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College Visit Checklist

College visits are important. They can be fun as well as informative.

Planning ahead will make the visit more productive and ensure that you and your student get the information you need.

When should you go?

You may decide to visit colleges before your student applies; wait until after they've been admitted; or do a little of each.

Visiting early in the college process will allow you to save on admissions application fees as well as spare your student from wasting time on applications for schools they wouldn't attend even if they were to be admitted.

Plus, if your student visits before submitting their application, they can incorporate something about visiting their campus into their essay and demonstrate their deep interest in that school.

However, traveling for college visits can be expensive and time consuming, depending how far you go and how many schools you tour.

Meanwhile, some families choose to only visit schools after their student has been accepted. This strategy avoids the disappointment of your student falling in love with a school and then not being admitted.

Which plan is best?

I generally suggest families do a bit of each. Pick a few schools to visit early and wait on others.

You can start touring colleges when your student starts high school, or even sooner. This way you will avoid the time crunch of having "too many college visits, in too little time!"

In other words, if your student is admitted to numerous schools, it may be difficult to visit all of those that seem to be a great fit before the May 1 decision deadline.

Whenever you go, the important thing is that your student does visit before committing to a college. Although there is a lot of information available online and elsewhere, nothing can give a student a better sense of whether a college suits them than going in person.

Planning Ahead

Here's your checklist for a great college visit that will give your family important information to make some big decisions!

Before you arrive:

  • Schedule your visit when classes are in session, if possible.
  • Find out if there is a hotel on campus and stay there.
  • Ask whether the college offers (or requires) student interviews. If may be most convenient to schedule an interview while you're on campus rather arranging for an interview with a local representative when you get back home.
  • Arrange for your student to attend a class, ideally in their area of interest.
  • Explore opportunities for students to spend a night in a dorm.
  • Sign-up for a campus tour.
  • Look for athletic events, concerts or other activities that will be happening on campus during your stay and arrange for tickets.
  • Ask the admissions office for travel suggestions.
  • Research organizations, such as religious services or LGBT programs, if those are important to your student feeling "at home."
  • When you get to town
  • Be aware of how easy or difficult it is to get from the airport to campus (if you're flying).
  • Explore the local college town.
  • What amenities are available near campus?
  • Does your student like the location?
  • Talk to vendors, servers in restaurants, and hotel staff for tips of things to do.

Once you're on campus

  • Read the college newspaper written by students to gain insights about:
  • Any brewing issues on campus
  • Activities
  • Available internships, research positions, and other opportunities for students
  • Crime
  • School spirit
  • In addition to taking an official campus tour, be sure to talk to other students on campus who are not employed by the college and may share their (hopefully) candid opinions.

Eat in the cafeteria.

  • How's the food?
  • Are there options that fit your student's food preferences and any food allergies?
  • Do men and women sit together...and does your student care?
  • Visit the admissions office. Your campus tour may meet here.
  • If you or your student have been communicating with an admissions officer, make an effort to meet them during your visit. At some colleges, this can be very important for showing your student's interest in the college.
  • Notice whether the admissions office staff is friendly and helpful.
  • What services are available to freshmen to ease the transition to college?
  • Ask questions.
  • Gather literature that may not be available online.

During the campus tour

  • Stay near the front of the pack so you can hear other families' questions.
  • Talk to the other families about what they've learned about the school.
  • Notice the other students' college majors and interests.
  • Ask your tour guide what they like least/most about attending that college.
  • Realize that the tour guide is trained to answer questions in a certain way that positively positions the college.
  • Research housing options.

TIP: Identify a few dorms that your student would want to live in.

  • Is on-campus housing guaranteed? Required?
  • How are freshman roommates matched-up?
  • When can students put down a deposit to hold their space for a dorm room? Is the room deposit refundable?
  • Request to visit a dorm and find out the differences among dorms and dorm locations.
  • Do some dorms have air conditioning? (Does your student care?)
  • Which dorms contain dining halls?
  • Are there coed/single-sex dorms or floors? Does your teen care?
  • What are the different types of rooms, such as suites?
  • Do some dorms have rooms with bathrooms?
  • What is the difference between dorm locations?
  • Are there "honors" dorms or other grouping criteria?
  • Does the college have freshmen dorms?
  • What are the policies for guests?
  • Do costs vary by residential hall?


  • Are there a variety of places on campus for snacks, coffee, and meals?
  • Do the students look happy?
  • Are admissions officers, students, and others friendly?
  • Are students in groups or mostly alone?
  • Does clothing seem important? Is there an apparent dress code? Does your student care?
  • Is there is a lot of student parking? This may indicate a commuter school with students going home on weekends.
  • What else does your student notice?
  • What do you see?


The college tour will probably include the following highlights. If not, be sure to see:

  • The student union
  • The gym
  • Library
  • Book store (a great place to meet students and ask more questions)
  • Popular spots on campus
  • Special interest offices such as Study Abroad (if your student is considering studying abroad)
  • The labs (for science majors) or studios (for art majors), for example
  • Classrooms
  • Coffee spot on campus
  • Stadium
  • Scholarships/Financial Aid Office
  • Meet with a scholarship/financial aid officer, if possible, to learn about opportunities for your student as an in-coming freshman, transfer student and/or upper classman. This includes merit scholarships, work-study programs, paid internships and paid research assistants.
  • How does this college "feel" to your student?
  • Can your student envision attending that college?
  • What did they like/not like about their experience on campus?
  • Did the college visit increase or decrease your student's interest level?

TIP: There's a lot of information to sort through.

Encourage your student to jot down (or type onto their cell phone),their impressions as well as any lingering questions or concerns about that school to research later.

If cost will be a factor in where your student ultimately goes to college, remind them of this and discuss any expectations you have about their responsibility for contributing to the cost of college.

Next Step

I'd love to know which tips you found most helpful and whether you have any questions about anything discussed here. Let me know at [email protected]



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