You will place an unfair burden on your family by waiting until your rising
senior summer. Experience touring campuses in Grades 9-10 makes you a savvy consumer by learning what is important to test and what is smoke-and-mirrors designed to impress rookie tourists.
Pick the wrong time.
Summer and weekends may seem convenient, but you want to see the living, breathing campus in action. An April Monday provides a completely different feel than a July Sunday. And such opportunities such as waiting in the Starbucks line gives you a chance to talk up a current student on what school is like.
Settle for the “show” dorm.
A college will make the dorm everybody sees as appealing as possible. Ask to see they boys/girls dorms that freshies actually stay. Be persistent if you get a response about the actual dorm rooms being out of bounds. Explain you’ve come from far away and need to see the real deal to consider the college.
Spend more time in the nearby town or peeking into the local restaurants than sampling campus food and picking up a campus vibe.
Neglect the surroundings a few hours in any direction. That may sound like the opposite of the last tip. But there is more work to do. Once you have done your intensive campus visit, learn about the Big City a bus ride away. Scan the parks for running, biking or climbing, rivers for kayaking, museums for areas of interest, sports venues for games of choice, shopping options, restaurants, movie theaters. A number of small towns developed around small colleges. If you get bored after seeing things one or two weekends in a town of 2,000, imagine what Year Four will be like for your cosmopolitan soul.
Watch the tour guide walk backwards.
Kids, do not try this; s/he has done it so many times it is second nature. Sometimes I suspect there is a for-credit class on heel-then-toe walking. Practice in your bedroom for your bemused cat, not on the sidewalk with an unseen crack. Listen and take in the guide’s spiel as important nuggets of hands-on perspective often give great insight to campus life.
The campus visit is a great time to gather as much first-hand information as possible. You are the only one who knows specifically what you consider most crucial to your decision. Take time to do your research and prepare questions before the visit, and most importantly, ask questions of tour guides and admission officers. It is not up to mom or dad to lead the charge; pretend they have a pointy stick for the slow spots and give 100%.
Waste your time checking out the collegians of your preferred sex. They aren’t interested in high school seniors. Eye candy is one thing but focus on connecting with a potential department mentor, not imagine your role in episodes of The Bachelor. This goes double when mom and dad are within sight. Enough said.
Fail to take notes.
You need to bring a checklist. After three campus visits your brain will jumble up which one had what. By five, it is ridiculous. Guaranteed. Evernote, Google Keep, Apple Notes, an old-fashioned notebook, whatever. Take pictures, too. Organization is an absolute must for every trip. Your opinions will change as you add school visits. And this will give you ideas for future questions.
Ignore the weather.
You already know if you are a warm-weather person or somebody who loves four distinct seasons. You have to consider the number of steps between classes and activities during rainy season at the University of Washington, winter at UW-Green Bay and anyplace south of the Mason-Dixon Line without air-conditioned dorms and classrooms. Learn about the bus service and check out the campus maps at Stanford and Duke, both of which top 8,000 acres.
Skip schools two time zones away.
Virtual tours and university visits in your home area are common. If something clicks, though, it cannot hurt to ask parents if they would be willing to fly 1,000 miles or so to sate your curiosity. Suggest it as part of a vacation if necessary.
Leave after the glowing hourlong report from your tour guide. Definitely hit the library, the food venues, the favored major department building, ask students clever questions. A few extra hours should help you answer the BIG question:
Will I be happy here?