In the coming weeks and months, high school juniors and their families will take advantage of vacations and long weekends to visit college campuses around the country.

But how should students plan for these visits? How do they maximize a day on campus?

We spoke with Cigus Vanni – former admissions counselor at Swarthmore and guidance counselor in New Jersey, and accredited member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling – about college visits.
 

How should students choose what colleges to visit?

Many students approach the college search process ass-backwards. They look outside themselves. They see a college that looks attractive, prestigious, and reputable, and they change themselves to be a person for that college.

What students should really do is look inside first. What are your values, interests, and sensibilities? What is meaningful and important to you? Then it’s easy to find a college.
 

How should students plan a visit?

Before you visit a college, make sure you do your homework. Make sure you have an agenda.

Come prepared with questions and concerns you want addressed from your tour guide or an admissions officer.

Think of questions that cannot be found on a website. Do not ask if a college has a nursing program when you could have looked that up before. Ask them questions that directly relate to your personal goals and personality.

If you want to meet a coach or sit in on a class, plan ahead and contact people beforehand.
 

What is the significance of a campus tour?

It’s remarkable the influence a tour guide can have on the perception of a college. You say over and over that this is one student out of thousands – for good or bad.

Beyond the tour guide, you need to approach the tour critically. You cannot base a decision on the landscaping or other superficial characteristics.
 

How should you approach a tour or information session?

Bring a notebook. Remember the first impressions you had. Take notes on specific names of people you meet and buildings you tour on campus.

At end of the information session, introduce yourself to an admissions officer. They remember students if they leave an impression – they may even follow up if the student applies. And then remember to follow up with people you meet.
 

Beyond the tour and information session, how else can you spend quality time on campus?

Have academic and personal awareness. Read the bulletin boards to get a sense of the environment: are the bulletin posts political, boring, or confrontational? Even read the graffiti in bathroom stalls!

Notice the other students as you walk around campus. Are they engaging? Do they make eye contact? Do they smile?

Spend thirty minutes walking around on your own. Grab a meal on campus.
 

Do classes have to be in session?

Preferably yes, but if not it’s not bad. It’s like a family looking to buy a home and seeing an empty house – you at least get a feel. It’s better to go than not to go, even if not fully operational.

Some schools have summer sessions and it doesn’t look that different, anyways. The only not ideal time is maybe during vacations during the school year when campus can be fairly empty.
 

Do college track demonstrated interest?

It’s random and all over the board. For example – Emory used to track everything. Now, they do not track visitors at all. Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon is totally obsessed.

Most schools ask that you register for a tour ahead of time and book your visit. That is one way they keep track of visitors.

Here is the general rule of thumb: if a campus is within 250 miles, you should visit. Especially the smaller schools will wonder how invested you are as an applicant if you do not visit.

Don’t bankrupt yourself, especially for faraway schools. You can take virtual tours and visit resembling schools more locally.
 

So is visiting colleges essential?

Not essential. It’s not as vitally important as people make it out to be in terms of demonstrating interest. It’s more for peace of mind.