Pros and Cons of Visiting a College Before Applying
A lush, green quad.
Top-notch honors program.
Six dining halls.
Intramural sports teams.
These are just some of the perks you might find on a college campus. But how do you know exactly what each college offers? Sure, each one has a website and Facebook page. Is that enough to determine whether it will be a good fit for you? Should you make the effort to visit so you can see for yourself before you apply?
The short answer? Maybe.
There is a lot to take into consideration before you plan college visits, especially when there is a worldwide pandemic happening. The decision to visit colleges ultimately comes down to a few areas of consideration including campus experience, demonstrated interest, application preparation, cost, time, and safety.
The first and most obvious reason to visit a college campus is to get a better feel of the student experience. There are countless factors differentiating one campus from another whether it be outstanding engineering programs or locally sourced ice cream. Every student has a different idea of what they want to experience while getting their undergraduate education, and the easiest way to see if a college aligns with your ideal experience is to see it in person. Many colleges facilitate tours led by current students so that you can ask questions to someone who is knowledgeable about the campus but can still easily relate to your concerns. Furthermore, some schools allow for prospective students to stay overnight on campus to help them experience what “a day in the life” would truly be like on campus. Visiting a college campus also allows you to explore the surrounding area. While college students spend most of their time on campus, many find it valuable to have accessibility to cities, parks, trails, etc. in the local region. Many college advisors are also available to discuss the school’s programs during your visit. This can be extremely valuable if you are having difficulty deciding on a major or are unclear what programs would be best suited for your career goals.
There is a widespread belief that making the effort to visit shows “demonstrated interest” and can put you ahead in the college’s application pool. However, most college admissions advisors do not disclose whether this is a factor in deciding on a student’s application. While there is no concrete evidence in whether attending a college visit will put you ahead, it definitely won’t pull you behind. The more networking you do with faculty and admissions advisors, the better chance you have of an admissions committee recognizing your name when reviewing your application.
Many schools require that you submit an essay describing why you are interested in attending. This question is much easier to answer if you have real experiences to use as the foundation of your essay. For example, you could describe some of the connections you made on campus during your visit and how those individuals influenced your decision to apply. Perhaps you discovered a new program of study while touring campus that you are highly interested in pursuing. From the culture to the honors college, the character of a school is much easier to describe when you have experienced it in person.
It is no secret that travel can be expensive. Many students dream of attending colleges far from home because they want to cultivate independence and explore new areas. However, travel to those places typically comes with a hefty price tag when you factor in plane tickets, hotel stays, and eating out. Although most schools require you to pay travel expenses out of pocket, it is worth checking if the school has lodging or meal discounts while visiting. For example, some schools facilitate dorm room stays for potential students. In the end, you must consider whether you have the financial resources to visit distant colleges before planning your trip.
Life can be busy, especially for high school juniors and seniors. From football games to prom, there are plenty of events taking up the weekends of students. It is sometimes difficult to carve out enough time to visit colleges, even more so if you are planning to attend out-of-state schools. Typically, students are accompanied by a parent or guardian during a college visit. This means that vacation time is often used, which can be challenging for many. It should be noted, however, that many schools offer weekend tours. This allows more flexibility in planning visits, especially if you are planning to apply only to local colleges.
This factor is one that would not have seen on this blog post in 2019. However, the reality is that safety and health are an especially important consideration with the impact COVID-19 has had on our country and world during the past year. Traveling to college campuses could potentially increase your risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Although most colleges have countless safety measures in place to prevent the spread, it is important to follow recommendations made by the CDC and local officials. The CDC has continually advised that individuals limit or postpone travel in order to mitigate risk, and it is important to consider these guidelines before visiting colleges. Additionally, many colleges are doing virtual tours in place of in-person visits, so it is essential to verify each college’s touring procedure prior to making travel plans.
This year is more complicated than most regarding college visits, and you must carefully consider if the value of the college visit outweighs the risk. While there is a lot to gain from visiting a college, if it feels burdensome or stressful, then it is probably worth skipping the visit and focusing on other ways to find out more information.