Of all the steps involved in applying to colleges in a thorough and thoughtful way, perhaps visiting colleges is the most important.
In fact, it is never too early to visit a college.
Though, it is not a race by any means either. It is not about trying to beat your peers in an attempt to compete with them to see who can visit the earliest.
But as soon as you (and your family) wonder “What college is a good fit for me?” or “Where would I be happy?”, it is time to start planning to physically visit colleges.
Why Is It Important and Helpful to Visit Colleges?
Visiting colleges in person can benefit you in several important ways in connection with the application process.
Benefit #1: Best Way to Learn About a College
Passive ways to learn about colleges include reading about them on the internet or in a guidebook and talking to others—family, friends, counselors—about their experiences with these colleges. While it is important to gather information about schools in that way, in the end, you are just listening to someone else’s opinion.
But that is not enough.
The bottom line is, if you do not take an active role in really exploring what it feels like to be on a school’s campus, you are missing out on perhaps the most important step to help you figure out where you should apply.
There is something completely and profoundly different about putting your own two feet on a campus in comparison with simply reading about the college. Actually putting yourself in the shoes of a prospective college student, walking the ground, listening, and observing can give you very specific insight about a particular place.
Visiting allows you to see how you feel about being at that college.
Benefit #2: Demonstrated Interest
Demonstrated Interest is a tool a lot of colleges use to gauge whether a student has a high likelihood of coming to their school if they are admitted. To make this determination, colleges analyze a lot of data, such as how many times they have contacted the college or what zip code they live in.
Consistently, what the experts and consultants who advise colleges say is that one of the most reliable ways to gauge Demonstrated Interest is whether or not the student has visited the campus.
In essence, there is some strategy involved when you visit colleges. To a growing number of schools, visiting becomes a data point that could have a positive impact on a college’s admission decision.
Benefit #3: Answering the “Why Us?” Essay Question with Conviction
Many colleges require an essay that asks the question: “Why do you want to go to our school?”
Clearly, visiting a school can be a wonderful opportunity for you to start your essay with: “When I visited…, I learned the following…” And then you can list your observations and experiences in a way that is convincing, authentic, and exciting for the admission officer to read.
What Are the Most Common Misconceptions About Visiting Colleges?
Even though there are many good reasons to visit a college, some supposed “benefits” are actually myths.
Myth #1: Visiting a College Campus Is a Surefire Way to Get You Into a Highly Selective School
The truth is, while you can officially record that you have Demonstrated Interest in a school, visiting a college does not make it certain that it will get you into a “better,” more selective school.
Visiting a college is something you do primarily for yourself, to learn about the school. It can give you ideas for writing a great essay and help you make good decisions about whether or not to apply. And it may have some positive effects on your admission.
Still, do not misconstrue the reality of getting into a selective school. Many of the most selective universities in the United States truly do not consider the concept of Demonstrated Interest.
Myth #2: You Do Not Really Need to Visit a College Because You Already Know the Campus
In truth, although you may have been on a campus for events such as football games, a concert, a relative’s graduation, or just because it is down the street from where you live, does not mean you do not need to visit the college.
That is a big misconception.
It is completely different when you walk onto a campus to gauge whether you can see yourself at that school. Your perspective changes when you are not simply going to a campus for other purposes but for one purpose—making a decision about potentially spending four or more years of your life there.
The ONE Rule About Visiting Colleges
In order to get the most out of visiting a college and making sure that you really see the school from a potential admission point of view, you have to take the official tour through the admission office.
When visiting a college, you cannot simply walk around on campus alone, see a friend, or hang out after a football game or other event. No matter how many times you have been on campus, until you take the official tour (giving them your name and contact information), you are invisible to that college.
And, at the same time, you have not given yourself the opportunity to see what the college is looking for and what is going on for admission.
So, to ensure you are going about visiting a college the right way, there is one rule: You just have to sign up to take that official tour!
(No code. No secret handshake.)
If you would like to know more about how my years of experience as an Independent Educational Consultant can help you with choosing a college, please click on the link or contact me. It would be my pleasure to assist you with that process.