I hope I’m not the only email-address-holder who can say that their inbox is overflowing with colleges and universities shouting, “COME TO OUR PREVIEW DAY/OPEN HOUSE!” In most cases, these emails are from colleges to which I do not plan on applying, and thus I pass on the offer. However, to the schools to which I am applying that invite me to their preview days, I would like to apologize: As much as I would like to, it’s difficult for me to fly across the country to come see you, especially when the open house is in two weeks.
Visiting college campuses is a great action a college-bound high school student can take, and can be very beneficial if your choice ever comes down to two or three colleges. (For the sake of this article, “colleges” and “universities” are interchangeable, and so are “preview days” and “open houses.”)
While visiting schools is a good thing to do before you begin applying to schools, I would not say that it is necessary. However, what I will say is that once you have received decisions from every school to which you have applied, if there are colleges that you have not visited “in the running” after you have narrowed down your list of acceptances to your favorites, I highly recommend going to see those schools’ campuses.
Whether you decide to visit campus on an official preview day or not is your prerogative, but there are many benefits to seeing campuses that I doubt you want to miss out on. Essentially, it is all about getting a “feel” for the school.
The first thing you will take note of upon visiting the campus of any college is the physical uniqueness of the campus, or what its specific qualities are. Is the architecture modern or more historical-looking? Are buildings close together or spread out? Are there any open grassy spaces that many colleges love to show off on their websites?
Visiting a college campus will allow you to explore classrooms, dining halls, dorms, gyms, and recreational rooms by signing up for an official tour—many will let you explore without taking a tour, but you won’t be able to go into nearly as many spaces as you would be able to in a tour. As someone who has participated in quite a few college campus tours, I highly recommend going on them if you can. Sure, a majority of the schools I toured are schools that I knew I was going to apply to anyway, but touring the campuses helped solidify my fondness for the schools. A couple of tours I went on convinced me to apply to schools I was not planning on applying to prior to the tour, and one tour has kept me from applying to school because of certain impressions I had while taking the tour.
College campus visits are not completely free of downsides, however. There are negatives to visiting colleges as well that you should consider. For example, it can be very costly to visit campuses. As I hinted at earlier, odds are campuses you are interested in visiting are an airplane flight away. Additionally, paying for hotel rooms, meals at restaurants, and any merchandise you may want to buy starts to add up. If you go on a tour during the school year, you will have to miss a few days of classes, and if there’s one thing I’d hate more than getting into a college that I never visited—only to discover that I don’t like it at all upon visiting it—it’s makeup work to do. If you go on a tour during the summer, you will not be missing any classes, obviously, but you will have to dedicate some of your time off to your academic future. There will probably be more students trying to visit over the summer than while school is in session; depending on your perspective, this could be a good or a bad thing.
If you end up going on a visit to a college campus in the coming months of years, here are a few spots I recommend checking out if you can: See how large the dorms are, how many people are usually in one dorm, and if bathrooms are communal or for specific dorms. How many places to eat are there on campus? What recreational facilities are available to students? How are the classrooms?
If you end up going on a visit in the future, I also recommend asking these questions while you are taking the tour—if you cannot find the information from a reliable online source: What is the 4-year graduation rate? The 6-year graduation rate? What is the school’s yield? How many freshmen return for sophomore year? What percentage of students are awarded with some sort of financial aid? How many classes are taught by teacher assistants? What percentage of students live on-campus? Is housing available for all undergraduate students? What is the most important part of an application? What’s the most unique quality of this university?
As with almost everything in life, college visits are a toss-up. They have their positives and their negatives. All things considered, I’d say that college visits are worth going on if you can find the time and money to go on them. Preview days can also be a fun experience and a great way to learn about campus culture, a school’s “vibe.”
Going to college without seeing the school first is a bad idea because you may end up not liking a million different things about your new environment: the dorms, the student body, the campus culture, the food, the teachers. Any number of things can be seen by visiting the campuses of universities, and that’s why it’s important to make those visits before committing and even applying to a school. Make sure you add “college visits” to your to-do list if you have yet to do so!