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Campus Visits: How to Get Started and Where to Visit

campus visits How to get started and where to visit
Emily Toffelmire

Written by Emily Toffelmireon November 28th, 2023

I came to College Coach after working for many years in college admissions and high school counseling. As a school counselor, I assisted students in the college application process and wrote hundreds of letters of recommendation, while also helping them and their families cope with any emotional, social, and academic concerns throughout the year. I transitioned from the high school setting to the admissions office when I joined the University of Southern California as an assistant director, reading freshmen and transfer applications and collaborating on admission decisions for over 150 majors, including the liberal arts, engineering, business, cinema, and the fine and performing arts. I subsequently took on the role of senior assistant director in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, where I coordinated the division's Mork, Stamps, Trustee, Presidential and Dean's merit scholarship selection process, as well as recruitment publications and outreach, and traveled everywhere from Honolulu to Miami presenting to and interviewing hundreds of applicants each year.
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by Emily Toffelmire, former admissions officer at University of Southern California As the second semester of the school year approaches, more and more families are asking us about campus visits, especially for their juniors. To help kick off the college tour process many students will take part in, we rounded up our five most commonly asked questions, plus some of the most popular locations our students love to visit. When should we start visiting colleges? Many students begin campus visits in junior year in order to help shape their college list. Others stick with virtual tours until spring of senior year, visiting only those campuses to which they’ve been accepted. And then there are those who start tagging along on an older sibling’s visits when they’re in middle school—and those who will never visit a campus until move-in day. There’s no one right approach, and each family’s plan is determined by factors like work and school schedules, finances, and their home location. How and where do we get started? We suggest focusing your first visits on campuses that are local or regional for you, like those that can be reached via car, or even via a quick train ride or short flight. We encourage seeing a variety of colleges during this phase of research, especially if a student isn’t sure what type of setting or size they prefer. For example, plan a road trip that includes a large public university in a small town AND visit a nearby city to tour a smaller private college with an urban campus. These glimpses of just a few purposefully different settings are often enough to help a student figure out what kind of campus they’ll thrive in. This early learning will allow you to focus future college visits—especially if plane tickets or hotels are involved—on campuses that are most likely to be a good fit for the student. Is it better to go when the college is actually in session? Short answer: yes. However, a school-year visit isn’t always practical. While we recommend a school-year tour so you can get a more accurate feel for campus life, you can still learn a lot from visiting schools during winter or summer breaks. We do suggest avoiding formal holidays, when admission offices typically close and campuses are especially empty. What do we actually do on a college visit? An admissions officer usually presents an information session that includes facts about the college and tips on the application process. This session is often paired with a campus tour led by a current student. We recommend taking advantage of both the info session and the tour to make your visit worthwhile. You can sign up for these options by going to a college’s admission website and then looking for the “visit” section, which usually leads to a scheduling calendar. Do we need to prepare? No homework necessary, just show up! If you’d prefer more of a plan, check out this post, How Parents Can Maximize the College Tour Experience, which is geared toward parents on tours but has advice that’s useful for students, too. And watch Top Things to Do on a College Tour, which has some additional tips for how to supplement your visit if you’ve got more time to spend on campus. Now that your family is ready to start your college research with a few local visits, here are some of the most popular groupings of campus visits for College Coach students. Colleges Visit Guide for the Boston Area
  • Consider starting with two or three of these (choosing different sizes and urban/suburban settings for contrast): Boston University, Boston College, Brandeis, Clark, Northeastern, Stonehill, Tufts, and Wellesley.
  • Looking for a niche academic focus? Consider Babson and Bentley for business, Emerson for media arts, or Olin and WPI for engineering.
Colleges Visit Guide for New York City/New Jersey
  • In NYC, many students are drawn to Barnard, Columbia, Fordham, and NYU. For contrast to that super-urban setting, consider also visiting Hofstra, Rutgers, Sarah Lawrence, Drew, or Stevens Institute of Technology.
  • Want more public school options? If Rutgers feels too big, try The College of New Jersey. In New York, check out some of the SUNY campuses nearest to NYC, like Purchase and Stony Brook.
Colleges Visit Guide for North Carolina
  • UNC Chapel Hill and NC State are big, urban campuses; contrast that setting with a visit to Davidson, Elon, High Point, or Wake Forest.
  • Interested in HBCU? North Carolina has a number of historically Black colleges and universities, including NC A&T and NC Central.
Colleges Visit Guide for Texas
  • Depending on family (or football) loyalties, check out Texas A&M and UT Austin for that big campus feel.
  • Texas is a huge state, but if you’re ready for a road trip and want to see a variety of colleges, consider Baylor in Waco, Trinity in San Antonio, Southern Methodist and TCU in Dallas-Fort Worth, and U of Houston and Rice in Houston.
Colleges Visit Guide for the Chicago Area
  • Often the heart of Midwestern college tours, Chicago features DePaul, Loyola Chicago, U Chicago, and Northwestern, among other campuses.
  • If you can swing it, drive northwest to Madison to visit the University of Wisconsin, south to the University of Illinois, or east to Notre Dame.
Colleges Visit Guide for Southern California
  • In greater Los Angeles, choose a big campus (UCLA, University of Southern California, UC Irvine) and a smaller school (Loyola Marymount, The Claremont Colleges, Occidental).
  • In San Diego, contrast UC San Diego, San Diego State, and the University of San Diego.
Colleges Visit Guide for Northern California
  • Regardless of their home state, students love to check out UC Berkeley. If you want to see more UC options, consider heading over to UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis.
  • Interested in smaller campuses than the UC? Try Santa Clara University, St. Mary’s College of California, or University of San Francisco.
Colleges Visit Guide for the Pacific Northwest
  • For an urban or suburban feel, try these Portland and Seattle campuses: Lewis & Clark College, Reed College, University of Portland, Seattle University, and University of Washington.
  • For the college town vibe, visit Oregon State, University of Oregon, and Washington State. Spokane, on the eastern edge of Washington, features smaller private campuses like Gonzaga and Whitman.

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