Commentary: Planning a successful college visit |

Commentary: Planning a successful college visit

Photo for The Union John Hart
Jorn Hart | The Union

Think of college visits as the first step in a college education.

It is during these visits that students discover what seems right for them academically and socially and is the starting point in choosing which colleges to apply to.

When should you begin college visits? I recommend casually visiting campuses as early as the freshman year in high school.

If you are planning a family trip to the Bay Area, visit a few colleges along the way.

Visiting when school is in session is the best way to get a true indicator of the school’s atmosphere.

Try to see a variety of colleges — public, private, big and small. Some great campuses within 150 miles of Nevada County are California State University, Chico; University of California, Davis; UC Berkeley; Mt. Saint Mary’s; Dominican and the University of San Francisco.

Even if these colleges are not your first choice, it will give you an idea of the options.

The junior year of high school is when students should make more formal visits to colleges. You will need to sign up at least two weeks ahead for campus tours and student interviews.

Visiting when school is in session is the best way to get a true indicator of the school’s atmosphere.

If your high school has a fall break, this would be an excellent time to visit, as college will be in full swing.

Students tend to procrastinate in scheduling college visits and may be nervous about taking this important step for their future. Bringing along a friend could help and would also benefit a student who may not have the resources to travel on his or her own.

How do students decide which colleges are the right fit? During the campus visit, take note of the size of the campus. Is 10,000 students too small? Is 20,000 too big?

How far from home is the campus? Is it in a city or in a small town? What about academics, majors, athletics and activities?

The college visit will help answer all these questions.

Most colleges have student-led tours that you can sign up for on the admission’s website. Chatty students usually lead these tours.

Be prepared with questions that are of interest to you, such as: “Which majors are impacted?”

You can also arrange to sit in on a class, visit the dining halls and possibly spend the night in a dorm.

Take note of any new construction on the tours. This will give you an indication of the school’s priorities and focus for the future. Also notice what they are not showing you.

If the dorms weren’t on the tour, they may be trying to avoid showing them.

Visit the bookstore, cafes and dining halls.

Postings on campus bulletin boards will give you an idea of the political atmosphere, art and music scene.

People to visit on campus could include coaches, dance, theater and art instructors.

The financial aid office may be an important destination in deciding on the right college.

Some smaller, mostly private colleges offer admission interviews and you can often schedule these during the college visit.

In next month’s column, I will discuss the college interview.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who worked for the Nevada Joint Union High School District for 20 years. She can be reached at or at

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