By Sarah Wright
Sit in on a Class
It's rare that you'll find a college that isn't going to brag about their academic excellence. Education is the name of the game for colleges, so you aren't likely to hear an admissions rep admit that the quality of classroom instruction isn't so hot at their school. Plus, everyone has different academic priorities in college. Maybe for you, the idea of sitting through lectures in a gigantic hall with hundreds of other students isn't such a big deal. Or maybe you'd prefer to attend classes that consist of a dozen or so students sitting around a table engaging in in-depth discussion with their professor. It's a good idea to find out firsthand what classes are like. Just make sure to respect the current students and keep your thoughts to yourself, even if you're familiar with the material being discussed in class.
Stay Overnight in a Dorm
Most colleges have dorm hosts and allow prospective students to arrange overnight stays - meaning you should have your own bed to sleep in at night. You might be paired up with other prospective students as well, which might make you more comfortable. But don't spend all your time with those other prospective students, or at least, don't hang out with them exclusively. Campus visits are an important opportunity to interact with students and learn more about what it'll be like to live at the school. Staying in the dorms is a great opportunity to get firsthand experience of a day in the life of a student at a particular college or university.
Eat in the Dining Commons, and Sit with Students
You can get a sense for the social atmosphere at a particular school by asking current students in the cafeteria if you can sit with them. Introduce yourself and ask if they have any particular insight or advice about the school. It's also an opportunity for you to sample the on-campus cuisine. This should give you an idea of what kind of food will be available to you while you're living on campus. Some schools have better foodservice options and dining commons facilities than others, and it's important to find out what you'll be eating.
Go to the Library
Going to the library isn't just about seeing how pretty the building is and judging the size of the stacks. Visiting the library at peak study time can also give you a good idea of how seriously students take their studies at a particular school. Are you hearing the sound of laughter, conversations and ringing cell phones in the library at 6:00 on a Tuesday? Or is it so quiet that you could hear a pin drop - either because it's so empty of students, or because every seat is occupied by a student so engrossed in their work that they barely notice the world around them?
Check Out Athletic and Recreational Facilities
If going to the gym or playing sports is important to you, make sure you go see what kind of facilities are available to students. Similarly, if you don't want to major in theater, but have an interested in attending or being in on-campus plays, visit the theater department to see what they've got. Know what you want to see before you go to campus, and make sure you get to see what's important to you while you're there.
Go to a Party or Other Social Gathering With Students
This is where you should probably be careful - it's not going to do your application any favors if you go overboard and end up getting arrested by campus security. Plus, you don't want to build up a reputation before you even get to school. Even if this is your first opportunity to let your hair down without having to answer to mom and dad in the morning, you should keep yourself in check. Just hang out and try to get a sense of the social vibe on campus.
Still not convinced that you need to make an in-person visit to your school of choice? Here are some more reasons you should see what you're getting into firsthand.