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From Freshman to Senior: A Comprehensive Guide to College Visits

College visits are like test drives for your academic journey. From the picturesque campus lawns to the buzzing library, these visits allow you to experience college life firsthand. Whether you're a freshman just beginning your college exploration or a senior making final decisions, there are valuable takeaways for every high school grade. In this comprehensive guide, we'll provide a roadmap to maximize your college visits.

College visits help you to focus your college search, first, on the kind of schools you are interested in applying to and, eventually, in finalizing your college wishlist. Learning about the campus philosophy and culture will ultimately help you decide where is the right place for you. There is also a practical purpose to visits - they will allow you to experience the travel requirements and accessibility of the location so that you are prepared for the experience when you arrive on move-in day.

College visits can begin as early as a student's freshman year, but the type of visit and what you want to get out of the experience varies depending on your current high school year. These visits are also important for parents; however, keep in mind some of our tips for your role in this process so that your student gets the most out of their time on campus.

Freshman Year: Building Foundations

As a high school freshman, the college application process may seem distant, but it's never too early to start your college exploration. Your goals this year are to:

  1. Familiarize Yourself with the Process: Get an understanding of what college entails and what majors interest you.

  2. Local Colleges: Visit nearby colleges, even if they're not your top choices. They offer an excellent opportunity to become comfortable with campus tours. Choose a variety of types of schools: a large public university in a college town, a large public university in an urban setting, a mid-sized school, a small liberal arts school, etc. Use this time to note what you like about these different types of institutions and where you feel comfortable. Additionally, make sure to note the things you dislike about each kind of school; this is equally important in your decision-making.

Sophomore Year: Exploring Options

As a sophomore, your knowledge of college life should grow. Take these steps:

  1. Campus Walks: Visit colleges when traveling. While you may not take an official tour, walk around to absorb the campus vibe and explore the community that surrounds the campus. Make sure to stop by the admissions office first, introduce yourself, and pick up materials, including any information they may have to help with a self-guided tour.

  2. Initial Prioritization: Start considering your academic interests and the type of college environment that appeals to you.

Junior Year: Getting Serious

Junior year is when college exploration intensifies. Your focus should be on:

  1. Plan and Schedule Visits: Be methodical about your college tours. Visit schools that align with your interests. Visit the admissions webpages and schedule an official visit where you will be able to sit in on a campus info session and then get a guided tour of campus. Make sure to ask questions - download our College Visits 101 resource that contains questions about all areas of college life that you may want to use to compile a list of questions to have answered about topics that are important to you.

  2. During the Info Session and Tour: Make notes on your phone about items you learn that are interesting or important to you. This can help you when you go back and make your summary notes about your experiences. It can also help you when you are crafting your essays, especially when answering the Why This College and/or Why This Major question(s) - being able to make reference to something that you learned on the tour that may not be readily found on the website can show a deeper level of interest to the admissions team.

  3. Take Pictures - make sure to document areas of campus you find interesting as well as the surrounding area. Tip: Take a picture of the college's sign when you first arrive; that way, you know that all of the pictures following the sign and up to the next school's sign are from that school.

  4. Explore Nearby Towns: Understand the area around the campus, including local eateries, transportation, and housing options.

  5. Parental Involvement: Engage your parents in the process, as they'll play a crucial role in your decision.

Note: College Scoops is an excellent service for your college visits. This online resource provides student Q&A videos, fun facts, ideas for self-guided tours, popular hot spots around campus, and other important logistical information about hotels, transportation, and parking.

Senior Year: The Home Stretch

As a senior, you're making critical decisions. Here's what to do:

  1. Final Visits: Revisit your top choices, especially if you've been admitted.

  2. Talk to Students: Interact with current students to gain insight into the campus culture.

  3. Off-Campus Exploration: Discover the surrounding city or town more extensively.

  4. Parental Visits: If parents haven't joined earlier visits, now is the time for them to experience the campuses, too.

Guidance for Parents on Campus Tours:

  1. Let Your Child Take the Lead: While your insights are valuable, encourage your child to ask questions and make the visits meaningful for them.

  2. Observe and Listen: Pay attention to your child's reactions to each campus. Their comfort and enthusiasm matter most. You can learn a lot about your child's preferences by watching them on a college tour.

  3. Don't Overwhelm: Avoid discussing the school's drawbacks during a visit. Save these conversations for later.

  4. Ask Supportive Questions: Engage your child in meaningful conversations by asking questions like, "What do you like most about this campus?"

  5. Consider Their Interests: Attend tours relevant to your child's potential major or interests.

Download our college visit resource for parents for additional tips to make the experience rewarding for both you and your student.

Post-Visit Checklist:

  1. Write Impressions: After each visit, jot down your impressions, likes, and dislikes while everything is fresh in your mind.

  2. Gather Materials: Collect brochures, business cards, and campus maps for reference.

  3. Compare: Create a chart comparing colleges, including pros, cons, and unique features.

  4. Scholarships and Aid: Understand the financial aspects and scholarship opportunities at each college.

  5. Explore Online Resources: Use websites, forums, and social media to gather opinions and experiences from current students.

  6. Reflect and Decide: After visiting all your choices, take time to reflect on your experiences and decide which college aligns best with your goals.

College visits are like chapters in the story of your academic future. Make each one count by starting early, staying organized, and involving your parents as supportive allies. Your journey to finding the perfect college fit begins with that first step onto campus. Enjoy the process, trust your instincts, and keep an open mind during each visit. Happy touring!


Garrett Educational Consulting provides comprehensive counseling for college and boarding school admissions as well as academic advisement. Click HERE to learn about our services. Access all of our free, downloadable college resources HERE

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