12 tips (plus 1) for successful college visits

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  1. Rent a fun car if you can.
    Of course this is not germane to any aspect of your college search.  But you are probably going to rent a car anyway, right?  If you do, have fun pulling into the admissions parking lot in something cute or fast (or both) and imagining it’s your first day of school.
  2. Pace yourself.
    I cannot emphasize this enough.  We came up with this guideline: one school per day + no more than three schools in a row.  Any more and it becomes impossible to remember details because it all blends together.
  3. Plan down time.
    It is good to make notes on what you saw or heard that day, write down questions you have, and look at your initial impressions.  Write these down. Then, do whatever is regenerating for you.  This might be playing video games, taking photographs of the town, reading, or just sitting on a park bench.
  4. Wear comfortable shoes.
  5. Bring a camera and use it.
    I love taking photos and usually travel with a large SLR + multiple lenses.  That said, it feels unwieldy and distracting to get out during a campus tour.  I don’t want to spend a lot of time composing and framing shots – the college visit is not about photo opportunities, it is for learning about the school.  I brought a point-and-shoot and used to it capture snaps and impressions.  This helped later to remind us of what we saw.
  6. Do a little research about the school.
    Visit their website and get on their mailing list.  Read the material they’ve sent you.  Whether you  meet with a student tour-guide, attend an admissions presentation, or have a one-on-one interview with an admissions rep, you will learn more and look more interested if you ask real questions.

    University Website (from xkcd.com – click image for site)
  7. Do the tour.
    It usually takes about an hour and you learn things you likely wouldn’t by walking around on your own.  Look for extra tours of special programs if you have specific interests.
  8. Stay close to the tour guide.
    You can better hear what they say and ask your questions (see #6 above).  Obviously, not everyone can be next to the tour guide, but you have the advantage of having read these tips.
  9. Walk around on your own.
    You will learn things you might not find out on the tour.  Approach people everywhere you go – ask questions, directions, etc. – to get a sense of how friendly and welcoming the campus culture is.
  10. Have a meal on campus.
    Ask about access to the actual dining halls (rather than cafés or pubs).  Many campuses will give you passes for free or discounted meals.
  11. Pick up printed materials on your way OUT.
    You do not need to carry that stuff around on the tour.  Be sure to collect cards for your tour guide and the admissions folks you meet.
  12. Send a thank you note (email is fine).
    Include any questions you thought of after your visit.  Even if you decide not to attend this school, it is good form to thank folks who spent time with you.  You never know where you – or they – will turn up next.


  1. Check out the fro yo.
    When I showed Kristina the list and asked what was missing, this was her immediate answer.


These tips work for us.  Your experience may differ in large or small ways.  We do not guarantee a successful college visit, even if you follow our tips, although we do think you have a better than average chance.  References to chance or bets are simple turns-of-phrase and are not intended to promote gambling.  If you hear this paragraph in your head in a fast-talking deep-toned announcer’s voice, you are doing it right.

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