12 February 2015

Suggested College Tour Itineraries

college tours map

Here are some suggestions for schools to visit, grouped by region, to get you rolling. Each list includes 5-6 schools that offer a range of sizes, settings and selectivity to help imagine the possibilities.  We also suggest others worth considering and why.  

Cities currently covered include Boston, New York City, Syracuse, Washington DC, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  

Click on the Continue Reading link below to see our suggestions, or try our College Tour Planner to build your own custom campus tour itinerary.

Suggested starting point

  • Boston College
  • Northeastern
  • Boston University

These popular Boston area schools represent a good mix of size, setting and admissions selectivity.  All are easily accessed via public transportation, and given their relative proximity you can squeeze in two campus visits a day if necessary.  

For a taste of smaller schools in more rural locations, consider driving to western Massachusetts to visit Amherst , Williams , Hampshire College , Smith or UMass Amherst .  If you're interested in engineering, check out Olin , UMass Lowell and WPI , and if you're interested in entrepreneurship visit Babson .  

Boston campus visits itinerary

  • Sarah Lawrence

Though we've contained the list to schools in NYC, it's easy to venture out into upstate NY, Connecticut, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania if you're game.  If you're interested in visiting Ivy League schools, both Yale and Princeton are within relatively easy reach by car, bus or train. Cornell is four hours away, but if you head up that way you can also visit Colgate and Hamilton to give you a taste of small, medium and large schools in rural settings.  

New York campus visits itinerary

  • Syracuse University
  • Ithaca College
  • Hobart and William Smith

The schools on this list offer a great mix of size, setting and selectivity. If environmental science and forestry are your thing, check out SUNY ESF , and if you have time to venture to Rochester, check out the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology .

Syracuse campus visits itinerary

Washington DC

  • American University
  • George Washington
  • Johns Hopkins
  • University of Richmond
  • University of Virginia

The schools on this list are medium to large schools in suburban and urban settings. Time permitting, consider also checking out William & Mary , Virginia Tech and Washington and Lee .  

Washington DC campus visits itinerary

  • University of Chicago
  • Northwestern
  • University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign
  • University of Wisconsin

These schools are all classic medium-large universities. For a smaller school experience, check out the Colleges that Change Lives in the area, such as Knox , Beloit , Wheaton , Wabash , Kalamazoo and Cornell College .  

Chicago campus visits itinerary

  • Case Western
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • University of Michigan

These schools provide a broad mix of sizes and settings. Kenyon and Oberlin exude a small school, small town feel, Ohio state and Michigan a classic Big Ten college town feel, and Case Western and Carnegie Mellon a more urban feel.

Cleveland campus visits itinerary

San Francisco

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Santa Cruz
  • University of San Francisco
  • Santa Clara University

Most of the San Francisco Bay area schools tend to be larger in size, but offer great variety in terms of locale/setting. Three popular University of California campuses are within two hours: the more rural, bicycle-friendly Davis, the urban, progressive Berkeley, and the earthy-crunchy Santa Cruz.  

San Francisco campus visits itinerary

Los Angeles

  • Claremont Colleges
  • UC San Diego

These popular Southern California schools offer a good mix of size, setting and selectivity. You'll need a car to see them all, but in certain situations it's still very possible to squeeze in two campus visits a day.  The Claremont Colleges— Pomona , Claremont McKenna , Pitzer , Harvey Mudd and Scripps —are particularly interesting to visit because of their setup as a consortium with distinct campuses but shared classes.

If you're interested in STEM fields, be sure to check out Caltech and Harvey Mudd. If film or animation are your thing, check out Chapman University , Cal Arts and Loyola Marymount in addition to USC and UCLA.

Los Angeles campus visits itinerary

  • Tags: American , Amherst , Babson , Beloit , Boston College , Boston University , CalArts , Carnegie Mellon , Case Western , Chapman , Claremont McKenna , Colgate , Columbia , Cornell , Cornell College , Fordham , George Washington , Georgetown , Hamilton , Hampshire , Harvard , Harvey Mudd , Hobart and William Smith , Ithaca , Johns Hopkins , Kalamazoo , Kenyon , Knox , Loyola Marymount , Michigan , MIT , Northeastern , Northwestern , Notre Dame , NYU , Oberlin , Occidental , Ohio State , Olin , Pepperdine , Pitzer , Pomona , Princeton , Purdue , Rochester , Rochester Institute of Technology , Santa Clara , Sarah Lawrence , Scripps , Smith , Stanford , Syracuse , Tufts , UC Berkeley , UC Davis , UC San Diego , UC Santa Cruz , UCLA , UMass Amherst , UMass Lowell , University of Chicago , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign , University of Richmond , University of San Francisco , University of Virginia , USC , Virginia Tech , Wabash , Washington and Lee , Wheaton - IL , William & Mary , Williams , Wisconsin , WPI , Yale , Yeshiva
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Juniors, Now’s the Time to Schedule Your College Visits

Juniors, it’s time for you to get started on college visits.

Whether you’re thinking about knocking out one or two or hitting a series of colleges, here is your go-to guide for setting up a college visit. 

We’ll walk you through a steps to take before, during and after visits to help you find your perfect fit.

And if COVID-19 protocols are still underway, don’t miss our article about what to do when you can’t tour colleges in person .

What Can Juniors Do Right Now? 

Juniors can do a lot right now, including developing a checklist and other things you can put on the family calendar.

Step 1: Start talking.

That’s right. Sit down and have a conversation with your family.

What are you thinking you want to do for college? Do you think you want to go to a large school? A small school? What fits your personality and preferences?

Start talking with adults you trust about schools that make sense for your needs.

Step 2: Brainstorm.

Have no idea where to start? Start a brainstorming session where you write down your visions about what you think your college experience might be like.

Rather than throwing a dart at a map and jumping in the car, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few questions: 

  • Do you see yourself going to a large or small school?
  • Do you want a lot of personalized attention? 
  • Are you looking for a more selective institution? 
  • How far away from home do you want to live?
  • When you envision college, what do you think of?

In other words, think broadly about your college visit choices, then think more narrowly about the colleges you’d like to visit. 

Put a premium on relationships when you make this list.

What kind of people do you want to meet? What type of individuals do you want to learn from?

Remember, college is about way more than pretty residence halls, beautiful buildings and other aesthetic things. It’s about the people who influence you along the way.

Step 3: Research at least one college.

Choose at least one college and do as much research as you can. Learn more about that particular school’s:

  • Admission criteria
  • Results — how many students go to graduate school, get a job after graduation, etc.
  • School profile 
  • Academics and selectivity: Are you looking for a serious academic environment? Would you rather go to a school that focuses on undergraduate teaching — or research? 
  • Potential majors
  • Housing information
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Athletics opportunities

After you narrow down some of the “big” things, like distance from home and general experience, then you can start thinking about things like major, requirements and more.

Does this college college or university you’ve researched fit the bill? If not, look for another one. If that one makes sense, move toward school as your first visit.

Step 4: Check the calendar.

Once you’ve honed in on your first college to visit, figure out what visit day fits into your schedule. Check your calendar and your family members’ calendars too. Remember, mom and dad likely have to drive you to your visit or coordinate flights. You need to plan the visit with your parents, and you might need to make sure your brothers’ and sisters’ schedules are open too. 

How to Set Up a College Visits

First of all, make sure you (the student!) call the schools where you’re interested in setting up a visit.

Your mom or dad should not make the call. It’s time to put some of those adulting skills into practice.

Step 1: Think through what you want to do on your visit. 

Who are the must-see people on your radar—the soccer coach, tutoring center, a financial aid advisor? It’s OK if you’re not sure. You can work through some of these questions when you make your phone call to the admissions office.

Step 2: Call the college or university’s admissions office. 

Don’t set up a visit online. Talk to an actual person.

Or, if you do set up a visit online, call and make sure the admissions office received your scheduled visit—and that it didn’t get lost in cyberspace.

Have a detailed conversation about what you’d like to do when you’re on the visit.

Step 3: Ask for a personal campus visit. 

Try to steer clear of group visit days. 

Naturally, you’re an individual and have specific interests and needs.

When you’re stuck on a group visit, no one student will have the same interests as you. You could get stuck touring the gym for 25 minutes of your hour-long tour (even if you’re not an athlete or hate the thought of a treadmill). Who wants that?

A personal campus visit ensures your visit is all about you and nobody else.

