Where do I go?Travel as far as is feasible, and view a wide variety of schools. This trip, of course, depends upon your particular requirements for a college or university, as well as how far from home you are able to roam over Spring Break. If you have a particular school in mind that you haven’t yet visited, try to plan your trip around it. Do not select more than two colleges per day, and attempt to save a portion of your time for entertaining activities. What does variety mean on a trip to tour campuses? When planning your itinerary, try to choose a large school and a small school, a residential campus and an urban campus, a well-known university and a university that you discovered in a guidebook or online. If you are only visiting a small school within 50 miles of your hometown, ensure that one of your destinations on your trip is outside of that circle. When you choose campuses to visit, you make no commitments to them—it is never unwise to look. But, why would you visit a college you have no desire to attend? It is a simple way to determine what you do not like in a school. Identify the problem, and then eliminate any colleges with that feature from your list.
What do I look for?Before you arrive at each school, briefly jot down questions that you have and would like answered during your time there. If you can, take the official campus tour led by a current student – that way your guide can answer all of your questions. The campuses might begin to mesh together and look the same during a week-long trip, so be sure to pick up each school’s material and write notes on it during the tour. If the admissions office allows you to, sit in on a class. Relax in the center of campus life (typically the student union) for at least 30 minutes. What is the atmosphere on campus? Do you feel comfortable? What are students doing? People-watching is a great way to develop a “feel” for the campus. Begin a conversation with a student and ask him or her some of your questions. If you cannot find someone to pose your questions to, request the contact information for a current student from the admissions office. This is an important connection to establish, especially if a question occurs to you later (it will!). Remember: spring is typically the most favorable season in college. It is often warm out, and students will soon graduate or begin their summers. Keep in mind that fall and winter may paint a different picture. Lastly, search for a special aspect of the school. What makes it different, either positively or negatively? This trip may quickly blur in your mind, so capture an Instagram or two of the attributes you love or hate. Four or five months later, you can quickly remember why you wished to apply to this college or university.
Andrea Deck is a professional GRE tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She is a graduate student at Columbia University in the class of 2015.