4 Ways to Experience Campus and What to Expect

young man traveler with a backpack on his shoulder out sightseeiThere are several ways to experience a college campus and each leaves you with a different perspective on academics, student life, and campus atmosphere. There are benefits and risks with each type of visiting opportunity for prospective students. Looking back on my own college experiences, I would suggest utilizing at least two of these options. Even visiting a third time through a different avenue could give you a whole new perspective to help you make your decision. Here are the major items to consider when choosing a day to visit:

Visit Days

Benefits:

  • You will see the campus in action with tons of students around and the atmosphere will be similar to everyday life as a resident student.
  • Typically, you will have the opportunity to meet a large number of faculty and staff at the campus fair, which is otherwise difficult to arrange.
  • Most schools offer lunch in their cafeteria for free, so you get to experience a meal on campus and you don’t pay for the experience.

Risks:

  • Schools often roll out the red carpet for their visitors and shy away from any negative aspects of the campus so that visitors will see only the best the school has to offer.
  • Less individualized attention is available from staff, which results in no opportunities for individual appointments during the visit.
  • Less freedom to personalize your visit to fit your needs or interests, like athletics or extensive questions about the availability of special accommodations.

Personal Visits

Benefits:

  • Everything is personalized so you can pick and choose what fits your needs and interests. Even the tour portion would likely be personalized to fit your interests.
  • You have a lot of opportunities during the visit to ask important questions or discuss confidential matters while you are meeting in the offices.
  • Staff are completely focused on you instead of juggling dozens of visitors at once. They can go through point by point to discuss options for your major, financial aid, or anything you need for admission.

Risks:

  • You may not see the best the campus has to offer because of the day, time, or campus schedule. For example, visiting during exam week will provide you with a lot of stressed students and busy offices.
  • You may not get all of the appointments you want if you are not able to be flexible. Counselors travel frequently, current students will be making appointments with financial aid, and sometimes schedules just don’t mesh.
  • You may face some intimidation as you make your way across a busy campus on your own without the friendly staff and student employees greeting you at every stop.

Scholarship Events

Benefits:

  • They are pursuing the best of the best students at these events, so they have a high opinion of you if they invite you to these events. You could have the chance to distinguish yourself early on.
  • Some schools will roll out the red carpet for you and give you networking opportunities with faculty and staff that other students would only dream about. (I was given connections to the Honors Program at a scholarship interview day at a college.)
  • You will have a more complete picture of your financial situation, and perhaps even some opportunities to improve it.

Risks:

  • When a school rolls out the red carpet, they brush some things under the rug, so don’t make this your only campus visit experience. I was given a catered lunch at a school with a reputation for poor cafeteria experiences and I never had a chance to sample it for myself.
  • Not all networking opportunities are of the same value. Your future academic advisor is going to work with you throughout your college years, but he or she is not the one who decides on your aid awards or your acceptance. Don’t confuse them with admissions counselors.
  • If you are depending on a good result from a scholarship event to be the deciding factor on where you will attend, be wary because the results of awards may not come in before other colleges have finished accepting students for the fall term. Waiting too long could cost you a great opportunity.

Overnight Visits

Benefits:

  • You will have a full campus experience. I wish I would have been given the opportunity to see what a “day in the life” was like.
  • You can connect with upperclassmen who will give you an idea of what it is like to be close to the end of a degree program, and who would potentially become your friends if you choose that school.
  • You will get a much better feel for the campus community and student life experience. If I could go back over it I would have preferred to talk to more students to see how easy it was to make friends and I would have been a lot more comfortable with my choice.

Risks:

  • There are a lot of students on campus, and they will probably assume you are also a student and treat you as such. This is good for the experience, but could also cause a few bumps if there is a curfew, fire drill, or assigned seating in class.
  • You will get the negative view of the campus from people who are unhappy with their choice in university or with the major they have chosen. It could taint your view of the school.
  • You might be put off by the residence life experience at school because freshman residences are usually the oldest buildings (sometimes with curfews) and seniors get privilege, or you may have unrealistic expectations because you stayed with upperclassmen in a nicer residence hall.

Campus visits are one of the most significant things you will do as a prospective student. In general, you should make it a point to try the food, make a connection with someone in your program/department, and you should definitely find out what financial aid is available before you make any decisions about the school.

Ultimately, I made my choice based upon a mixture of financial options, housing quality, and the atmosphere of the campus. I realized I was in a place I could live for four years without having to dream of the weekend when I could go home again. I could be there and enjoy my time on campus.

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