Step 5: Get ready! 

You don’t want to start a college visit without doing some preparation. You want to know as much as possible about the college you’re visiting before you visit. 

Simple. You don’t want to waste time learning stuff you already know. If you already know the basics, like the size of the college, majors available and costs, why spend time relearning stuff you already know? 

Plus, it brings camaraderie with the admission staff or chemistry professors when you say, “Yeah! And that biochemistry secondary major—that sounds cool.”

You’ll never believe how much people’s eyes light up when you know something about the college or university already.

What to Do During/After Visits

When you arrive at the admissions office, go to the campus visit coordinator’s desk and introduce yourself. That individual will help you get your day started in the right direction. 

While you’re on your visit, do your best to ask great questions. You want to think of questions before you visit and ask everyone questions. Get each person talking about the college or university you’re visiting. It’s best to get candid thoughts from each individual you talk to.

This may sound like a pain, but it’s a good idea to get all your thoughts together and take a minute or two to jot down all your initial reactions to the college you’ve just visited. Grab your phone and type in some notes on the card or plane ride home.

Believe it or not, it’s difficult to remember each individual school after your 10th college visit.

Now’s the Time!

Juniors, we’ve offered everything you need to know about how to schedule a college visit .

It’s a matter of sitting down with your family members or other trusted adults, pouring over Niche’s 2021 college rankings and making lists of what matters to you.  

It’s going to be a great time, so have fun with the process. 

Ready to Find Your Niche? Create an Account

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Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!

More Articles By Niche

While many current college students tout the importance of being able to actually step foot onto the campus you might go to, sometimes the circumstances just do not work out.

At Niche, we know a college is more than its stats or buildings. We also know it can be hard to figure out a college’s vibe or how students feel about it from its website alone. Using our comprehensive college profiles and social media accounts, you can get a sense of what life at a college is really like. Here are three simple ways to do that.

In case you haven’t heard yet, Niche has an amazing new opportunity for high school seniors. Niche Direct Admissions is a program that allows participating colleges to accept students and offer scholarships based on their Niche Profile. That’s right — no application needed.

Campus Visits: Know Before You Go

Find the right college for you..

You can only tell so much from colleges' websites and brochures. By spending time on campus, you can speak in person with an admissions officer as well as students and get a good idea of what academic and social life are like there. When it's time to choose a college to attend, you'll be better prepared to make an informed decision.

Arrange a Campus Visit

All colleges have admissions offices that can help you plan your visit. Your high school may organize group tours of nearby colleges. And you can plan your own informal visit to a college campus. Take these important steps first:

  • Visit the college's admissions website to get details about arranging for an in-person visit.
  • Check with your school counselor to see if any campus tours are scheduled. 
  • Set aside time to be on your own. Walk around the public area.

What to Expect When You Get on Campus

Campus visits can range from a quick hour to an overnight stay and from a casual guided tour to a formal presentation. Be sure to ask how long the whole visit will take so that you can be prepared.

Most campus visits will include the following:

  • An information session, during which an admissions representative talks to you or your group about the college before the campus tour.
  • A campus tour: These are usually led by college students. You'll see the main parts of the campus and have a chance to ask questions.

At many colleges, you can also arrange to:

  • Attend a class.
  • Meet with a professor.
  • Meet with an admissions officer.
  • Meet with a financial aid officer.
  • Attend a club meeting or sports practice session.
  • Eat in a dining hall.
  • Spend the night in a dorm to experience student life.

Get Ready for Your Campus Tour

Before your visit, you need to prepare. It's a good idea to do these things:

  • Explore the college's official website, and review any materials the college has sent you. This will help you come up with questions specific to that college.
  • Make a list of questions to ask both staff and students. You can use our Campus Visit Checklist as a starting point.
  • Explore the map of the college campus and make a note of where the admissions office is so you’ll know where you’re going. This will help ensure that you're on time for your visit.

When you're ready to go, remember to:

  • Take notes in your phone or notebook so that you don’t forget the details of your collegiate trips. 
  • Take pictures so that you can remember what the campus looks like. 
  • Compare the colleges that you visit by using the Campus Visit Score Card .

What to Do if You Can't Make an In-Person Campus Visit

All is not lost if you can't visit in person. You can still:

  • Check the admissions website to see if they have virtual campus tours or events.
  • Talk to students who currently attend the college.
  • Go online to see if the college has a newspaper you can read. 
  • View Campus Reel videos on BigFuture.  

What should I take on a college campus tour?

When you visit any college, it's a good idea to take your smartphone or camera, notebook, and a small backpack. You'll want to make a record of your experience with pictures, videos, and notes. You may want a jacket or packable umbrella in your backpack to prepare for weather changes. Also, comfortable shoes are a good idea to avoid aching feet from taking the college tour.

What are 6 things you should do on a college visit?

One of the most useful things you can do on collegiate trips is to ask questions of current students. You'll likely get honest answers that will give you valuable insight into the school and its opportunities. Other things to do on a campus tour include:

  • Visit the library.
  • Visit classrooms.
  • Ask an admissions officer questions.
  • Take photos of at least three specific things you want to remember about the campus.
  • Have a meal in the dining hall.

How do you prepare for college tours?

Before you visit any college, it's best to make a checklist of what you'd like to see. Try to include things on your list that you may not see on the typical college tour. Another thing to do is make a reservation to participate in a campus tour so that you can work it into your schedule for the day in advance. Put your items in your backpack the night before your visit so you have everything you need in one place.

What are good questions to ask on a college tour?

The best college tour questions tend to be about campus life. A few examples of good questions include: What is the typical class size? Do all first-year students live on campus? What are some examples of extracurricular activities? Do all students have access to an academic adviser? Where do students go to relax outside of class?

Are college tours worth it?

Yes, it's worth your time to take collegiate trips. Looking at a college's website and reading pamphlets can only provide you with limited information. When you visit a college, you get to absorb the atmosphere on campus and hear firsthand impressions from the students themselves. Plus, when you tour a campus, it allows you to imagine yourself as a student there. An in-person campus tour and your research at home should combine to give you a clear impression of the college.

Related Articles

14 Tips for an Effective College Visit

Visiting a college can help a student determine if he or she wants to spend the next four years there.

Close up of a group of college students entering the university

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Finding the right fit.

For high school students in the process of researching a variety of colleges and universities , admissions professionals recommend scheduling campus visits to get a better feel for the schools. Some colleges track whether prospective students make an in-person visit and count it as "demonstrated interest," which could help admissions chances. For both students and families, campus visits are an important part of the process when choosing which college to attend. "They are very likely to show you things that you didn’t know you cared about. That’s a great first step," says Rachel Rubin, co-founder of admissions consulting company Spark Admissions. "It’s really important for families to think about what they want to know.” Here are 14 tips for how students can get the most out of college visits.

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  • Start planning early.

As students get closer to the final year of high school, their schedules are filled trying to balance school and a social life – all while exploring potential college campuses. To ease the stress, students and families may want to make visits sooner, ideally before senior year. The College Board recommends spring of junior year as a good time to visit campuses for students who have already done the research on those colleges. College visits are a good use of downtime over spring break, as well. Late summer and early fall before senior year are also convenient times, the College Board website notes, adding that classes may already be in session, allowing prospective students a fuller glimpse of campus life.

The young adult female guidance counselor listens carefully to the young adult female student.

  • Ask questions.

A campus visit is a great chance to not only see the campus, but also to ask questions about the school and what the experience is like on campus. While some information can be found on a school's website, speaking with student ambassadors or school officials while visiting campus can provide additional important information necessary for making a smart college decision. "I think the best way to make the most of the tours is to ask a lot of good questions of the tour guide and to engage with any current students to get their opinion on life on the campus,” says Satyajit Dattagupta, chief enrollment officer and senior vice chancellor at Northeastern University in Massachusetts.

Diverse group of smiling young college students talking while walking together down stairs at school between classes.

  • Get student perspectives.

The largest population on any college campus is the student body. Given their collective experience, it's likely they'll have opinions to share on academics, facilities, dining services , student life and more. Talking to current students is a valuable part of vetting a college and can provide prospective students with unfiltered perspectives about the school and the student experience. "Talk to as many students as you can to get a flavor of the student population," says Liz Doe Stone, a senior private counselor for Top Tier Admissions, an admissions consulting company. "Email students from your high school who attend that school and ask to get together for coffee when you’re on campus."

college visit planning map

  • Explore college through the lens of campus media.

