In my experience, students and families often overthink specific aspects of the college admission process. Visiting colleges is one of these areas.

Many clients believe they need a “strategy,” along with “tactics,” that define “measurable outcomes” for the perfect college visit that will help them get into their “dream school.” However, this is an extreme way to overthink college visits.

That said, here are some specific ideas I share with families that I think everyone should think about and apply when visiting colleges.

1. Take an Official Tour

Every college and university in the United States has a visit program set up for interested students and families. I insist that my clients take an official college tour through the university’s admission office. This is as easy as navigating to the college website, finding the link that says something like “visit our campus,” and following the directions to schedule a time in advance.

A campus tour usually involves an information session with an admission officer and then a tour of the campus, often led by a student.

Taking the official tour is important for a lot of reasons. One is the opportunity to officially (on the record) declare your interest in the college. It is true that some colleges use demonstrated interest to gauge the likelihood of a student attending. College visits are one of the most reliable measures of demonstrated interest that colleges use.

Another reason to take the official tour is simply that this is an opportunity for the university to put its best foot forward. If a student walks around campus on their own, visiting a friend or checking out a few buildings, they only receive a small fraction of information that they might truly need to make an informed decision about whether this college is a good fit for them.

2. Take Some Extra Time on Campus

If your schedule allows, after your tour, hang out on campus for a bit. Get a cup of coffee or even have lunch in the dining hall.

If you have more time before your visit, check out the campus calendar (which is always online) and see if there are any lectures, sporting events, or performances that you might be interested in attending. Even if you cannot attend these events, reading about what is happening on campus will give you a good idea of what campus life is like.

3. Consider Scheduling an Admission Interview

Fewer and fewer colleges are conducting on-campus interviews for prospective students (many colleges are turning to alumni interviews held in local areas off-campus). Nevertheless, when scheduling your visit, inquire as to the possibility of having an admission interview at the same time.

4. Relax and Enjoy the Day

I know this seems a little insincere or vague. But when you overthink college visits, and you are caught up in the anxiety that is sometimes hard to avoid around applying to college, you miss a lot of the benefits of visiting a college.

Take a deep breath and look around. Most college campuses are quite beautiful. I always think that a lousy day visiting a college is better than most days trudging away at work, commuting, or doing all the things I have to do at home.

So, I would like to encourage you to take your time, look around and soak up the atmosphere. If you think your tour guide is not so great, do not judge the entire campus on this one person’s account. If one building seems a little old or out of date, do not conclude that the entire campus is old and broken-down.

5. Ask Questions If You Have Any

More than once, I have had clients inquire what the “correct” questions are to ask on a college visit. These students are so caught up in the idea that they are being judged during the visit that they believe they need to have a set of intelligent, unique questions to ask because it will help them stand out.

The truth is, you are not being judged when you are visiting the campus. Of course, you should be on your best behavior because, if you are not, then you likely will be judged. But colleges are not going out of their way to evaluate a student or their family when they visit.

Therefore, the questions you ask should be natural. If you sincerely want to know something about the campus, ask. However, if you’re not sure what to ask, or if you are more inclined to sit back, soak it all in, and figure out if this is a place you will feel comfortable at, then it is perfectly okay to let your visit unfold spontaneously.

Maybe you will formulate some questions on the drive home. Maybe your questions will come much later. Or perhaps you don’t know what your questions are at all.

That is what the college visit is for—to help you formulate a clear idea of what you are looking for and where you think you would fit.

6. Follow Up

Showing some simple gratitude for the fact that the college just rolled out the red carpet for you and your family is an easy and valuable step after your visit. If you met an admission officer during the visit, ask for their business card, so you know where to send a thank you email. And if your tour guide went out of the way to connect with you, send them an email as well.

If you want to know more about how to make your college visits productive, or if you are looking for help with other aspects of the college admission process, I would be happy to use my experience as an Independent Educational Consultant in your behalf.

Please, contact me or read more about how I can help guide you to success with my high school college counseling services.