Do I need to see it? The value of a campus visit

Do I need to see it? The value of a campus visit

It feels like the pandemic has been going on forever now, changing how we approach many of the ways in which we have lived our lives. For the most part though, the majority of us are leaving our homes each day again and trying to balance a new normal of restrictions and awareness for our safety and those around us. The college admission process has of course not been immune to the impacts of the pandemic as the normal operation of schools around the world were forced online, grades impacted and standardized testing halted for a time. This too, meant that visits to college campuses were not possible for prospective students, at least in the traditional sense.

Prior to the beginning of the pandemic and its corresponding lockdowns, the campus visit was often recommended not only as a tool for students to make their final decision, but more importantly, as a critical element of their research process. As the world reopens and college admission offices begin offering campus tours again, some may wonder: “With all the enhanced virtual options available to students, is there still an emphasis or even need for the traditional campus visit?” In short: yes! 

Particularly for students of marginalized backgrounds who may not come from families or communities where going to college is the norm, seeing a college campus early in their education can be extremely beneficial to helping them see new educational possibilities and their benefits in their own lives. Public schools and community-based organizations often bring elementary, middle and early high school students to college campuses simply for this very exposure. In the US, it can sometimes be easy to forget that college is not a given route for many if not most of its inhabitants. Making sure students see a path to college and understand what “college” is, is important to be able to visualize themselves in this type of future.

Once students enter high school, the campus visit takes a more specific purpose: helping students with their college search. Most students do not have the ability to do extensive travel or to see every college they end up applying to in senior year and not only is that normal, that’s ok! Junior year is typically the best time to do a campus visit with an eye for the college admissions process itself. At that point, a student is better equipped to imagine themselves in such a space and knows themselves and their goals well enough to get a sense of what might be right for them, though they may need some support with that process. In this research phase, seeing any campus is helpful in discerning the types of qualities a student values in their future college experience such as size, location, classroom style, campus style, community “vibe,” academic programs and opportunities, and more. Seeing a campus in person makes the experience much more tangible for students and allows them to hear from a current student, their tour guide, to whom they can also pose their questions. 

As students narrow their list, it’s important to consider if any college tracks “demonstrated interest,” a term that refers to any way in which a student interacts with a college from opening emails to interacting with a representative at a college fair to visiting the campus. In cases where the college tracks this information, a campus visit can be a small boost in the review process for a student. You can get help from your counselor to figure out if this applies to any schools on your list and how that may impact your process.

Finally, once a student has received their acceptances, they may decide to narrow it down to deciding between just a couple of schools and go see those campuses in order to help facilitate making a final decision on which school they would like to attend. 

No matter when a student visits a campus, the experience is extremely valuable even when the result is no longer having an interest in that college. Take good notes and be sure to speak with your counselor for important questions to ask, tips, and guidance for making the most of your campus visit beyond the admission office-sponsored tour to ensure you take full advantage of what is likely a limited opportunity to visit a campus!

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