Student newspapers can be a valuable source of insight into what's happening at a college. But don't stop there. The College Board's campus visit checklist also recommends tuning in to the campus radio station and reading other campus publications such as literary reviews and department newsletters. This allows students to find out what issues are popular on campus, controversies happening, new programs being created, what students are excited about and trends to be aware of, Stone says. "The more that you can do ahead of time to get to know the campus culture so that you can ask good questions to current students, that’s another great way to get a more authentic sense of what’s going on or what it would be like to be a student there."

High school or college students doing math problems on the whiteboard

  • Visit academic departments.

Along with being comfortable with the campus environment, students should explore academic departments that interest them. A great way to start can be touring facilities, sitting in on a class and meeting professors . This is a good way for students to learn about the areas where they might be spending the most time if they choose to attend school there, and it's also valuable information when comparing schools. For best results, email professors or administrators ahead of time to set up a meeting, Stone says, but even informal visits can be valuable.

Autumn Yellow Gingkoes Trees tunnel and pathway to the historical auditorium at the University of Tokyo, Japan

  • Check out other campuses nearby.

When visiting a college in person, prospective students should consider visiting other campuses nearby. Many major metro areas are home to multiple colleges, and even rural areas may have colleges that are surprisingly close together. As students plan their visits, families should take note of other options near the schools they intend to visit. "If you're going to spend some time traveling, whether it be across the state or across the country, you might as well try to maximize that and investigate other opportunities that are close and convenient," says Collin Palmer, associate vice president of enrollment management at Kent State University in Ohio.

Two men and a woman talking and laughing in a coffee shop while drinking coffee and eating breakfast together

  • Learn about the local community.

While the college is the main attraction, students shouldn't overlook the surrounding community where they may live and work when off campus. Take time to discover coffee shops, restaurants and other places you might enjoy visiting frequently, and consider how the community might factor into your education aspirations, says Kent Hopkins, vice president for academic enterprise enrollment at Arizona State University and ASU Global. Determine whether the community will provide internship or externship opportunities or serve as a potential career launch pad, he says. Palmer adds that students should also consider whether they're looking for an urban or rural experience , or what size city they prefer.

Clean cafe with empty chairs and tables

  • Visit a dining hall or student center.

The college dining hall is not only a place where many students consume a majority of their meals, but it also tends to be a community hub where students congregate to study or meet for clubs. Given the likelihood that much of a student's time will be spent in the dining hall or student center, experts say students and families should plan to eat at least one meal on campus to get a sense of available food options and other amenities. "That can be a great way not only to sample the on-campus food options, but also to have informal conversations with current students in line or at a nearby table,” Stone says. Some schools have particularly tasty options , and those with dietary restrictions should get a sense of whether the school can cater to their needs.

female student in silhouette looking at the books from the bookshelf

  • Explore the campus library.

Another place where students spend significant time is the campus library. Many campuses have more than one library, and there's often variety in what each library offers. Some have coffee shops and restaurants. Stone notes that some are open-stack libraries, meaning students can browse, select and check out books themselves. Others are closed-stack, meaning library staffers retrieve the books for students. Similarly, some campus libraries offer a slew of private study rooms with modern technology available to use for various projects. Prospective students should use the campus visit to make sure the school library fits their academic needs.

Teenage boy using laptop on table at home

  • Explore various virtual tour options.

Some colleges may be too far from home for students to make an initial visit. Online tools allow prospective students to take virtual tours from the comfort of their couches. Students can take self-guided virtual tours or sign up for more interactive options such as 360-degree video and virtual reality. Experts say virtual tours are good substitutes for those unable to visit in person. Some guided in-person tours may not take students to all the places they want to see, but through virtual tours students can investigate other aspects of campus. Virtual tours are especially valuable for international students, experts say.

Emergency blue light pole in quiet wooden foot path area

  • Ask about campus safety.

With the amount of time traditional college students spend on campus, feeling safe on school grounds is an important factor to consider when exploring colleges. Prospective students should ask tour guides about campus safety policies. In virtual campus tours, students can ask guides or the admissions office for more information. Federal law requires colleges to release information related to crime on and around campus. Families can check annual security reports to see recent incidents on campus. If anything stands out as a cause for concern, ask the school for more information on campus safety . While on campus, asking students how comfortable they feel at the school is a good way to gauge how safe students generally feel, Hopkins says.

Shot of a young woman using a mobile phone and laptop while working from home

  • Get financial aid information.

Along with understanding the culture of a school and the academic options it provides, students should research financial aid opportunities at a college. A campus visit is an opportunity to do just that. Finding out the types of aid available, such as merit-based and need-based, is one of the first questions students should ask when speaking with the financial aid office, Rubin says. “Students can also bargain for more money once they’re accepted, and that’s where they really have a leg up," she says. This can also help students budget for attending that school, Hopkins says, noting that families should be aware that cost of attendance is not the sticker price. Families should factor in room and board, travel expenses for students attending away from home and any aid or income that could help offset costs.

Sitting at the same table, the two male teenage friends talk during class.

  • Ask about disability accommodations.

Per the Americans with Disabilities Act, any school that accepts federal money is legally required to provide accommodations for qualifying students with disabilities . Some do the bare minimum, but others have strong programming for students with disabilities because they have a high number of students needing services. Some charge fees for certain services, like tutoring, so experts suggest taking time on a college visit to meet with the disabilities services office to ask what’s available and at what cost. “It’s really important for students to understand to what extent they need to fight for these services and always be on top of their teachers and make sure their accommodation plan goes out to everybody at the start of each semester," Rubin says.

Relaxed group of Hispanic classmates smiling and talking in electrical engineering lab. Property release attached.

  • Meet with clubs and organizations.

A big part of the college experience is the social component, and experts say students should make sure they attend a school where they can get involved in clubs and organizations. For example, students who are interested in joining a fraternity or sorority should check out Greek life housing and meet with the campus administrator overseeing Greek organizations. Those who enjoy sports recreationally should reach out to presidents or leaders of club sports organizations or someone who organizes intramural sports, Stone says. “I always tell students to talk to any extracurricular leaders tied into your interest,” she says. "So if you’re a violin player, speak to someone in the music department. If you love drama, talk to someone who is the head of the theater club."

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Learn more about colleges.

Get more advice about how to choose a college and check out the complete rankings of the Best Colleges to find the school that's best for you. For more advice and information on selecting a college, connect with U.S. News Education on X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook .

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College admissions

Course: college admissions   >   unit 3.

  • Visiting campus

Planning your college visit

Tips for planning your college visit.

  • Take a campus tour
  • Schedule an interview with an admissions officer
  • Sit in on a class that interests you
  • Have lunch in the dining hall (Most admissions officers can give you a voucher to enjoy a free lunch on campus)
  • Talk to students and ask questions (i.e. how they're enjoying their classes or what campus life is like)
  • Explore the area surrounding campus
  • Read the college newspaper
  • Scan the bulletin boards around campus for upcoming events and announcements
  • Schedule an overnight and spend the night in the dorms with a current student
  • Explore the town at night and have dinner at a local off-campus favorite amongst students
  • Make sure to get the contact information of the people you meet with so you can reach out later if you have questions

Strategize the order in which you visit these schools

Always follow-up with a "thank you" letter, there's a final reason you should visit your top choice schools....

  • Visiting campus and scheduling a tour
  • Overnight stay

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Good Answer

A Comprehensive Guide to Making the Most of Your College Visit

How to Plan & Prepare for Your College Visit

When you think about where you want to go to college, you’ll want to consider what it will be like to actually spend your time there, day by day. Does it not only offer the program you want, but also the resources to support it? And what about everything outside of the classroom? What other opportunities are available? Are you comfortable with the social environment, and can you handle the size of the student body? The climate?

One of the most helpful ways to answer these questions is to visit the schools you’re considering. Stepping on campus before you attend is a great way to predict what it would be like to step on campus as a student. A college visit can give you a first-hand experience that will ultimately help you narrow down your choices and find the perfect school for you.

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Why Should I Go on a College Visit?

A college visit will give you the chance to get an up-close-and-personal preview of what your future experience at a school could look like. Visits typically include an information session and a tour of the campus itself.

