Barbara Phelps

Barbara Phelps

Most likely you have started to think about what to do after you graduate from high school. If college is in your future, now is the time to begin touring college campuses. These visits will be crucial in helping you understand which factors are most important to you in choosing your future college. Plan to visit a variety of schools: public, private, research, liberal arts, large, medium, and small, with the goal of finding the setting where you feel most comfortable, are valued as a student and can best be prepared for your future work and life.

How do I schedule a visit?

Click on the “admission” link on any college website. You will typically find an online reservation form used for scheduling campus tours. Be sure to schedule several weeks in advance, especially before you make any transportation arrangements. Most colleges offer morning and afternoon tours making it possible for you to tour two schools in one day. Some colleges partner with nearby hotels that offer discounted rates for visiting families.

When should I visit?

The best time to visit campus is during your spring or fall break. If possible, avoid visiting when class is not in session, or when students are preparing for final exams. You will see a campus at its best when students are following their normal routine. Plan to spend three to four hours on each campus.

Who should attend the visit?

It is best to visit campus with a parent or family member. You will see and hear lots of new information. It helps to share your impressions with someone who is as invested in the process as you are. If possible, avoid visiting a campus with a friend, that way you can focus specifically on your reaction to the campus environment.

How many schools should I visit?

Visit a few local schools first, to save on costs and to begin the process of finding your “fit.” Later on as you narrow your search, you may want to visit an additional two or three schools that are on the top of your list. Colleges expect students in the local area to visit before applying; they also understand that most families cannot take extended out-of-town trips to visit every college they apply to.

How should I prepare for my visit?

Take some time to pour over the college website. Research the admission pages, entrance requirements, student life, athletics, core academic requirements (if any), specific majors you are interested in and resources for academic and career support. Contact the college representative for your high school and ask to connect with them while you are on campus. The college office of admissions can also set up a meeting with professors in specific departments and in some cases, arrange for you to shadow a current student while staying overnight in a dorm. You may also want to meet with a financial aid officer while on campus. Dress comfortably, but also dress to make a good impression. Keep in mind you will be outdoors walking quite a bit.

What happens during the visit?

Typically campus visits begin with a presentation by an admission representative, followed by a question-and-answer period. Student guides will then take you on a small-group walking tour of campus. This provides you with a wonderful opportunity to ask questions of a current student. Many colleges will also offer you a complimentary lunch in their student cafeteria at the end of the tour. Use that time to engage with students and get a feel for the campus “vibe.” Be sure you actually take the admission tour rather than just walking around campus on your own. You will learn a great deal while letting the admission representative know you are seriously interested in their institution.

What about after the visit?

Follow up by sending a handwritten or email thank you note to your representative. Keep in touch with the colleges you decide to apply to. They want to assist you through the entire application process. Take a few photos while on campus, and record your impressions of the campus, as well as those of your parents. These notes will be very useful to you as you continue to visit multiple schools.

Selecting a college is a very personal, individualized process. Avoid the temptation to take the easy way out by choosing a school your friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, parent (fill in the blank) attended. You will be the one attending the institution for the next four years; the selection needs to be the best fit for YOU.

• Barbara Phelps is an independent college consultant and Ahwatukee Foothills resident. She assists students in grades 9-12 with the college planning, search and application process. Reach her at (602) 697-4543, or

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