Visiting Colleges

Visits to campuses. Visiting any college campus is a worthwhile experience, even if you know it won't survive the final cut. During college visits, students should identify aspects they like and others they don't like. Noting these attributes and failings will help students create a picture of the kind of college they will eventually want to attend.

Setting Up Interviews, Information Sessions and Tours. Colleges generally give tours and information sessions twice daily at regularly scheduled times. In most cases, you only need to call the admissions office to find out the schedule. Usually, even a last-minute call will get you the chance to have a guide take you around campus and describe the facilities and programs, but we recommend that you call several days in advance. Tours are usually conducted by students, and they will often give you a very candid view of the institution. Carry a journal with you and record your observations. Traveling from campus to campus creates a strange phenomenon: eventually all of the aspects of all of the colleges come together in a great mass of impressions that can become quite confusing. Your notes will help keep your impressions of each school independent of the otherones.

Interviews (sessions where a student has the opportunity to present himself or herself in a personal way) are much harder to arrange. Many institutions are simply not interested. Public institutions tend to admit strictly by the numbers (GPAs and standardized test scores). Large private institutions will look for personal qualities in the written materials submitted; they want to avoid seeming to favor students who have the resources to visit campus. On the other hand, even though an interview is seldom required and rarely plays a role in the admissions decision, some institutions feel it is beneficial. We can help sort out which is which. Once you have decided where you wish to interview, be sure to call the college well in advance to set up a time and place.


Look for things that are important to you and will make a difference in your life during and after your college years. Here is a sampler of good questions I've heard students ask:

  • Where do students live and what are the facilities like? (Find out for yourself how they look, sound, smell and feel.)
  • What do students look like? talk like? act like? Is this a group of people you would pick for your friends? Your mate?
  • Who teaches the classes -- professors? graduate students? research assistants who are forced to teach a section or two even though they'd rather not? Or professors who put teaching first? Are they available for extra help?
  • How big are the classes? Some students prefer large lecture sections. Others like small discussion groups.
  • What aspects of school do students take pride in? Are they excited about things you get excited about?
  • What do students complain about? Get a copy of the school newspaper to find out what the burning issues are on campus.
  • How safe is the campus? Institutions are required by law to keep crime statistics and make them available to prospective students. Ask about thefts, attacks on students, drugs and drinking.
  • How's the food? Eat in the dining room, cafeteria, snack bar, etc., if you can.
  • Do they have a strong department in the major of your choice? If you don't have a major, what guidance services do they provide? What aid do they offer in career planning and placement?
  • What are the graduation requirements? What percentage of students finish on schedule?
  • Dress comfortably and presentably. This is not the time to wear your most controversial tee-shirt, or your prom dress. Chances are the interviewer will be dressed semi-business like. Regardless of what the interviewer's business dress is, yours is that of a student. Wear clean, neat, becoming, school-suitable clothes.
  • Answer honestly and be true to yourself. Don't try to outguess the interviewer to conjure up a dishonest answer that you think he or she will like.
  • Make eye contact. Don't stare, of course, but don't address your comments to the wall or seem more interested in your shoe tips than in the interviewer.
  • Learn the interviewer's name and use it occasionally when responding. Then follow-up later with a thank-you note. Often, it will be placed in your file where it continues to make an impression. The thank-you note should comment on the favorable impression made by specific things the interviewer said. "I've thought a good deal about your comments on the international year abroad and am enthusiastic about the possibility of studying in Chile." (If the interviewer said nothing that made a favorable impression, you are probably looking at the wrong college.)


Be prepared to answer several basic, expectable open-ended questions. They will be variations of the following:

  • How did you get interested in our school?

My friends attend the college… I am interested in your Service Learning program.. I love to ski and the mountains are close by… I am from a small rural community and want to go to college near a city.)

  • What characteristics are you looking for in a college?

(I will presume you know some. Otherwise, prepare by reading through the college's materials until you come upon characteristics you like about that college. Example: "I notice you have a junior year abroad program. I (pick one): (a) visited Spain last year to improve my Spanish and would really like to study in a Spanish-speaking country, or (b) never had the chance to travel and am very interested in the opportunity you offer to study abroad." If you cannot find a likable characteristic of the college, you probably aren't looking at a suitable institution.)

  • What are your interests? strengths? weaknesses?

Emphasize the interests and strengths. Any weaknesses that will affect an admissions decision are going to show up on the materials in your application package; this question really gives you a chance to explain extenuating circumstances. Don't be too hard on yourself about the weaknesses. In describing the latter, you might expand on what you are doing about them.

  • What are you like as a student? as a person?

These are questions designed to find out what makes you unique, special, different. Look upon them as another opportunity to bring out your attributes and special characteristics of an unusual nature.

  • Is there anything we should know about you that won't show up in your application?

This is a good chance to share an anecdote, story or experience that helped you find out something about yourself.

  • Do you have any questions?

Try and not ask questions that can be found in their school publications. Example: "I noticed that you have computers in the dorms. Is there a computer lab on campus? Are the lab and dorm computers hooked up to the central library catalog to help students do research? Is there a special computer purchase program for students? Can I bring my own computer? Are there specific classes which only utilize one computer platform? Have you had problems with viruses?"

Be prepared with some basic data about your course load, GPA, class standing, SAT scores, accomplishments at school, involvement in community service, etc. Share these with the interviewer when appropriate. If you are uncomfortable talking about your record, prepare a resume to give to the interviewer. (I can give you an "unofficial/unsigned/unsealed" copy of your transcript to take with you, if you ask.)

When appropriate, toward the end of the interview, ask the interviewer for an honest appraisal of your chances. "Based on my record, would you encourage me to apply?" No interviewer wants to say no and the answer will probably be some kind of non-commited answer. Listen to the answer, then follow-up with, "Seriously, what do you think my chances are?" Few interviewers will want to commit to a decision, though you may actually get a clear assessment. Remember, listen carefully to the tone of their response.