Information sessions provide an overview of a college’s academics and culture—its strengths, resources, and what makes it unique. This is the perfect chance for you to ask questions and learn about the history, traditions, and fun facts that are specific to a school. The campus tour is exactly what it sounds like—you will be shown important locations like the dining halls, library, student union, and examples of classrooms and dorm rooms. It’s the time for you to get a glimpse of the culture—class sizes, clubs and organizations, the quality of the facilities, and the general atmosphere of the school.

If you take full advantage of your visit, you’ll be able to leave with a pretty clear idea of what life as a student looks like. College visits also give your family the opportunity to take part in your selection process. Bringing parents, siblings, or extended family along for the ride allows them to gain an understanding of the environment, provide their input, and share in your excitement! It may also help ease some of their own fears and apprehensions about your potential new home.

A Comprehensive Guide to Making the Most of Your College Visit

Step 1: decide which schools to visit.

Although they’re helpful, college tours can be expensive and time consuming. You might want to narrow down your options if you have a lot of schools on your list of options. Do some research and try to figure out which colleges have the greatest potential of meeting your needs. Much of the academic information you need can usually be found on the college’s official website, but you may want to explore other resources as well. Consider the location, size, cost, and academic programs of each school, then compare all the options on your list and see which ones are worth traveling to.

Questions that you may want to ask:

  •     Does this college provide the program I may want to study?
  • It’s crucial to find a college that offers high-quality programs for your major .
  •    What’s the likelihood that I will be accepted into this school ?
  • If you know this college is a big stretch for you, you will have to decide whether the expense of a visit would be worth it.
  •    Am I comfortable with the size of this campus?
  • Though it definitely varies by school, smaller colleges may provide more one-on-one interactions with the professors and a tight-knit community, while larger colleges may provide more choices of majors, activities, and other opportunities than those with fewer students.
  •    Where is the college located?
  • Do you want to be able to drive home on the weekends, or would you rather stay in a unique environment far from home?
  • Do you want to experience an urban environment, or a small, “college-town” life?
  • How does climate factor into your decision?
  •    How much is tuition?
  • If you are accepted into a school, the next question to ask is whether you can afford to enroll! This factor can also vary depending on the location of the college; going to a school out of your home state can affect the price of tuition.
  •     What kind of financial aid can I leverage at this school?
  • Although tuition cost may be an issue, you may be able to rationalize the cost with the help of financial aid. Look into your options and determine whether tuition, room, and board will fit within your budget. For more ways to make attending the school of your choice more affordable, check out these guides:
  • How to Find—and Win—Scholarships: Your Complete Guide
  • Money Matters: Thinking About Financial Aid

Hopefully, these considerations can help you keep costs low while still benefiting from something as useful as a college visit . And if you want to visit a certain college but are unable to, check its website to see whether it offers a virtual tour. It may not give you the first-hand experience that an actual visit could provide, but a virtual tour is nevertheless a free, convenient way to see the campus from the comfort of their own homes.

More Guides for Conducting Your College Search

Step 2: Make a Reservation

College visits have limited space, so it’s important to make your reservation early. If you have a desired day and time in mind, you should reserve your spot before it fills up and then make your travel plans accordingly. Will you be able to drive, or do you need to book a flight? Will you need to stay overnight? To make your reservation, visit the college’s website and find the page that is dedicated to prospective students. The webpage will be filled with information about planning and reserving a campus tour, which may need to be done through the website, email, or phone.

Step 3: Prepare Questions for your College Visit

You will learn more than you can remember about your potential colleges during your visit, but it’s so important to do your research first and then come up with any questions or concerns you want to resolve while you are there. Just in case the information you want isn’t automatically part of the campus tour, you should have your must-know questions in mind. And, of course, bring along a notebook to keep track of what you learn. Here’s a handful of questions you might be curious about:

  • What is the average class size for courses in my major of interest?
  • Are most classes lecture based or discussion based?
  • What type of career services do you have?
  • Do you have a learning community or other freshman experience?
  • Do most freshmen live on campus? What about upperclassmen?
  • How is parking on campus?
  • What is your four-year graduation rate?
  • How do students interact with professors outside of class?
  • Do you have any advice on ways to get around campus?
  • How do you provide academic advice to students?
  • What clubs and organizations do you have on campus?
  • How soon can I meet with an admissions advisor?
  • What and where are the best places to eat on campus?
  • What do students typically do in their free time?
  • What facilities are available? (gyms, libraries, etc.)

Step 4: Schedule Your Day

Whether you’re staying for a single day or a whole weekend, your college visit will only last for a limited time. To stay efficient and get the most out of your visit, we recommend that you create a schedule of the activities that are important to you. Carve out time to explore the campus on your own or connect with any current students you know; this will help personalize your experience and give you a more in-depth idea of what student life is like.

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If possible, you could also consider attending a class, eating at the dining hall, or spending the night on campus—whatever will help you best understand what’s important to you as a student!

Step 5: Find a Map of Campus

A map can help you find specific areas you want to see, such as the buildings where the majority of your classes will take place in a specific major, athletic facilities you will want to use, or different libraries and study centers. It’s also helpful to know the size and layout of the school beforehand (especially if the campus is large!) to make navigation a little easier and faster while you are there.

Finally, take pictures! The more you document your visit, the easier it will be to reference all your likes and dislikes about the campus.

Get Excited

College visits are an important part of the selection process. What better way to understand student life than by living it yourself? Your experience on campus can make or break your decision, so it’s important to be as prepared as possible to learn everything that’s important to you. With a satisfactory college visit, you can leave each prospective college one step closer to your final decision!

More Helpful Guides: 

Accepted to Multiple Colleges? Here’s How to Confirm—and Reject—Your Admission

What is College Room & Board?

Who, When, and How to Ask for the Best Letter of Recommendation for College Admissions

High School Checklist: Freshmen through Senior Year

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College Visits Essentials: Making the Most of Your Campus Tours

College visits essentials.

Embarking on college visits and campus tours marks a significant milestone in the college search process. These experiences offer invaluable opportunities for prospective students to explore potential colleges firsthand, gaining insights into campus life, academics, and extracurricular opportunities. As you begin compiling your college list and narrowing down your choices, college visits can help you make informed decisions about your future.

In this article, we’ll delve into the essentials of college visits, offering practical college visit tips and a college visits checklist for maximizing your experience . We will cover everything from uncovering the questions you should ask during a college tour to understanding how to schedule and plan college visits effectively. And, we’ll look at things you may not have thought about, including having virtual college visits, conducting a self-guided tour, and navigating college campus tours safely and effectively.

We promise this article provides everything you need to know regarding the college visit process. Whether you’re just beginning your college search or fine-tuning your college list, these insights will help you navigate the complexities of the college visit process with confidence. 

Let’s get started!

Are College Visits Important?

When making one of the most significant decisions of your academic career, the role of college visits in the college search process cannot be overstated. College campus tours are a crucial part of the decision-making process, offering firsthand insights that can influence your college search.

First and foremost, college visits allow you to immerse yourself in the campus environment and explore academic facilities, dormitories, and recreational amenities. Whether you’re passionate about conducting research in state-of-the-art laboratories or participating in vibrant student organizations, visiting a college in person lets you assess whether it offers the resources and opportunities you seek.

Moreover, college visits offer the chance to interact with current students, faculty members, and admissions staff, providing invaluable perspectives on academics, extracurricular activities, and campus life. These personal connections offer unique insights you simply can’t gain from a website or brochure. 

Ultimately, the information and impressions gathered during college visits can significantly impact your college choice. By experiencing campuses firsthand, you can effectively consolidate your college list and compare your top colleges by understanding which colleges resonate with you. Before you make your final decision , you can use the information collected on the campus tours to demonstrate your interest in the college or university, increasing your chances of acceptance. 

What Should I Ask On A College Tour?

While college visits and campus tours provide invaluable firsthand experiences , it’s essential to do your homework before stepping foot on any campus. Here’s one of our “pre” college visit tips–conduct thorough research beforehand to help you make the most of your visit. By asking the right questions , you can gather the information you need to make an informed decision about your college choice.

Questions about academics

One crucial aspect of pre-tour research is identifying academic programs and resources that interest you. Take the time to explore the college’s website and familiarize yourself with the range of majors, minors, and academic opportunities available. Here are a couple of questions you may want to ask:

  • Can you provide more information about the [specific major/program]?
  • Are there opportunities for undergraduate research or internships in [area of interest]?

