Campus Visit Checklist: 4 Tips From the Other Side of the Desk

Tour? Check.

Info Session? Check.

Interview? Check.

Campus Visit = Complete

Not so fast.

Before dashing off to the next stop on your itinerary, it’s important to consider the purpose of these visits and to think about what happens post-visit. You’ve probably invested a fair amount of time and money in the planning and execution of your trip, so we’ve decided to provide you with 4 not-so-obvious tips for your visits. We’ve even gotten a few of our expert admission friends to give their 2 cents to make these tips even more legit.

#1: Follow Your Stomach

Food. All high schoolers love to eat and that doesn’t stop when you head to college. While some campus tours will include a stop in a dining hall as part of the tour, most will also allow you to eat a meal while on campus. If you plan your schedule right, you can head to a dining spot on campus after your tour and not only get some grub, but also have the chance to scope out students in their natural habitat. 

“It can be very revealing to have a meal in the dining hall,” says Charlie Laube, Associate Director of Admissions at the College of Wooster in Ohio. “It’s a great way to see if students seem happy, rested, and engaged. Every admissions office is going to say their students are happy and enjoying the college experience. However, spending one hour in a dining hall is a way to verify some of the information that is shared on the tour.”

Andy Marshall, Assistant Director of Admission at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA agrees.

“I always recommend that a student take some time to sit in the coffee shop on campus,” says Marshall. “See who comes in, what they are talking about, what books they are reading, and what the general vibe of the students is. If you are comfortable, introduce yourself to the table next to you and ask them about their day. Spending time in this natural gathering place on campus is a great way to immerse yourself in campus culture.”

#2: Become a Local

One mistake so many students make when looking for their dream college is thinking that the campus is a bubble. Unless you’re living in The Truman Show, you’ll most likely have some contact with the outside (i.e. off-campus) world while you are in school. Families often speed through their campus tour and hop back in the car to their next stop without spending a moment exploring the surrounding area. We hate to say it but you might be in for a big shock when you discover on move-in-day that there is nary a Target nor a Winn Dixie to be had within miles. And miles. Oh, and did we mention that students are discouraged from going off campus after dark? Or during daylight, for that matter. Just a little something we thought you should know. For these reasons, and many more, it’s important that you take some time to check out the city or town which houses your “dream school” so you aren’t surprised when you arrive. In fact, ask your tour guide for a suggested lunch spot or place to have coffee in town. 

“There are several nice restaurants within walking distance of our campus where families can enjoy lunch or dinner before or after the tour and get a better sense for the downtown area,” says Emily Ernes, an Enrollment Advisor at Gannon University in Erie, PA. “Our campus is located in a fun little city and I’ve talked to a number of families who have planned to stay before or after their campus visit to go to area festivals or to enjoy biking, kayaking, or head to the nearby beach.”

Marshall also suggests students stick around for evening events happening locally and on-campus.

“Check out a local events calendar online and plan your visit around something that interests you,” says Marshall. “Go to a concert, theater performance, lecture or attend a sporting event on campus that night. College is also about having fun, so it’s important to see what students do after hours.” 

#3: Make Sure It’s Clear Who’s Applying

We. The word that, when used in the context of a college applicant, can send shivers down the spines of admission and college counselors everywhere. 

“WE are looking at Duke and Notre Dame.” 

“WE broke the 30 threshold on the ACT!” 

“WE are still deciding what to write about for the essay.” 

Now, don’t get us wrong. Parents are key players in the college search. Their role is important and their value shouldn’t be downplayed. That being said, the reality is that the student should be the one driving this process. They should be empowered and entrusted to ask questions, make choices, and discover the place that will be their launchpad into adulthood. This is especially true when interacting with folks during the admission process as you want to make sure it’s the student, not the parent, who is being evaluated.

“When visiting campus, let your student ask the questions,” says Nathan Mawhirter, an admission counselor at Southern Methodist University in Texas. “At the end of the day, it is their college experience and the ‘right fit’ is something that only they will be able to know. Parents are welcome to ask questions on tours, but the students should also have an active role in exploring the campus and getting the answers they want.”

Laube from Wooster encourages parents to practice active listening and let their child drive the visit experience.

“During the trip to the school, parents should have a conversation with their teen to put together a list of questions that are important to both student and parents,” says Laube. “Once there, have the student lead the process. After all, unless the parent is planning on attending school with the their student, the student should drive the conversation. I have seen it time and time again when an overbearing parent dominates the conversation and the student shuts down. Trust that your parenting has helped develop a strong and capable young adult.”

#4: Buy Stamps

In the rush of trekking from one campus to another, students often forget that not only have the folks they’ve met during their visits made a mark on them but that they, too, may have left an impression on those with whom they’ve interacted. These impressions are not to be taken lightly and can, in some cases, play a role in how a student’s application is viewed. For those schools that track “demonstrated interest”, a student’s genuine interest and contact with an institution can give them a slight boost in the review process. This isn’t to say that an unqualified candidate will get the fat envelope simply because they’ve been on campus multiple times and professed their love to a school. Colleges want students who would be a good fit both socially and academically AND who have shown that they have a true desire to attend their institution.

Aside from the whole “demonstrated interest” piece, showing appreciation to a school for their hospitality is just a plain nice thing to do. During a visit to any campus, students should make sure to get the business cards for any faculty or staff member with whom they interact and, while they’re at it, jot down the name of their tour guide. While enroute to the next campus visit or on the way home, they should take some time to write a quick note of thanks to those they met during their time on campus. It’s amazing how impactful a handwritten card can be. 

“I’ve received 8 handwritten thank you notes during my 2 ½ years working in admissions at Gannon...and they are all hanging on my office bulletin board!” says Ernes. “The extra step of sending a handwritten note really stands out. I appreciate all of the feedback I get from students and really enjoy hearing from students who had great experiences on campus.”

Mawhirter agrees that students who make the effort to write a thank you note can really stand out from the pack of SMU applicants.

“I love receiving some type of thank you from students after their visit, although it is rare,” says Mawhirter. “In the digital age, a simple card can really speak volumes and help make a connection between you and the counselor. That relationship can really benefit the student during the admission review process.”

As you prepare to head into what feels like an abyss of buildings, info sessions and bookstore visits, take some time to remember why you are embarking on this process and think about what impression you want to leave on those whom you meet along the way. Approach your visits with an eye towards the future and not just the moment. Pay attention, trust your gut and enjoy the journey. Oh, and stamps. Don’t forget the stamps.