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Tips for Your College Visit: Take the Wheel & Drive

Why college visits & campus tours are like buying your first car

By Joe Koss

Imagine you're 16 years old and buying your first car. As a teenager, for you, it's about a new adventure filled with excitement for the freedom of the open road and a cool set of new wheels. On the flip side, for your parents, it's probably about letting go and giving you the responsibility of ownership, your safety, their higher insurance rates and finding a car that's going to fit both their budget and your dreams.

Before parent and child come to an agreement on the right car, they need to do the research. They ask around, they look cars up online and check out their safety ratings. They visit a dealership or a used car lot, ask lots of questions and test drive a few cars to make sure their investment will result in the best quality car for their budget. A month later, neither of you want to be unhappy with your decision, wish you'd bought something else, or worse, discover you've bought a lemon.

The same philosophy can be useful when applying to college. A college can have everything you want. It can have the name, the U.S. News Ranking as the best school for business, and so on. However, visiting the campus is one of the most vital steps in the college application process. You want to make sure the ranking, name, and college town meets your needs and looks as good for you in real life as it does on paper. You need to check it out, give it a test drive and ask all the right questions.

It is important that parents and potential students get a good feeling about the campus and experience all that it has to offer in order to make a sound decision. You should do your homework before you purchase a cool set of wheels or a college education.

Here are some best practices when visiting a college campus:

  1. Plan to take a campus tour with the admissions office
  2. Spend time at the student union
  3. Ask if you can visit a typical dormitory for new incoming students
  4. Eat in one of the dining halls so you can check out which students eat in these halls, as well as the quality of the food you get
  5. Ask current students what they like and dislike about the college
  6. Visit the bookstore
  7. Sit in on a class and get a feel for the classroom atmosphere
  8. Go during non-peak times to visit. This can be a surprise visit to the college so they are not putting their best foot forward. You will get a better sense of the college
  9. Spend time around the surrounding area. Get a feel for the college town by doing some fun activities. Remember that campus life is only part of the experience.
  10. Have fun and enjoy your visit!

Unlike buying a car, which one typically does right before they can drive it, the timeline for college visits is slightly longer! Most high school students do a college visit during their junior year. Some will wait until the last minute, and that's okay if they have a full plate of classes and college entrance exams during their junior year. However, getting a sense of the college campus and surrounding area before filling out the application can save you some money in the long run. You might fall in love with the campus or might not, so why pay a non-refundable application fee beforehand on a college that is not a good fit for you?

If you don't have the time or the money to visit all the colleges you apply to, visit only those you've been accepted to in your senior year. Whatever you decide, don't let your schedule or circumstances prevent you from completing this crucial step in the process. You wouldn't buy a car sight-unseen — and buying a car is a far less costly investment!

Joe Koss is an adjunct faculty in the area of accounting and finance and the owner of College Voyage LLC. College Voyage arranges customized trips for student groups to college campuses across the country. Quotes are always free, and information on pre-arranged day visits to college campuses in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Washington DC and others may be found at www.collegevoyage.com.

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