Questions about campus life

In addition to academic offerings, consider campus life and student services that you would like to know more about. Research the college’s extracurricular activities, student organizations, and campus events to understand the social and cultural opportunities available. Here are other questions you may want to ask:

  • What types of student organizations are active on campus?
  • Are there opportunities for community service or volunteer work?

More college visit questions

Furthermore, consider other aspects of the school that might not be immediately obvious. Research housing options for juniors, including on-campus dormitories, off-campus apartments, and housing policies for upperclassmen. Also, consider things like parking availability and policies regarding cars on campus. Consider asking questions such as:

  • What are the housing options for upperclassmen, and how is housing assigned?
  • Is parking available on campus for students, and are there any restrictions on bringing cars?

Conducting thorough research, and making your college visits checklist, is essential for making the most of any college visit.

How Many College Visits Should I Do?

When determining how many college visits you should do, you’ll need to strike a balance between quantity, quality, and expense. While visiting as many colleges as possible may seem ideal, college visits can get pricey. Therefore, it’s crucial to personalize your college visit plan to ensure that you make the most of your time, energy, and financial resources.

Here are some steps you can take to help prioritize your college visits and ensure you are completing the right number of college campus tours:

Four Steps to Planning College Visits

1. start with a broad college list.

Have a wide range of colleges that interest you, encompassing various types of campuses such as big versus small, urban versus rural, and public versus private institutions. Consider including HBCU college tours or schedule one or two Harvard tours. Having a broad college list lets you gain insights into the diverse campus environments and refine your preferences accordingly.

2. Prioritize your top choices

Once you’ve identified your top 3-5 colleges on your college list, prioritize visiting these campuses. Consider planning multiple trips in various capacities if you’re highly interested in a particular school. For example, you can schedule an online UCLA campus tour. Then, schedule an in-person prospective student UCLA campus tour. You can even conduct a self-guided tour versus an official UCLA campus tour to have more flexibility in where you’ll get to go on campus. 

3. Balance depth with practicality

While visiting as many colleges as possible can be beneficial, consider the practicalities of your college visits checklist. Virtual college tours and information sessions can be valuable alternatives for colleges that are harder to visit in person. For instance, Harvard tours can be in-person or virtual. Therefore, if Harvard is on your list, plan your Harvard tours accordingly based on your availability and resources.

4. Consider special programs

If you’re invited to special programs for admitted students or specific academic departments, prioritize these college visits. Special programs through HBCU college tours or college visits for juniors often offer opportunities to interact with faculty, current students, and other admitted students, giving you a firsthand glimpse into life on campus.

Next, let’s discuss how to plan and schedule a college visit.

How To Schedule College Visits

Planning your college visits involves careful coordination and scheduling to ensure you make the most of your time on campus. From considering academic calendars to contacting college admissions offices, here are some college visit tips regarding scheduling your campus tours effectively.

Here are two of the most important things to keep in mind when working on the logistics of your campus visits. 

How to Work on Logistics of Campus Visits

Consider academic calendars.

Plan your college visits around academic calendars. Before scheduling your college visits, consider the academic calendars of the colleges you plan to visit. Check their websites to determine the dates of important events, such as orientation sessions, midterm exams, and holidays. This is important whether you are planning college visits for juniors, HBCU college tours, or any other kind of college visit.

Contact Admissions Offices

Contact college admissions for tour scheduling. Once you’ve identified potential college visit dates, it’s time to contact the admissions offices or go to the admissions website to schedule your campus tours. Most colleges offer guided campus tours led by student ambassadors or admissions staff. Additionally, many schools host information sessions that provide an overview of the college’s programs, resources, and admissions process.

Scheduling college visits: step-by-step

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example to better understand the steps it takes to schedule a campus tour. Imagine you’re a high school student living in Chicago. You have already completed a University of Chicago tour, and now, you’re interested in scheduling a tour of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. As an in-state college, accessing the University of Chicago tour may have been simple. But let’s look at how you can navigate the scheduling process of an out-of-state college tour:

Navigating an Out-of-State College Tour

  • Research USC’s academic calendar to identify optimal visit dates that align with your availability.
  • Visit USC’s admissions website to find information about campus tours and information sessions. Determine whether USC offers guided tours, self-guided tours, or virtual college visits for prospective students unable to visit in person.
  • Use the USC campus tours website to schedule your campus tour. In addition to scheduling an admissions tour and presentation, consider scheduling an academic department presentation.
  • Upon confirmation of your campus tour reservation from USC’s admissions office, make travel arrangements from Chicago to Los Angeles. This includes booking flights, accommodations, and transportation to and from the USC campus.
  • Plan your itinerary for your visit to USC. Consider attending guided campus tours, participating in information sessions, exploring campus facilities, and engaging with current students and faculty members.
  • During your visit, bring your college visits checklist. Take notes, ask questions, and gather information to help you decide whether USC is the right fit for you.

Since the cost of college visits is a big factor to take into consideration during the planning process, let’s discuss it further.

Are College Visits Free?

As you begin to make your college visit list, you’ll need to understand the costs associated with college visits. While some campus tours may be free, others require careful budgeting and planning to manage expenses. 

College visits can incur various expenses, including transportation, accommodation, meals, and miscellaneous fees. While some colleges offer free guided campus tours and information sessions, others may charge a nominal fee for certain services or events.

Tips for managing the cost of college visits

To manage the costs associated with college tours effectively, consider the following college visit tips for budgeting and finding free visit opportunities:

Start planning your campus tours well in advance to take advantage of early booking discounts and special promotions. Research travel options, accommodations, and local amenities to identify cost-saving opportunities and plan your itinerary accordingly.

Utilize virtual college tours

Besides visiting colleges in person, explore virtual college tours offered by colleges and universities. Many institutions, such as Boston College and Harvard University , provide virtual college visits and information sessions that allow you to explore campus facilities, interact with admissions staff, and learn about academic programs from the comfort of your home at no cost.

Explore fly-in programs

Several colleges and universities offer fly-in programs. These programs typically cover travel expenses, accommodations, meals, and participation in campus activities, allowing students to experience campus life firsthand without incurring any costs.

Speaking of fly-in programs, let’s learn a little more about them.

Fly-in programs

Here are three great fly-in programs/opportunities for low-income students.  

1. QuestBridge College Prep Scholars Program

College visits for juniors are incredibly important. QuestBridge offers a College Prep Scholars Program for high-achieving, low-income high school juniors which, you guessed it, sponsors college visits for juniors. This program provides participants access to college admissions resources, mentorship opportunities, and fly-in college visits for juniors to top colleges and universities across the United States. Beyond giving fly-in college visits for juniors, QuestBridge takes it a step further and will help fund your attendance to top summer programs at some of the most prestigious colleges in the country.

2. Tulane University, PreviewTU Program

PreviewTU is a campus visit program at Tulane University that typically occurs in the fall. While open to all, students who identify as first-generation college attendees, LGBTQIA+, are from low-income backgrounds or rural/small-town residents, and/or students of color are particularly encouraged to attend. The program is offered both virtually and in person. PTU activities include campus tours, student panels, admissions and financial aid sessions, lunch with Diversity Fellows, and opportunities to connect with professors and support partners. Financially disadvantaged students may qualify for partial travel reimbursement stipends of up to $500 for themselves and one guest. 

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Weekend Immersion in Science and Engineering (WISE)

MIT’s Weekend Immersion in Science and Engineering (WISE) is a three-day program for rising seniors to explore MIT life. It’s fully funded, covering transportation to and from MIT. Applicants from underrepresented backgrounds, including Black, Latinx, and Native American students, those from lower socioeconomic statuses, and first-generation students, are strongly encouraged to apply. WISE typically occurs in September. Participants reside on campus with MIT undergraduates, engaging in academic and campus life activities. They meet peers and faculty and attend college admissions and financial aid workshops. Applications are due in August, and the program generally takes place in October.

At this point, we’ve covered college visit tips for preparing for your visit. Now, let’s discuss what to do when you’ve finally made it to campus!

Things To Do On A College Visit

As shared earlier, college visits offer students a chance to get a feel for the college campus and community. Therefore, while on a college visit, it’s important to take advantage of all the things to do on campus and within the surrounding community or area. Here are 3 things to do on your college tours and college visits:

3 Things To Do on College Visits

1. attend information sessions and campus tours.

This may seem obvious but don’t bail on the planned tours and sessions. They’ll give you valuable information about the school and campus. These parts of the college visit are just as important as exploring on your own. Don’t forget to bring your list of questions and ask about anything that isn’t answered! 

