By Douglas Fehlen
1. Interview an admissions counselor.
An admissions counselor should know the ins-and-outs of a college. Doing some preliminary research on an institution can help you prepare questions directed toward your interests. Come into the meeting with the mindset of an interviewer - it is the job of the college to sell you, so bring up any concerns you may have.
2. Plan an overnight stay in a dorm.
Most institutions allow prospective students to spend a night in the dorms with a host student. You should feel secure and comfortable in your surroundings. Make sure the amenities and building location meet your needs. An overnight stay can allow you to get a feel for student life outside of the classroom.
3. Sit in on a class.
Observe at least one class in an area of study that interests you. Try to get a feel for instructional methods and the classroom community. If possible, introduce yourself to the class and join in the discussion. The atmosphere should be inviting, and the professor should engage your intellectual curiosity.
4. Schedule a visit with a professor in a subject of interest to you.
Identify professors who teach courses in your intended major and set up an interview with one (or several) of them prior to your campus visit. You can email instructors on your own or ask an admissions counselor for help. Be sure to ask about course requirements and other important aspects of a degree program.
5. Wander without a destination.
Letting your instincts lead you can reveal aspects of the campus that would have otherwise been unknown to you. Campus maps, although helpful, can neglect naturally beautiful areas and charming oddities that contribute to an institutions' personality. Go exploring to find out how it feels to be on campus.
6. Read the bulletin boards and school publications.
Postings for campus clubs and upcoming events offer an impression of what the student body is like. Try to envision yourself attending one or more of the posted activities. Checking out the school newspaper and radio station can also give you a sense of whether or not the institution is a good fit for you.
7. Talk to students.
Approach a few students and ask them what they like best and least about their college experiences. Asking about first-year course requirements or freshmen dorm stories are always good conversation starters. Try to talk to a variety of people to gauge campus diversity.
8. Be conscious of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Does your current lifestyle translate to this new environment? Get a sense of the local culture by doing a neighborhood walking tour, visiting with a local shopkeeper or checking out a community event. If you depend on public transportation, it's also a good idea to try out the transit system.
9. Find the library, cafeteria, student union, fitness center and other important facilities.
You'll likely spend a lot of time in these and other social areas during your college career. Make sure campus features meet your expectations. Try to find your favorite food in the cafeteria, check computer availability in the library and gauge other important services. Eavesdrop on student conversations during your explorations for a new perspective on campus life.
10. Document your visit.
Many students on a campus visit experience information overload. There's a lot to take in, no doubt, but it can help to do some journaling. Take down anything that seems important - not just facts and figures, but your feelings, too. You might also want to take pictures to reserve first impressions you have of the campus.
Still unsure about a college after a campus visit? Learn five ways to tell if a school is right for you.