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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

How to Not Waste a Campus Visit


by Katherine O'Brien, ThD Cand., Certified College Planning Specialist

Visiting campuses is an important part of choosing a college. However, the way most families do it helps the colleges more than it helps themselves. In their desire to be accepted by colleges they esteem, both students and parents can forget that colleges are businesses. The admissions department has two purposes. Yes, it sifts applicants and accepts or denies admissions. Admissions is also the marketing department for the college.


Do your homework. Why is this college or university worth the time and effort to visit? Which of their academic offerings has piqued your student's interest? What else about the campus makes it interesting? Location? Size? Athletics? Other amenities? In short, research your schools, evaluating them according to your own criteria, NOT THE RANKINGS, and determine which schools to visit. During your research, notice what questions come to mind. What information do you want that isn't on the website or part of their virtual tour? BE PREPARED for your visit.


Having identified interesting programs, majors, departments, clubs, organizations, and the like, reach out to them and make appointments to see them before or after your tour. At some schools (typically smaller campuses), the admissions office will happily arrange this for you. Others will tell you it is forbidden (ignore them; they are the gatekeepers keeping a flood of non-serious inquiries at bay).  Ask the departments and programs and groups directly. Arrange for your student to sit in on a class or two. (If you can't certainly spend some time in the classrooms, student union, or cafeterias and talk with students. If possible, make a fifteen minute appointment with a professor in your prospective major. Come prepared with a short summary of your background and interest in the program and have questions for the professor. Pay attention to the interactions between students and professors. Ask about the availability of professors for help with learning course material, for research and other deep learning experiences. You'll find a wide range of campus cultures. Some have opportunities for students to engage in research and other outside the classroom learning opportunities from freshman year on while others have a select number of such opportunities restricted to upper class students in the major.


I'm always astounded when families tell me they drove through a campus or walked around a campus on a Saturday, doing a self-tour. While they may have SEEN a college, they certainly did NOT VISIT the college! A college is a community of people. In order to visit a college, one must interact with the people on the campus. Yes, touring the facilities, academic, living, and recreational, is important. Talking with actual students, staff, and professors is ESSENTIAL.

So, start with the tour. Listen carefully. Ask questions. Expect a different level of answer from student tour guides than you will receive from admissions staff. Do not expect complete transparency from either of them.

If you are visiting a large university, you may need to attend multiple tours. Some have general admissions tours as well as tours particular to the colleges on campus (the college of engineering or of music or of business, for example). Go on both if at all possible.


Even if you are NOT Catholic, this is a VERY HELPFUL part of your visit. The Newman Center is the Catholic parish on campus. Campus ministers regularly work with students from all over campus, from every college, program, and major. They talk with undergrad and graduate students as well as staff and professors. They hear about the dorms, the sports, various programs. They hear it all. They are also well connected with the mental health and other support programs on the campus. The Newman Center staff does not work for the university so can provide a non-biased perspective based on current student experiences. You can also learn about their events and programs. It's great to have a place on campus that you know is safe. No spiked drinks or wild parties here!

You can find the contact information, as well as a summary of the campus ministry programs, for all 300 or so colleges or universities with strong Catholic communities on campus in Every Catholic's Guide to College. Get a copy of this invaluable resource today!


Keep in mind YOUR goals for college, YOUR learning style, the experiences and opportunities YOU desire. Then evaluate the campus you just visited. What was offered? Whom did you meet? What was the overall campus culture like? Is this a place, a community where you can see yourself growing, developing, and thriving in? What else do you need to learn about them in order to answer that question.


College preparation is a multi-year, multi-faceted process. Having well prepared, focused students find the right colleges for them at the right price point for the family takes effort and expertise. To schedule a one hour consultation for your family to discuss your student's needs, email Katherine at For more information about her college consulting services, please visit

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