Applying to college is super exciting, but with that excitement can come stress and confusion. There are so many colleges to choose from, and a lot of their websites start to blend together after a while. That is why we suggest planning a college campus trip! We know this isn’t an option for everyone, but if you have the resources to do so, you should take the time to visit at least a portion of the colleges you are considering applying to. Whether it’s a day-trip, a weekend-trip, or a week-long trip, seeing the campus in person will make a huge difference. We’ve created a guide to help you plan your first college campus trip. Read on and discover how to make your college campus trip the best ever!

Step One: Narrow Down the Colleges You're Interested In

Now, we know you haven’t begun applying to universities yet so you may not have thought too much about your top picks, but now is the time to start doing so! Try and narrow your list down to 5-10 universities (depending on how long your trip is going to be). You can even break them further into categories, those that you’re really interested in and those that you’re only semi-interested in. You never know how seeing a campus in person can influence your opinion of a college.

Step Two: Choose a Region to Focus On

This is probably the most important step in planning a college campus tour. Look at the list of colleges you’ve created in the step above, and search the specific locations of each. Again, the location you choose is dependent on how long your trip is going to be, and so based on the length of your trip, decide whether there is one city, state, or region that allows you to see the majority of the colleges on your list. If possible, try and pick a city that has several colleges in it as this will allow you to maximize the amount of campus tours you go on. For example, if you are going on a day trip, Boston would be a great city. If you have a bit more time, you could venture into other parts of Massachusetts or even Rhode Island, and finally if you have a week, you could explore all of New England.

Step Three: Book Campus Tours In Advance

Though you may be more inclined to do your own thing, it’s important to book a campus tour with each specific university in advance. Official campus tours give prospective students access to facilities that the general public would not normally be able to see, such as dorm rooms. It’s also essential to book your tours before embarking on your trip as you don’t want to arrive only to discover that all of the tours are booked for that day (which is especially likely on a weekend). If the tour doesn’t include the following, you should try and find a way to visit these spots on campus:

  • a student residence
  • a student cafeteria
  • a classroom (and sit in on a class if possible)
  • an academic advisor’s office (speak with an advisor if possible and ask them about the specific program of study you’re interested in)

Step Four: Contact A Student At The Colleges You Are Visiting

This may not be feasible for everyone, but if you know anyone, whether they are a close family member or an acquaintance or even just a friend of a friend you’ve never met, contact them about meeting up while on your trip. Ask your family friends if they know of anyone that is studying at any of the colleges you’re visiting, or even post a status on Facebook asking if any of your friends know anyone at a certain university. Speaking with someone who is currently a student at the college you’re interested in (and isn’t paid to give tours and make the school look good) will give you major insight into what life at that college is really like.  

Step Five: Explore the Neighbourhood

Exploring the neighbourhood a college is situated in is nearly as important as seeing the campus itself. You’ll be living here for a minimum of four years, so you better enjoy the surroundings! Check out the shopping scene, have lunch at a restaurant or cafe, and take a walk around the main hub of off-campus student housing. Try and get your bearings in the neighbourhood, figure out where the campus is in relation to everything else, and where the closest city is located.

Step Six: Take Lots of Pictures and Pick Up Pamphlets

You might think it’s a little dorky to be holding a camera, but taking pictures and being able to look through them will be very helpful when deciding which colleges to apply to (and accept an offer from). If you have booked a campus tour, you’re guaranteed to be leaving with multiple pamphlets, but if not be sure to visit the student centre or academic advisor’s office and pick up a few informational pamphlets on the university, their course offerings, campus events, etc..

Step Seven: Debrief  

The whole point of this tour is to help you make a decision as to which colleges you’re most interested in applying to, so think critically about each of the universities you saw. It’s best to do this at the end of each day or even after each campus tour because if you wait until the end of your trip, things may get muddled in your mind. Perhaps make a chart beforehand with a simple rating system for each college. Some suggestions for categories of criteria:

  • Academic Reputation (Is it prestigious? Does it have an international reputation?)
  • Location (Is it located in a city or nearby a city?)
  • Program of Study (Do they have courses I’m interested in?)
  • Professors/Research Facilities (Is there a good professor to student ratio?)
  • Cost/Financial Aid Program (How expensive is it? What is the likelihood of receiving financial aid?)
  • Social Life (Do they have a variety of student clubs and sports team? Do they frequently hold campus events?)

Make sure to leave a section for comments so you can write down what you really liked and disliked about each college (what struck you, were there any major pros or cons, did you get a good vibe?).

Then it’s up to you to figure out which of those categories matter the most! Good luck!