Make the Most of the College Visit – 12 Tips From a Pro

Make the Most of the College Visit – 12 Tips From a Pro


Katherine Thomas
College Counseling Director at North Yarmouth Academy

Katherine has a BA in English from Williams College. After teaching in Japan for a year, Katherine worked in college counseling at Woodberry Forest School and Foxcroft School, both in Virginia. She came to NYA in 2006. She is involved in regional and national college counseling association events and travels regularly doing her own campus ‘research.’ Below are her expert tips on how to get the most out of your college visit.

Spring and fall is a time when many students and families are hitting the road to visit colleges and universities. For seniors, this is a critical part of their decision making process as they now have admissions decisions in hand and know what their options are. For many of these seniors, the April college visit is not the first time they have been on campus and the revisit is an opportunity to get answers to outstanding questions as well as to meet other admitted students before making a final decision. For juniors and their parents, however, this is often the first time they will experience the campus visit. How can a family make the most of the campus visit? There are several important factors to consider:

ONE: Plan ahead. Ideally, the student will be actively engaged in the process of researching opportunities to take campus tours or participate in information sessions. Most are scheduled for specific times at each campus, and some admissions offices will want to know in advance if you are planning to attend.

TWO: If possible, try to avoid packing more than two campus visits in to one day. Depending on how much time you have to devote to each visit, the campus tour often provides the biggest bang for the buck in terms of giving the student and overall feel for the space, the facilities and offerings as well as basics involving academic requirements and social life.

THREE: Take time as a family before the visit to discuss any ground rules that might be important to you. Some students enjoy taking the tour on their own (or separate from their parents in a large group) and would prefer to ask their own questions instead of relying on a parent to do so.

Consider having a ‘park bench chat’ where you take time to ask a student or two on campus about their experiences there.

FOUR: If there is time, consider sitting in on an information session. In these large group gatherings, students and families are provided with more detailed information on everything from admissions requirements and profiles of admitted students to athletic and extracurricular offerings as well as certain things that an admissions office wants to highlight as being distinctive about their school or programs. Most information sessions will conclude with plenty of time for questions and answers.

FIVE: With both the campus tour and the information session, take time before and during each to consider what questions you are eager to have answered. Consider asking more discerning questions such as whether the interviews (if offered) are evaluative or not, or whether a college is tracking demonstrated interest on the part of the student in the process.

NYA Halloween 2014 - 324StoryImageSIX: If a college is tracking interest, you’ll know it is important to take advantage of every point of contact possible: doing that campus visit, taking advantage of the interview and meeting with their visiting representative in the fall if they come to your school.

SEVEN: Consider asking questions that you can’t find quick and easy answers to by searching a college’s website or printed literature, such as whether there are any traditions that students hold dear or what types of weekend entertainment are most popular with students.

EIGHT: If you have a very specific academic interest that you are eager to pursue in college, consider contacting a professor in that department well before your visit to try to set up a time to meet briefly to discuss your interests and how that college’s program might serve them.

NINE: Pick up a student newspaper (usually available near entrances to buildings, in dining halls and the library) to read later in order to get a sense of what students are talking about on campus.

TEN: Ask the admissions office staff whether it is possible to eat a meal in the dining hall (sometimes they will even offer you a free pass!)…

ELEVEN: Perhaps most importantly, take time to strike out on your own and get away from the admissions office. Their highly trained staff is well versed in the art of marketing their wonderful school. Consider having a ‘park bench chat’ where you take time to ask a student or two on campus about their experiences there. While it may not be a representative sample, these quick conversations can offer important insights not available elsewhere. One thing I often ask students, especially if they are in their first or second year, is how they came to choose this particular college. What were their options and why did they select the college they are attending. Have they been happy with their choice? Is there anything they could change if they could?

TWELVE: Finally, at the end of a campus visit, consider making time for the student to write down a few brief reflections as soon as they get back to the car. Students often come back to these written observations of their time on campus when, when, after many visits, images can tend to blur and they are trying to make sense of what was distinct about each one. Also, if the student ends up applying to that particular school, they will usually be asked during the application process to reflect briefly on why they are applying and what they like about the school. Being able to tap into these specific observations often provides students with a head start to providing more compelling and personalized answers when it comes time to answer those questions.

North Yarmouth Academy is an independent, college preparatory, coeducational school for toddlers to students in grade twelve. Since 1814, NYA has fostered integrity, character, and intellect in its students. For more information, please contact NYA at 207-847-5423 or visit our website at