How to Make the Most of a College Visit

I’ve been at Drake University for the past two-and-a-half years now and I absolutely love it. This coming weekend, I get the chance to share my excitement about my college with my little sister. She’s a senior in high school, and as someone whose high school years were hit hard by COVID-19, she’s squeezing in all of her college visits and tours this fall. I’m beyond ecstatic to share my experiences with my younger sister (and a friend she convinced to visit too), but seeing a college for the first time can be daunting. Below are my tips on how to make the most out of a college visit from someone who’s been on her fair share.

1. Do your research.

It’s tempting to want to show up to a visit with an open slate. While that gives you lots of opportunities to learn and explore the school without any preconceived notions, it also means you won’t be asking the questions you’re going to want to know the answers to.

I tried this tactic on a school about 30 minutes from my hometown and the visit was a complete mess. I didn’t have any questions because I didn’t know enough off the bat to know what I’d want answers to. I hadn’t even looked up the different programs they offered and found out at the end of the tour that if I wanted to pursue journalism as a career, my best bet would be to major in English, which was something I didn’t want to do because I wanted a school with a legitimate journalism program. At the end of the visit, it felt like a waste of time because I didn’t learn enough about any of the specifics I’d later want to know.

If you’re stuck and don’t know where to research, check out US News and World Report for rankings as well as the school’s website.

2. Prep questions ahead of time.

I’m generally a pretty soft-spoken person and I’m not good at thinking on the spot. I typically need time to process information before I can come up with questions that I want answered. Knowing this about myself going into college visits was great because I knew to plan ahead. Instead of staring blank-faced whenever I was asked for questions, I prepped some ahead of time so that I’d have something to ask, even if it wasn’t something I was dying to know. I typically came up with some generic questions as well as more tailored ones if I knew I was meeting individually with students, admissions counselors, or professors.

Here are some sample questions to bring with you on your next college visit:

  • What traditions are there on campus?
  • What’s your favorite part of attending/working at this school?
  • What’s the political climate like on campus?
  • What kinds of clubs are available for students to join?
  • What is there to do for fun around campus?
  • Why did you choose this school?

Click here for more suggestions.

3. Plan to visit when you can meet students.

For me, one of the biggest deciding factors for choosing Drake was the students. Before submitting my decision, I visited the campus three times, once during the summer, once for an admitted students day, and once for a scholarship day. The visit that cemented my love of the campus was the admitted students day I attended. I had decided that if I was going to go to a school that’s a 14-hour drive from my hometown, I needed to be able to make the visit by myself. I have an aunt and uncle in Des Moines who I stayed with, but I attended the entirety of the visit day solo.

This was actually super awkward and I wouldn’t recommend it because literally everyone else there was with one parent, if not two, but the organizers took it in stride and assigned one of the student ambassadors to be my buddy for the day. She walked with me on the tour, ate lunch with me in the dining hall, and kept me company for the entirety of the day and she was the sweetest person. I knew that if I could make friends with this random girl I was assigned to (and if she was nice enough to adopt me for the day), I would like the student personality on campus, and I was right.

4. Communicate with your admissions counselor(s).

Drake has a lot of really unique experiences that it can offer its students, which was a major pull for me as a prospective student. One such thing was the Magazine Media Major. Because I had gone on a visit to what ended up being my second choice school and attended a class, I figured that on one of my visits to Drake, I needed to see what classroom life was like here as well. So, I emailed my admissions councilor and asked.

Unfortunately, because I was visiting on a Friday at the end of J-term, classes weren’t really meeting, but they were able to allow me to do something even better. Magazine Media majors at Drake have the opportunity to work an apprenticeship at the Meredith Corporation, the United State’s largest magazine publisher. Apprentices spend their time working on a specific publication in a role and then present to the other apprentices on the different experiences they’ve had and things they’ve learned. The day I wanted to attend class happened to be one of those presentation days, so one of the Magazine Professors met with me, answered my questions, teased me about including flowery details and being concise in writing (his feud with the English department), and drove me to Meredith headquarters in downtown Des Moines to meet his students and sit in on one of their presentations.

This made for such an engaging visit, and I’m eagerly awaiting my opportunity to apply for a role as an apprentice. My visit to Meredith was such a success that the admissions counselor I had been conversion with via email declared that field trips to Meredith to see the apprenticeships in action would become more common for J-school visitors like myself.

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