2. Inquire about attending classes or talking to current students

Besides attending information sessions and campus tours, ask about the possibility of attending classes or speaking with current students during your visit. Observing a class in your area of interest can provide valuable insights into the college’s academic rigor and teaching style. Similarly, chatting with current students can offer firsthand perspectives on the overall student experience. 

3. Explore the campus

Don’t be shy when you’re visiting a college’s campus. Wander around and imagine yourself living or studying there. Check out all the different areas of campus. Basically, get a feel for the vibe of the school–trust your intuition and see if it feels like a fit.

Don’t forget to consider the area outside of campus. Evaluating the surrounding community of a college campus can provide valuable insights into the overall quality of life and opportunities available to students during their college experience. Think about the amenities and resources that are important to you. Consider adding these questions to your college visits checklist. Are there nearby music venues, art galleries, or cultural attractions that align with your interests? What transportation options are available, including airports or public transit systems? No detail is too small to ask about on your visit to campus.

When Should You Start Visiting Colleges?

Navigating the college search process is undoubtedly complex. Next, we will cover some tips on when to set up your first college visit. There isn’t a hard and fast rule to this question, but there are certainly some best practices when it comes to planning college visits.

It is never too early to begin visiting colleges. College admissions offices receive tour requests from students as young as 6 th grade. If you plan to visit a college any time before your 9th-grade year, it is important to remember that you may need to tour the college again before applying and certainly before enrolling.

Going on a college visit as a younger student can begin planting the seeds for what college is like. But very rarely will a college visit before high school provide you with meaningful admissions information that you will be able to retain and act on when it is time to submit your application.

College visits for juniors and seniors 

As you get closer to your junior and senior year of high school, college visits become more than just an opportunity to understand college more broadly. College visits for juniors and seniors can help students discover their preferences. At this stage of the college search process, students can begin to discern the type of college campus they might see themselves ultimately enrolling at.

Whether you are on a UCLA campus tour in California, a University of Chicago tour in Illinois, or a Harvard tour in Massachusetts , you can begin to explore your regional preferences. Additionally, experiences on HBCU college tours can give you some insight into distinct institutional types. Note how you felt about your HBCU college tours at institutions like Spelman College or Howard University compared to other universities. College visits do more than show you what colleges you might like, they also expose you to colleges that might not be a good fit.

Managing the logistics of college visits

Campus visits are often hard to arrange because of the time and resources they require. If you are planning to go on multiple college campus tours, you may find a strain on time and resources. A student who lives in Florida may find that attending a UCLA campus tour is much harder to plan than attending a campus tour at the University of Florida. Because of this, many families begin planning their campus visits far in advance. There are also opportunities to visit campus at the last minute. However, these trips typically align with other travel or are at campuses close to the student’s home.

In addition to prospective student visits, you may have the opportunity to visit campus as an admitted student. Admitted student college visits often include a more immersive experience than a college campus tour for a prospective student. Even if you have already visited campus, admitted student visits will often equip you with all the information necessary to make your final college decision .

College Visits During Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic resulted in additional access to college admissions information. During the pandemic, colleges and universities added an increased number of virtual college tours, online information sessions, and other virtual opportunities to learn more about colleges in the absence of in-person college campus tours. Virtual college tours allow students to access information at any time and refer to these virtual college tours when questions arise.

The pandemic also resulted in additional safety measures for college campus tours.  At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, college campus tours were completely halted. As campus tours resumed, colleges adopted mask mandates, reduced tour capacity, and made changes to tour stops. The largest safety measure during the coronavirus pandemic was COVID-19 testing prior to attending college campus tours.

While many of these safety precautions are a thing of the past, it is important to understand the heightened awareness around health that is still present on college campuses. Before you visit a college campus, it can be helpful to review their policies to confirm that there are no additional requirements for their campus tours. And, don’t be afraid to take personal precautions to take care of yourself, like wearing a mask on your visits.

What Colleges Are Open For Tours?

Thousands of colleges and universities across the country offer college tours . Most colleges offer campus tours throughout the academic year and in the summer. To learn more about the campus tour availability on a specific campus, you should visit the admissions or welcome center website. Some colleges also provide the opportunity for a self-guided tour which allows families to visit campus outside of the scheduled tour times.

Virtual college visits 

If you are unable to arrange an in-person college visit, don’t fret. There are several ways to experience a college without stepping foot on campus. Virtual college tours and virtual college visits allow students to experience a campus from the comfort of their homes. For example, if you are unable to attend the UCLA campus tour or the University of Chicago tour, you can sign up for one of their virtual college visits or virtual college tours.

In addition to virtual college tours and virtual college visits, social media has also offered opportunities for prospective students to explore a college campus from their cell phones. Following institutions on your college list on Instagram or TikTok can often provide a current student’s vantage point of their campus. Social media is one of the best ways to get to know a college virtually!

What Happens During A College Visit?

College visits come in all shapes and sizes. Most college visits include some type of campus tour. Campus tours can be led by a student ambassador or experienced as a self-guided tour. The first stop on college campus tours is typically the Office of Admissions or the Welcome Center. This introduction to campus usually provides basic information on the college and orients the guests with the rest of the tour.


College campus tours introduce students to the academic buildings, student life opportunities, and residence life offered on the campus. Academic buildings on campus tours can include the school library, tutoring center, or architecture building. Understanding where your major classes are located can give you insight into the classroom and lab spaces available to students in your major.

College campus tours can also be enhanced by exploring additional personalized experiences. Some colleges will offer a general admissions information session as part of the campus tour. Other institutions might offer academic information sessions for students interested in majors like engineering, computer science, or business.

Student/residence life 

Student life opportunities can be found throughout the campus tour and are an important deciding factor in the college search process. College visits highlight the student organizations available for you to join. You may also find your tour guide pointing out popular hangout spots around campus. Student guides on Harvard tours might point out the Stone Hall Basement or Squash courts in the athletic complex. Student life opportunities also include campus events and traditions. Student guides on HBCU tours might talk about their epic homecoming celebrations.

Residence life also tops the list of the most popular campus tour stops. Residence life information includes touring a dorm and seeing the cafeteria. Facilities such as the campus gym and study spaces might also be included in the residence life portion of the tour.

What To Wear To A College Visit?

When you schedule your first college visit, it is unlikely that your email confirmation will include a dress code. The type of clothing you choose to wear may vary based on the type of college visit you are going on. As a rule of thumb, you should wear clothing that you feel confident in–and that you’d feel comfortable meeting admissions officers in. Considering the weather and walking requirements will also provide insight on what to wear. 

Beyond what to wear, let’s discuss what additional items should be included on your college visits checklist.

What To Bring On A College Visit?

College visits can often be long days in cities you are unfamiliar with. So, it is critical to think about the items you might need during the day. Check out this college visits checklist:

College Visits Checklist

  • Notepad and pen
  • Umbrella or poncho for inclement weather
  • Phone to take pictures and videos
  • Money to visit the school bookstore

All the items on the college visits checklist may not be necessary for every college visit. You should use your best judgment to discover if these items would be useful for the campus you are visiting.

College campus tours can be impacted by several variables. Campus visits are subject to weather, campus emergencies, holidays, and many other contingencies. Your college visits checklist may shift depending on any of the events above. Check out this resource as you are compiling your checklist.  

5 Tips for Maximizing Your College Visits

Throughout this guide, we’ve discussed the importance of college visits, when to begin planning college visits, and what to include on your college visits checklist. Before we wrap up, let’s discuss five college visit tips for maximizing your time.

5 Tips for College Visits

1. do your research.

Studying a college ahead of time allows you to better understand its programs, campus culture, and the opportunities it offers. Identify specific areas of interest, such as academic departments, extracurricular activities, or campus facilities you want to explore. Having a basic knowledge of the campus and how it aligns with your interests will allow you to focus on the more nuanced questions and observations once you arrive for your campus tour. 

2. Engage with the Campus Community

Talking to campus community members apart from your tour guide is one of the best ways to have an authentic experience during college visits. Campus community members include current students, faculty, and staff. Conversations with people who are on campus every day will give you firsthand insights into the college experience there. And, you don’t have to worry about whether someone is just telling you something because it is their job to do so (tour guides are great, but they are extensively trained to share specific information). Ask questions about academic programs, student life, support services, and anything else that will help you gauge if the campus is the right fit for you.

