Visiting a college is the best way to know if it will be a great fit for you. Read more about the importance of college visits from someone who knows best — an admissions counselor at Williams College:
As a first-generation college student, I remember the excitement and anxiety I felt when thinking about the college search process. I can imagine you’re feeling similarly, and now that I’m an admission officer at Williams College, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to offer some advice about college visits. I hope it’s helpful to you!
Get on a college campus—any campus!
There are so many different ways to get to know schools, but there’s no better way to truly get a sense of what different colleges offer than to spend some time on their campuses. I strongly recommend visiting a few different types of colleges—large vs. small, public vs. private, urban vs. rural—so that you can begin honing in on the characteristics of schools that resonate with you or don’t.
If you’re worried about cost, you should know that many schools, including Williams, offer all-expense-paid visits (commonly referred to as fly-in programs) for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit. At Williams, our program is called WOW and through it, we provide campus visits for more than 350 students each year. So make a list of the schools you’re interested in and find out when their fly-in program applications are due. Some applications open as early as the spring!
You don’t have to fly across the country for a quality campus visit. Exploring colleges in your local area (even if you’re sure you want a school farther away from home) can be a terrific way to get a sense of what qualities you’re looking for in the college you attend.
Once you’re there, what strikes you… and what doesn’t?
Sit in on a couple of classes. Pick a large lecture and a smaller, discussion-based course. Do you like the anonymity of a larger class or the opportunities for engagement you find in a smaller setting? Which setting will allow you to feel appropriately challenged and supported? Don’t forget to reach out to the admission office in advance for advice on how to get permission to attend classes.
Take a campus tour and attend an information session. You’ll have the opportunity to hear about the school directly from a current student and admission officer. And be prepared to ask about financial aid and academic, health and social support resources available to aid your successful transition to college and provide ongoing support.
Wander around. A campus tour is a great way to see a school, but perhaps the most authentic experience of its community can be had by simply sitting in the library, walking around in the student center, or grabbing a drink at the local coffee shop. Notice the daily interactions of those around you and take in the vibe of the place. Can you picture yourself there for the next four years?
Talk to current students. Ask about their favorite class and a highlight of their student experience. Ask them to describe a typical school day and how they spend their time outside of the classroom.
Reach out to your regional admission officer. Let them know in advance that you’ll be on campus and find out if they might be available to connect while you’re there. And be prepared to ask a couple of good questions and share a few thoughts on what draws you to the school.
Can’t visit a school you think might be a good fit?
No need to worry! There are many other great ways to learn about schools. Below, I’ve listed some of the ways you can get to know Williams with the hope that you’ll explore similar resources at other schools as well.
- Join the admission mailing list
- Take a virtual tour
- Follow the school on social media
- Read up on the latest campus news in the school newspaper
- If it’s an option, contact a current student directly
- Email your regional admission officer with any questions you have
And regardless of whether you visit a school, always be sure to…
Get a sense of what your family might be asked to pay. Every college will have its own financial aid calculator. At Williams, ours takes just a few minutes to complete!
Find out if there might be any unexpected costs. Out-of-pocket expenses can add up. Ask an admission officer if you’ll need to pay for travel costs for school breaks, health insurance, textbooks and course materials, music lessons, printing, or a gym locker. And if you’re interested in studying abroad, find out if all programs are funded for students receiving financial aid.
Final words of advice
Successfully arriving at a list of schools where you could thrive requires self-reflection, research and open-mindedness. So as you’re doing all of these things I’ve suggested above, take the time to consider what you’ve appreciated about your high school experience and how you hope to grow intellectually and personally in college.
If you have any questions about college visits or the college search process generally, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d be more than happy to be helpful in any way I can. Good luck on this exciting adventure!
Eduard is an Admission Counselor at Williams College, a QuestBridge college partner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.