When you start thinking about college applications, you should also start thinking about when to start visiting colleges. Visiting a campus in-person or online will give you an idea of what the day-to-day life is like on campus.
A college campus visit is also a good chance to talk to students, professors, coaches, or admissions officers. So, when should you start visiting colleges?
When Should I Start Visiting Colleges?
If you go to visit lots of colleges all at once, it can be hard to fit them all into one trip without feeling rushed. To get an early start, you should start visiting colleges in the spring of your junior year.
Spring of Junior Year
There are some big advantages to visiting colleges in the spring of your junior year. Perhaps the most important one is that you can visit a college long before you decide to apply.
If you visit a college and you don’t like the campus, or the town is too quiet, or the city is too busy and polluted for your liking, then you don’t have to apply! This can save you some serious time on preparing your college applications. It can also save you some serious money on application and test reporting fees!
Visiting colleges in the spring of your junior year is a great idea if you already have a solid list of schools that you are interested in. This makes it easy to plan a visit based on geographic region (northeast, southeast, etc.). Try to plan for a trip over a long weekend or over a school break.
It also makes sense to visit schools early if you are being considered for a sports, academic, art, music, or other scholarship at the school. Expressing an interest in the school and getting face-to-face time with your contacts for the scholarship will help you to decide if it is right for you (and it may improve your chances of winning the scholarship!)
On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to visiting colleges in the spring of your junior year. Perhaps the most important one is test preparation and test taking.
Many students will take their first ACT or SAT in the spring of junior year. This is a great idea, since it helps you to figure out where to focus your test preparation efforts for later tests in the summer or fall.
However, preparing for the ACT or SAT will keep you very busy, especially on top of your junior year course load, sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities! With so much going on, it might be difficult to find time for college visits.
If you do decide to visit colleges in the spring of junior year, plan on taking the ACT or SAT either well before that (late winter or early spring), or during the summer. That way, college visits won’t get in the way of preparing for these tests.
Another disadvantage of visiting colleges in the spring of junior year is that it can feel rushed if you don’t have a solid college list yet. The last thing you want to do is spend time visiting colleges that are not a fit for you (based on your research concerning available majors, etc.)
Yet another disadvantage of visiting colleges early is that it is not always practical to visit distant colleges before you even apply. You certainly don’t want to miss days of class and jeopardize your academics for a visit to a far away campus!
Maybe there is a college you are interested in, but it would be too difficult or expensive to visit early. In that case, try to take a virtual tour, and if you are still interested, apply to the school. If you are accepted, then you can look into checking out the campus in person at a later time.
Note: college students get a spring break in March, so you might not want to visit a campus during that time. The campus will be near-empty, so you won’t have many people to talk to. It will not be a true representation of what the campus is really like during the semester.
You are better off visiting during your regular high school vacation in the spring. Lots of other students will be visiting during this time, and you might be able to carpool with friends!
Summer Before Senior Year
If the spring of your junior year is just too busy for visiting colleges, then consider visiting over the summer before senior year. Visiting colleges in the summer before senior year is still early enough that you can rule out schools before applying later in the fall.
If you visit a college in the summer, you will be able to find parking much more easily (this is a big deal in some cities!). You also get to check out the campus at a time when you don’t have much to worry about for your classes (besides the odd summer book report or research project!)
One disadvantage of visiting a college in the summer is that there are not as many students on campus. Some professors also go away on vacation or to do research elsewhere. As a result, you may be limited in who you can talk to during your visit.
A college campus can seem pretty quiet in the summer, apart from a few students doing research or taking directed study courses. Unfortunately, this is not a true representation of what the campus normally looks like during the academic year.
Fall of Senior Year
Visiting colleges during the fall of your senior year gives you plenty of time beforehand to narrow down your college list. That way, you won’t waste any time visiting colleges that don’t have the majors you want.
One big disadvantage to start visiting colleges during the fall of your senior year is that it is getting late in the game. This is especially true if you are applying early decision or early action to some schools.
Another big disadvantage of visiting colleges in the fall of senior year is being busy and overbooked. The fall of senior year can be very difficult when you are dealing with:
- Taking your final ACT/SAT attempt before applying to college
- Filling out college applications (essays to brainstorm and edit, resumes to write)
- Applying for scholarships)
- Playing varsity sports
- Taking your school’s toughest courses (honors, AP, IB, and directed study courses).
With all of that going on, college visits might be the last thing you have time for. I would not recommend leaving college visits for this late stage, unless you are already done with your ACT or SAT preparation and test taking.
Is Sophomore Year Too Early to Visit Colleges?
Yes, sophomore year is too early to visit colleges. For one thing, the campus can change a lot by the time you apply in a couple of years!
In that time, the administration could add a brand-new gym or athletic facility that you will love. They could also tear down that old library you loved when you visited.
The college could also add (or remove) majors over the course of one or two years. In short: don’t use an early visit to eliminate a college that might be a good fit for you in a year or two!
How to Schedule a College Visit
To schedule a college visit, your first step is to contact the admissions office and ask about tour dates and times. Find one that is compatible with your schedule and put it on your calendar!
Ask about looking at the dining, research, sports, and library facilities, along with anything else you are interested in seeing. The official campus tour may cover these things, but you never know. Besides, it is nice to take the time to walk around by yourself to take everything in at your own pace.
Also, ask if you can meet coaches or professors that you are interested in working with. No matter what else you do, be sure to spend some time walking around without a tour guide.
This gives you the chance to ask some questions of students. That way, you can get the real deal about homework, studying, campus life, and so forth.
What to Look For On A College Visit (How to Decide Where to Apply)
When deciding what to look for on a college visit, you will need to decide what is most important to you personally. No college is going to have it all, but it helps to bring a notebook to keep track of what you liked or didn’t like at each campus.
Make a college visit checklist so that you can fairly compare each school based on the same criteria. For example, you might look at things like:
- Student Union / Campus Center
- Housing (Dorms & Amenities, nearby apartments, etc.)
- Food (dining hall, plus nearby grocery stores, restaurants, or take-out places)
- City vs. Rural (How close is the college to the nearest major city? Is the college in a run-down part of town? Is there anything fun to do nearby?)
- Size (area of campus, but also the number of students – Is it too crowded? Is it too lonely? Will you feel lost on a huge campus? Will you feel trapped on a tiny one?)
- Nearby Colleges
- Nearby Activities (indoor rock climbing, hiking, fishing, malls and shopping, amusement parks, etc.)
- Job Market (on-campus for work study, and off-campus for extra income)
There may be other things to consider, so compare lists with your friends and write down everything you want to look for!
Now you know when you should start visiting colleges, and how to plan a visit. You also have a good idea of what you should look for when you visit a college campus.
Besides college visits, there is also the application process to worry about. That will include taking the ACT or SAT. Here at Testive, we don’t want you to stress about that any more than you need to.
If you need some guidance with the test prep process, the best thing to do is schedule a free consultation call with one of Testive’s Student Success Advisors!