3. Attend Information Sessions and Campus Tours

Some students might think that arranging an unofficial tour will be more beneficial and honest. While you may receive some inside information that an official tour won’t provide, you will also miss out on some critical information. Always register for the official campus tours and information sessions to gain structured insights about the college. These sessions often provide valuable information not available on the website or in brochures. Meeting a current student or family friend for lunch or taking a self-guided tour after an official information session can give you the additional freedom you are seeking out on your college visits. 

4. Explore Beyond the Tour

After your official tour, it is highly recommended to explore campus on your college visits. Spend time wandering around the campus to get a feel for the environment and the student body. It is of growing importance to students that they like the town or city that their college is in. Visit the surrounding area of the campus to see what amenities and off-campus activities are available to students. If you are unfamiliar with the city, you might benefit from visiting some tourist attractions like museums, parks, or special events. Another great way to explore the environment around campus is going out for a simple lunch or dinner to get a better feel for the culture beyond the college campus. 

5. Document Your Visit

After going on several college visits, they may begin to all run together. Be sure to take notes and photos during your visit to help you remember what you liked and disliked about each campus. This is especially important for college visits for juniors and sophomores, as these students may have more time between their college visits and submitting the admissions application. Once your tour is over, reflect on each of your visits to compare the different colleges. You will need this perspective once you begin receiving admissions offers and are facing a finite time to make such an important life decision. After all, one or two details may be the difference between a college making your college list.

College Visits – Takeaways

College visits are an essential part of the college search process and creating a college list. Thankfully, planning an informative college visit is not as complicated as you might think. 

Successful college campus tours begin with doing your research early. This research might include location, academic offerings, and student life opportunities. Whether you are attending HBCU college tours, Harvard tours, or Boston College tours, feel free to look back at our college visit tips.  

During your college visits, do not forget to register for an official tour , engage with the campus community, and explore the environment beyond the campus tour.  Your college campus tours will be beneficial far after the visit has ended. Read through your notes and look through pictures of the campus when it’s time to fill out your college applications. We hope by the end of this guide, you feel prepared to plan and go on your college visits. For more resources, check out this college visit webinar on making the most of your visit and how college visits show demonstrated interest . And, after all those college visit tips, here’s one more for the road–have fun!

This article was written by senior advisor, Ashley Hollins and Chelsea Holley. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.

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Ashlyn Ramos ’22, a computer science major at Bucknell University

How to Plan the Ultimate College Visit Road Trip

May 28, 2021

by Bryan Wendell

Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

When planning a road trip, your options extend for miles in every direction.

You could traverse Route 66, eating only at roadside diners along the way. You could follow the Mississippi River, stopping at historic markers as you go. You could even head straight for Cawker City, Kan., to visit the world's largest ball of twine.

But if your family's vacation planning intersects with your college search timeline, then there's only one type of road trip for you.

With a full tank of gas, the perfect playlist and a well-crafted plan, you'll have everything you need to organize the ultimate college visit road trip.

A college visit road trip, typically planned during summer vacation or spring or fall break, allows families to visit several schools in a condensed period. Unlike some road trips where spontaneity is the plan, college visit road trips work best with careful planning. That way, you'll maximize every moment and get a better feeling for the schools on your list.

Follow the steps below, and you'll be on your way.

Listen to our College Admissions Insider Podcast Episode

Step 1: finalize your list of schools.

By now you've probably created a list of schools that have caught your attention — perhaps because they offer your major, are in a good location or you know someone who had a positive experience there.

Now it's time to make the first cut. You'll want to identify which schools deserve a closer look through an in-person visit. Ask yourself: Am I interested enough in this school to want to spend at least two hours there — plus travel time? If the answer is yes, that's a good sign.

If you still have too many schools on your list, consider assigning each one a grade — 1 to 10 — based on your level of interest. Then determine which grade a school must receive to warrant an in-person visit. Perhaps every school with a 7 or higher makes the cut. Still too many? Raise the floor by another point and count again.

Remember that your cuts aren't permanent. You can always plan later one-off visits to schools you skipped if you think they deserve another look.

Step 2: Group Your Finalists Geographically

Whether your finalists number seven or 27, you'll want to put them all onto a map to see if any natural geographic clusters emerge.

Choose an offline or online solution based on your preference. You could plot the schools as dots on a printed map or atlas. Or you could use a free tool like Google My Maps to create a custom map you can share with family and friends.

With your finalists plotted, try to look for schools you can group together. Find the driving times between schools in a similar cluster. How long will you need to visit all the schools in that cluster? Are there any natural "pairs" of schools — perhaps two in the same city — you could visit in the same day?

Step 3: Make a Spreadsheet

Create one spreadsheet for each geographic cluster of schools.

Make one column for the school's name and another for the address of the Office of Admissions, or wherever tours begin. Make seven more columns — one for each day of the week.

Next, visit that school's Admissions page to see when tours and scheduled visits are offered. Plot that information into the columns on your spreadsheet.

Taking time to create this spreadsheet will save you time when planning your route in the next step. You'll be able to easily see whether your plan to visit School A on Friday, Schools B and C on Saturday and School D on Sunday could even work.

Step 4: Design Your Route and Plan

With all the pieces assembled, it's time to put the puzzle together. Start designing the route so you can visit as many schools as possible without doubling back or going too far out of your way.

To minimize stress and allow yourself time to explore the school and surrounding area — maybe even grabbing lunch on campus and visiting some shops downtown — try to plan one school visit per day. Two in a day is doable, but any more than that and you risk everything blurring together in your mind.

This is also the stage when you'll want to begin registering for visits and tours — even before booking hotel rooms.

While some schools welcome unannounced or walk-in visitors, many require reservations in advance — especially for experiences that have limited capacities, such as information sessions, tours and lunches with students.

You might find that school visit schedules don't align perfectly with your plan, and that's fine. For a few schools on your list, perhaps those a little lower in your rankings, you might need to plan for an unannounced visit.

That might mean you don't book an info session or campus tour but still spend an hour walking around the campus. Many schools, like Bucknell, offer self-guided tours or driving tours for this exact purpose.

One more note about planning your route: Once you've booked your campus tours, start planning other ways to get to know the town. Scout out a local lunch spot, museum or state park to get a better feel for what college life might be like in each community you visit.

Step 5: Maximize Each Stop

During your college visit road trip, make the most of each college you visit. Here are some ideas:

  • Follow the school's social media accounts . A college or university's official social media channels can give you a good idea of what life on campus is like as well as the latest news. If the school has any Admissions-specific accounts, follow those, too. These can be a great way to get to know a school — plus they might alert you to any last-minute changes to campus visit offerings.
  • Ask the right questions . Choose some ideas from this list of 80 questions to ask on your college tour , or come up with your own.
  • Take notes . All those college visits can start to blend together — especially a few weeks after you get home. Prevent that by taking good notes, writing down things you liked and didn't like. You might even jot down some details to jog your memory later, such as what the tour guide was wearing, what you ate or something funny that happened during the tour. Many students say the best time to take these notes is right when you get in the car after the visit.
  • Talk to students . Your tour guide is an expert in answering your questions and giving you a comprehensive overview of life at that school. But, in most cases, they're also getting paid to do that job. To make sure you also get an unfiltered view, ask a few students what they like and don't like about that particular college. It might be awkward to approach a stranger like that, but you'll be glad you asked.

Step 6: Remember That You’re on Vacation

In many ways, a college visit road trip is like a business trip. You're there to complete a task: find out firsthand which colleges feel right.

But just because the trip has a defined purpose doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable, too. In some families, this might be one of the last times everyone gets to take a trip together before you're off to college.

Enjoy the moments you have together. Resurrect an old driving game you used to play as a kid, like finding license plates from as many different states as you can. Schedule some days where you don't visit any schools but do some sightseeing instead. Take turns being the in-car DJ.

College is the ultimate journey, so why not plan a college visit road trip to match?

Reminders and Tips

  • Take the journey with a friend . If you have a friend whose college list is similar to yours, see if your families can take the trip together. You'll have fun, be able to compare notes with your friend and could even save on lodging or gas.
  • Pace yourself . Try not to overschedule or plan unrealistically. For example, if a campus tour ends at 5 p.m., you might not want to drive three hours to get to the next hotel in the city where you have a 9 a.m. tour the next day.
  • Stay hydrated . You'll be outside a lot during this college road trip, so prepare like an athlete. Eat high-energy food, drink lots of water and get some rest.
  • Take pictures . Just like notes can jog your memory (Step 5), pictures can have the same effect. After each visit, take a few minutes to move your favorite photos into a special album on your phone. When you get home, you'll have a complete slideshow you rewatch as needed.
  • Talk to your high school counselor . Check with your high school's college counselor, if there is one. This person might have some road trip planning trips specific to your area. There's a good chance someone from your high school has planned a trip similar to the one you're about to enjoy.

