Visiting colleges is a rite of passage. Wondering what to expect and how to maximize your time?

  • Go to the information session.

Ok, I know that they can be a little dull. But I strongly suggest that you attend the information session, at least for your top choice schools. Although info sessions vary tremendously in quality, you might pick up a really helpful bit of strategic advice. At the very least you can learn more about the curriculum, student life, etc. – all useful points of comparison and details to weave into your essays and interviews.

  • Don’t feel pressure to talk.

You do not need to raise your hand and ask a question – no one expects it, and too many comments can actually derail a tour or presentation and create a bad impression. Schools assume that you are engaged – and honestly, no one is really tracking your participation.

  • But be careful if you do.

That being said, it IS possible to get on a school’s radar in a negative way. You don’t want to be that parent (or applicant) who is asking questions about their particular profile, challenging the school to explain why it so awesome, or asking rote questions about information that can be found online.

  • Ignore any competitive parents or students.

Inevitably, there will be someone who asks a question just to brag. (”Bobby has a 4.3 GPA and a perfect SAT score. He also speaks 15 languages and is a recruited athlete in 4 sports. I know that there are many students just like Bobby here, can you introduce us to someone who was also deciding between this Ivy and Stanford?”) Don’t let these people psych you out.

  • Try not to be overly influenced by the tour guide.

This is a funny one for me – you would think that I would know better, as a former Dartmouth admissions officer. Nevertheless, when visiting colleges with my daughter I was ALWAYS influenced by whether or not we related to the tour guide! Don’t be me – please try to look beyond the personality of the individual leading your tour, who is just one representative of a diverse community. Bonus advice: Don’t automatically eliminate a school because it’s raining when you visit. I might know someone who did that too.

  • Pay attention to the actual students who go there.

However, even on a preliminary visit, you can get some important cultural clues. Do the students seem happy? Are they talking to each other or avoiding eye contact? Are the common areas busy or deserted?

  • Take notes.

After a while schools can blend, and you will want to remember what you liked and disliked. You should also record details that you can leverage in your applications. Although you will likely be back, visiting colleges as an admitted student before making a final decision, these first impressions are super important. Pay attention to how you feel on campus, and take notes.