Why College Visits Matter

At this moment I’m in Maryland on a weekend trip to visit colleges with my son who is a junior. Because he is primarily interested in out of state schools, we have a few more college visit trips planned this spring. 

Why are college visits important? Do they matter for admission? How should you plan one?

Good Alternatives

Yes, college visits, especially those that are more than a couple hours from home, can be difficult. We are unlikely to visit every school on my son’s exploratory list before he applies. Even with our Southwest companion pass and hotel points, we have limits on the time and money we are able to spend. 

There are a number of good alternatives if you aren’t able to visit a campus in person. Look for virtual tours and information sessions, presentations with groups of similar schools (in person or online), video review (official and unofficial), and connections via social media. These alternatives are a great way to start building your college list and can help fill in information you would otherwise gain on a campus visit.

Having so many digital options is nice, but it isn’t the same as experiencing campus for yourself, so make at least one visit before you sign up to spend four years on a campus. 

Why College Visits Are Important


I find campus visits to be the most efficient way for me to learn about a school. Yes, I can read, scour the school’s website, participate in virtual tours, but I get more information in less time (and less effort) when I show up on campus. 

Any official visit to campus should include some stop at the admissions office. Most schools have a 30-60 minute information session; some small schools offer personal meetings. These presentations highlight the campus, top programs, and include details on admission and financial aid. 

Last summer while touring U. Mass Amherst, the information session went into detail on the average SAT/ACT scores they were seeing in some of the most competitive programs. Should you send your 1400? Maybe not for some of their most competitive majors. This is the type of information that isn’t easy to find while surfing the website, but is incredibly useful if you are interested in the school. 


Have you ever purchased something that looked great online, but didn’t meet your expectations when it arrived? Seeing it in person and trying it out isn’t just for shoes, clothes, or furniture. You want to get a feel for a campus, not just the beautiful planned photos in the promotional materials. 

Here are things I like to look for:

  • Area surrounding campus (does it feel safe at night?)
  • Do you see students? Do they look happy?What type of activities are happening on or near campus?
  • What do actual students say? (Eavesdrop at the student center or offer to buy a cup of coffee for a few)
  • Meet coaches, program directors, and professors if you have a specific interest
  • Are these your people? (Or would you like the academics, but hate the experience?)

In general, does the school you liked when you read about it and “visited” online match up to the actual campus? 

Do They Matter for Admission?

Yes. Campus visits matter for some schools. 

Colleges like to admit strong prospects (students who are likely to accept their offer of admission and attend.) Visiting the campus, participating in online sessions, and attending special program days put on by the admissions office demonstrate your interest in that school. 

Demonstrated interest is a factor for admission at many smaller schools. Most state universities don’t track demonstrated interest in the same way. (But for many years Texas A&M University has asked applicants to check off the ways in which they have had official contact with the school.) 

Demonstrated interest won’t get an underqualified student admitted, but in a close call situation, it could make a difference. 

How To Plan

Any time I say “campus visit” I mean an official visit through the admissions office. Driving around campus does not count. Visiting your sibling or friend does not count. Attending a sporting event does not count. All of those are good activities, but they are not the types of things that can be tracked by the admissions office (demonstrated interest.) 

Making an official visit sounds formal, but it is easy. Go to the admissions office page on the school website and look for the “visit” information (or search “campus visit + school name”.) Most schools have a calendar online and you can sign up for the day and time that works for you. Typically you will register for a tour and information session. You may be given options to sign up for additional sessions.

Ninth grade isn’t too early to start visiting schools. You might be able to add some campus visits to your spring and summer travels. 

If 0you are serious about a school and want a more in-depth visit, ask. Pick up the phone and call the admissions office. Can they arrange a meeting with a coach or academic department? Can you sit in on some classes in your prospective major? Can you have an overnight visit (usually reserved for admitted seniors)? 

You may need to plan ahead and reserve early. Some sessions fill up weeks in advance at high demand times (especially for large universities.) 


I often compare the college search process to shopping for shoes— your favorite pair may not be similar to mine. We all have different likes and dislikes. In my analogy, the college visit is your opportunity to try on the shoes. Are they comfortable? Do they look as good in person as they did in the brochure you got in the mail? 

I know visiting colleges takes time, effort, and money if you have to travel. If I buy a pair of shoes online and don’t like them, I can easily return for different ones. It isn’t as simple with colleges which is why campus visits are so important. 

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