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Think about the last time you went clothes shopping. What happened? You probably walked around the store, picked out what you liked, and then went to the fitting room to try it all on before making your final decision.
Your college search follows the same process.
At this point, you’ve probably researched various schools and narrowed the choice down to the ones you like. But before you make the final decision, you’ll need to “try them on” first. The college visit is your chance to see how everything looks, fits, and feels.
It’s a good rule of thumb to visit different sizes of schools. While you may not want to go to a school that has 5,000 students because it sounds big, give it a shot. Get out and walk around. You may be surprised how quickly a visit can change your perception!
Here are some things to look for while “trying on” the college experience.
While walking around campus, take it all in. Is it too big, too small, or just right? Do the buildings seem inviting or rundown? You’ll be spending a lot of time walking around this place, so you’ll want to make sure it’s a pleasant place to be.
Does the campus seem lively? Look at the students you pass by. Do they seem happy? Remember, you’ll probably get a different impression of the campus in the winter vs. the spring, so if you can visit during both seasons, all the better. A campus is bound to be less impressive when the weather is sour as opposed to a beautiful spring day.
Get a tour of a typical dormitory. Most colleges guarantee housing for at least your first year of attendance, so envision yourself in the room. How much space is there? How many students do they assign per room? How are roommates assigned? Is security lax or tight? What’s the quality of the facility and its restrooms?
Just as sure as you’ll tour the dorms, you’ll also get to walk through some academic buildings, too. Make sure you ask your tour guide which buildings your classes would be in, based on your area of study, then focus on those. Are they state-of-the-art or not so much? Do they have the resources you need to learn for your desired profession?
If possible, take it a step further and go visit your department’s office. You may get the chance to speak to a professor or department head who can answer some of your questions about the program.
Let’s get to the important stuff — the food! Be sure to get a taste for what would be on the menu for the next few years (should you decide to go there). Yeah, the school will probably pull out their best dishes for these visits to sway you, but it’s still important to get a sample of the food.
Next, figure out the closest dining hall to where you’d be living on campus. Are you comfortable with walking that distance, especially if it’s in an area known for inclement weather? Plus, find out when the dining halls are open. Some schools keep them open for the majority of the day, while others are only open during select timeframes. The more access to food you get, the better!
Depending on your study habits, you could be spending a lot of your college career in the library. See if the college library has personal study space you can use, particularly during final exams. In high school, you probably did your studying at home, but on campus, you’ll face more noise and distractions than you’re used to. So even if you don’t go to the library now, you probably will in the future.
How will you get around campus? Walking, by bus, or with your own car? While you’re there, look around to see how often the campus busses run and how many students get around by walking. That’ll give you a good sense for how most students get around. Or, you could just ask your tour guide.
Also, if you’ll be bringing a car to school, don’t forget to ask about parking availability for freshmen.
You can bet your parents will be curious about this one — and so should you.
Does the campus have a quality full-time health care center? If so, how far is it from on-campus housing? If it’s not nearby, do they offer transportation services?
Is there an urgent care facility or hospital nearby if the health center can’t see or help you?
You’ve probably relied on your parents until now for all things relating to your health. But now the onus is on you, so make sure you know what choices are available if you become ill.
What type of equipment does the gym have? How busy does it get? Is membership free for students?
If the school does not have a gym, see if they offer discounts to neighboring facilities off campus.
Are you interested in intramural sports? Ask about any leagues you could join, plus where games are played. If you’re a student-athlete, you should also check out the team’s athletic facilities.
You won’t want to hang around campus all day, every day. Check out the neighboring town or city! A fun, vibrant downtown can add to your college experience, especially as you get older.
Explore the area to see what activities are available on the weekends or even after a long day of classes. If this is not included in your tour, get in the car afterwards and drive around to see what you can find.
This might not seem important right now, but it will be. Find out what career counseling services the school offers to its students and graduates. This will be important, not only as graduation approaches, but also when you’re looking for internships or co-ops.
Do you want to join a campus organization? Ask your tour guide what groups are active on campus to see if any pique your interest. Larger schools tend to have more options to choose from.
Your tour guide might be limited in their knowledge of this area, but they can probably refer you to someone who knows more. If you’re lucky, you might get to swing by a meeting while you’re on campus.
This might seem like a long list, but most of it is pretty obvious. Tour guides are trained to show you all the important aspects of the school, so trust that they’ll lead you to the areas worth exploring.
And if something comes up that the tour guide doesn’t cover, speak up. Ask for more information. They may alter their tour slightly to address your questions, or they might tell you where to look so you can venture off on your own later.
Other than that, enjoy the visit! This is an exciting time, so don’t stress so much that you forget to enjoy the ride. Take notes and pictures, and don’t forget to grab a school sweatshirt from the bookstore on your way out so you’ll remember the experience — regardless of where you decide to go!
We are committed to helping you reach your potential. If you have questions about how to pay for college or would like more information, please call 1-888-411-0266 to speak to a Student Lending Specialist, visit us online, or stop by your nearest Citizens Bank branch.
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