferences and do some research to narrow down your reasons for selecting a school.
"Students should think about size, location, major," says Lisa Garcia-Hanson, director of admissions at . "The first place we would direct a student is to our Web site. They can check out pages based on different majors and academic departments."
Many colleges also list campus organizations and clubs on their site. Go to the alumni page and see if there are any resources you can use to contact former (or current) students to ask them about their experiences. "Central Washington has a page with news and headlines on current issues going on around campus," Garcia-Hanson says. "The college paper is online, as well as an online calendar listing school events." Does the campus flavor revealed in these types of resources fit your personality?
Know Your Destination
Don't rely solely on the college's Web site and brochures. Other resources like travel books, the city's newspaper or the local chamber of commerce can give you a sense of the town the school is in.
During your research, pay attention to the culture, history and current events impacting the college and the area surrounding it. Dig deeper than whether it's an urban or rural environment. Consider the school's past and present. Is it built on a military tradition? Is it a politically active campus? How diverse is the student body? Uncover items of interest you want to research more while you're in town.
Ignorance Isn't Bliss
If a student hasn't done his or her homework beforehand, "it's obvious," says Matt Mergen, associate dean of admissions at . "At best, it's disappointing when a student doesn't really seem to know anything about the college at all. We want to get a sense of who a student is, their aspirations and motivations, and it's surprising when students haven't even bothered to open the brochure."
Not being familiar with the college can be especially damaging in an interview. You don't want an interviewer to start a dialogue with you about what you like or don't like about the college and have nothing to say. "If you peruse the Web site and the department sites, you'll be better armed in conversation," Mergen says.
Educate yourself ahead of time and you can ask more intelligent questions. You'll also be able to focus on the issues and concerns most important to you when you set foot on campus.