Portrait of Ashlyn Ramos

We did this whole marathon road trip — two or three schools a day, all over the East Coast. A lot of the schools were more in the city, but I got to Bucknell and I thought the town was so cute.

Ashlyn Ramos ’22, a computer science major from Sammamish, Wash.

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Best College Road Trip & On-Campus Itinerary Planning

Custom College Visits’ services are tailored to your family’s needs, whether you’re visiting colleges and universities close to home, across the country or overseas. 

All itineraries are planned personally by Janice Caine, an experienced travel and meeting planner, and founder of Custom College Visits. Please feel free to schedule a time for a complimentary parent-to-parent conversation with someone who planned college tours for her own kids and who’s done this hundreds of times for other families.

Custom College Visits is now planning multi-day, multi-campus visits for summer and fall 2023.

For more information please see our FAQs and/or reach out to us .

On-Campus Arrangements

At Custom College Visits, we believe that immersive college visits are an important part of a successful college search. Our proven process ensures that your virtual and in-person visits will run smoothly.

Arrangements may include:

  • Appointments with faculty members or department advisors
  • Meet-ups with current students
  • Arrangements for class visits**
  • Appointments with athletic coaches, study abroad staff, academic resources advisors etc
  • Visits to facilities not included on group tours including theatre facilities, sports facilities and more*
  • Reservations for group information sessions and student-led tours
  • Scheduling of individual student interviews
  • Scheduling of overnight stays on campus (for students only)**

*Arrangements are subject to your travel/visit dates and availability at each college or university

**arrangements available for in-person visits only, travel & lodging arrangements.

Together with our travel partner, Alacrity Travel & Lifestyle™, Custom College Visits can provide multiple travel options based on customized research, and recommendations and arrangements that fit your travel style and specific requests. Travel arrangements may include:

  • Airline reservations
  • Hotel arrangements
  • Airport and hotel transfers
  • Train tickets/reservations
  • Sightseeing, dining and entertainment recommendations and arrangements **

**   Please note that Custom College Visits’ planning fees do not include costs for: transportation, lodging, food, fees, taxes, and incidentals.

Itinerary planning.

Your itinerary will be customized to meet your specific interests and requests:

  • Research and handle logistics for each college, allowing ample time at each campus
  • Determine ideal campus visit days
  • Establish college tour sequence
  • Identify the most convenient means of travel *
  • College visit planning tools
  • Provide college visit planning tools
  • Provide detailed, day-by-day itinerary

* Pertains to in-person visits only

College list development.

For many families, this is the first, very important step. If your teen needs assistance, Janice can help them to:

  • Pinpoint their individual college criteria by exploring together their high school background and extracurricular activities, academic goals, and other personal interests
  • Research and discuss the colleges that meet these criteria and then build a primary list of reach, target, and likely schools.
  • Based on your preferred dates, college calendars, priority schools, location and other variables, narrow down the list and build a workable college visit itinerary. 

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We had a wonderful experience with Janice and Custom College visits. With Janice’s experience, attention to detail and understanding of our son’s strengths and weaknesses she led us through this confusing time with care and support. Highly recommended.

I really thought your custom college visits business would be so useful to parents of college bound kids, especially during the pandemic.

The college visits were also a lot of fun for us as a family and very informative on so many levels. More importantly, Janice helped make the college selection process manageable, not so daunting after all, and we felt no stone was left unturned in this important decision!

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College Weekends

Planning College Visits

college visit planning map

It can be challenging to find the time to visit multiple colleges, especially with the demanding schedules of high schoolers and parents alike. Often visits need to be combined, and suddenly parents are faced with the daunting task of visiting multiple schools over a few short days or even in just a weekend. While it may seem challenging at first, with a well-thought-out plan and a spirit of adventure visiting multiple college towns is entirely possible. In this guide, we will walk you through how to do it while still making the trip fun and enjoyable for parents and students alike.  

college visit planning map

Choose Your Route

The first step in planning your college town trip is to choose the towns you want to visit and create a feasible route. Consider the distance between each town and how long it will take to travel between them. It’s essential to strike a balance between visiting multiple college towns and schools and having enough time to explore each one. Research the colleges in the towns you’re interested in and select a route that allows you to see the ones that pique your interest the most.

Traveling between college towns in over a short period means you won’t have a lot of time to settle into your accommodations. Opt for a lightweight bag that’s easy to carry, and pack only the essentials. You can always do laundry or pick up any forgotten items in the college towns you visit. Remember to include comfortable shoes for walking, a versatile wardrobe for different weather conditions, a charger for your devices, and a notebook to jot down memorable experiences.

Set a Flexible Itinerary

While it’s important to plan your trip, it’s equally crucial to keep your itinerary flexible. College towns are known for their spontaneous events and vibrant local scenes. Be prepared to alter your schedule to attend a concert, visit an art exhibition, or indulge in a local food festival. Keep a list of must-see places and activities for each town but be open to serendipitous discoveries.

college visit planning map

Research Local Dining Spots

One of the highlights of visiting college towns is experiencing the local food scene. Each town will have its unique culinary offerings, whether it’s a cozy coffee shop, a trendy food truck, or a restaurant famous for its regional cuisine. Research and make a list of restaurants, cafes, and eateries you want to try in each town. Not sure where to start? CollegeWeekends.com has plenty of great resources and recommendations for the best eateries in college towns across the country!  

Find Unique Accommodations

While chain hotels are convenient, consider staying in unique accommodations to enhance your college town experience. CollegeWeekends.com gives you access to home and condo/apartment rentals that capture the local spirit of wherever you are staying. Staying in unconventional places can add an extra layer of charm to your trip.

Use Efficient Transportation

Getting between college towns efficiently is essential to make the most of your trip. Consider using a combination of transportation methods like rental cars, buses, and trains. Research and book your transportation in advance to save time and money. If you plan to do a lot of walking within the towns, make sure your accommodations are conveniently located near the main attractions.

Check College Schedules

Colleges have their own schedules, and it’s worth checking if there are any events, festivals, or sports games happening during your visit. College towns often come alive during these events, providing an authentic experience of the local culture and enthusiasm. Plus, attending a college football game or a campus concert can be a memorable part of your trip. When you search for short-term rentals using CollegeWeekends.com you can explore “College Town Favorites” for activity recommendations both on- and off-campus.

college visit planning map

Immerse in the Local College Culture

To truly experience the essence of each college town, immerse yourself in the local culture. Explore the campus grounds, attend lectures or open classes if possible, and visit the college bookstore to pick up some school memorabilia. Engaging with the students and faculty can provide valuable insights into the town’s character.

Capture Memories

Document your weekend adventure by taking photos and keeping a journal. College towns are often rich in history, art, and architecture, so don’t forget to capture the essence of each town. Your memories will last a lifetime.

college visit planning map

Have Fun and Soak in the Experience

Embarking on a weekend tour through multiple college towns can be an enriching and enjoyable adventure. These unique destinations offer a diverse array of experiences, from cultural events to delicious food and scenic landscapes. With proper planning, flexibility, and an open mind, you can create lasting memories and gain a deeper appreciation for the vibrant culture of college towns. So, pick your route, pack your bags, be sure to utilize CollegeWeekends , and get ready to explore the dynamic world of college towns in a single weekend!

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    Start using the College Trip Planner! Or, read on to learn more about the best free tool for researching colleges and planning campus visits. The College Trip Planner helps you choose the schools that you want to visit. Find universities by keyword, or use our College Search to select the right schools for you. Add schools to The College Trip ...

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    Step 5: Maximize Each Stop. During your college visit road trip, make the most of each college you visit. Here are some ideas: Follow the school's social media accounts. A college or university's official social media channels can give you a good idea of what life on campus is like as well as the latest news.

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    The first step in planning your college town trip is to choose the towns you want to visit and create a feasible route. Consider the distance between each town and how long it will take to travel between them. It's essential to strike a balance between visiting multiple college towns and schools and having enough time to explore each one.

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