Visiting colleges can be one of the most exciting parts of the broader college application process. It gives you a glimpse into how different life can be at various schools and provides insight into what everyone means when they say you need to find a school that’s a good fit for you.
It also offers a tantalizing glimpse of the future, showing you where you’ll be in a year or two and what the beginning of your adult life is likely to look like.
As you might expect, it’s important to visit a variety of schools, assuming you have the financial means and time to do so. And yes, variety is key. While there’s no objective list of specific colleges that everyone should visit, picking a variety across a range of categories will give you a great sense for a wide range of schools.
Colleges Across Categories
We’ve already talked about various college categories, including safety, target, and reach. Ideally, each university you visit should include at least one from each of these three categories.
Visiting a reach school can serve as a great reminder of what you’ve been working toward for the past years, and an inspiration to keep up your level of performance for the home stretch of high school.
Exploring a target school will give you some wonderful insight into what your university experience is likely to be like. You’ll get a sense for the academic rigor and social life of the kinds of schools you’re likely to attend. You may even be lucky enough to have a tour of the university you’ll end up going to, which will give you some familiarity with it before you attend.
Finally, spending some time at a safety school will give you a new perspective. You’re most likely already a high-performing student, so visiting a safety school may assuage your fears about not getting into your dream college and reassure you that you’ll be okay regardless of where you end up. Alternatively, a safety school visit may be the push you need to stay motivated throughout your final months or years in high school.
Colleges Across Geography
Ideally, you should visit colleges across a fairly wide distance. When it comes time to decide, you may realize that staying near home -- or getting far away -- is just as important to you as the school itself.
Visiting nearby, somewhat distant, and long-distance colleges will give you a broader range from which to decide when the time comes. On these visits, you may even realize that you love a particular city or region so much that you’d rather attend school there than at what you previously thought was your dream school elsewhere.
Your Top Pick(s)
In all of this categorizing schools, don’t forget to account for your dreams too! If you have an ideal university in mind, you should absolutely put it on your list of schools to visit.
If possible, visiting two or three of your current top schools is a great idea. This will help you figure out whether they really are the perfect schools for you. If they aren’t, it’ll save you a lot of time and disillusionment later, as you won’t show up on campus then feel disappointed when the university isn’t everything you imagined.
Make a list of all the colleges you would be interested in attending. Sort these colleges into the groups and categories listed above, killing two birds with one stone whenever possible. For example, if you live in California, you might visit Harvard as both a reach school and a long-distance school. UC Davis might be both a target school and a nearby school.
By creating your list this way, you minimize the number of schools you absolutely need to visit. From there, if you have the time and resources, you can select other colleges that interest you.
Also, don’t forget to look for colleges near the ones you’re already planning to visit. If you’re flying 3,000 miles to visit Harvard, for example, you might as well visit Boston College, MIT, and/or Emerson College while you’re in town.