College Counseling » College Visits

College Visits

TMS Policy Regarding Absences
(From The Master's School Student and Parent Handbook)

College Visits: Parents may request an excused absence for juniors and seniors wishing to visit college campuses during the school year. Juniors are allowed 2 days and seniors are allowed 4 days of excused absences. The procedure is as follows:
  • Parents must send a written note requesting the excused absence 1 week or more prior to the planned absence.
  • Students are responsible for making arrangements with their teachers for any work they will miss.

Why Visit

There are many reasons why you might want to visit a college: a good impression from a college fair or recommendations from friends or professors, for instance. However, there are many more reasons why a visit helps a prospective student.
  • There are two primary reasons for visiting a school: for the information it gives to you, and for the information it gives the college. The information it gives you is the bigger piece.
  • A visit gives you a feel for the campus that you are not able to get from websites or printed material: what are the students like, how friendly are they, how do you feel the administration and faculty treated you, and so on.
  • You can ask questions that aren't answered in their literature, or that require more detailed or specialized answers.
  • In some cases, it can indicate to the college that you have a higher degree of interest. (However, not all colleges keep track of visits.)
  • In a few cases, a visit will be a required part of the application process.

When to Visit

There are several different options for the time of your college visit. We suggest:
  • Spring of junior year (beginning with February vacation) or fall of senior year. Keep in mind that fall sports complicate things at the beginning of senior year. Think ahead.
  • Preview days and weekends. Colleges often target these toward high school juniors and seniors.
  • Summer. It is harder to get a sense of fit or normal atmosphere, but it is a more relaxed time for admissions offices and therefore you may get extra attention.
  • During normal times - not during exam week, the big football game, and the like.
  • Appointments at selective schools generally fill up early. Making a last-minute decision to visit will limit how much you are able to do there.

Things to Consider

There's more to a visit than simply walking the campus and taking a tour.
  • Sitting in on a class is a good idea. Trying to sit in on the same class (i.e., Intro to Psychology) at every college you visit will give you a sense of differing approaches to the same subject.
  • Get business cards from the people you meet with, especially from admissions counselors, financial aid officers and any professors you talk to. Student tour guides will often offer their email address as well. Having a specific person to contact with future questions can be very helpful.
  • Sending appropriate thank you notes after the visit can set you apart from other students.
  • Visit different types of campuses to help pinpoint what matters to you. What you discover may surprise you. The urban campus that you thought you would love may end up not appealing to you at all.
  • Pay attention to the role of the parent versus the role of the student. The parent should not be asking all the questions or answering the questions that are asked by the admissions counselor. The student needs to take the initiative to let the admissions office know you have arrived, to answer questions posed by the admissions office, and so forth. They should avoid looking at their parents, waiting to see if they are going to answer. Some colleges deliberately separate students and parents for tours and meetings.
  • Some schools will give you an initial indication of your chances of getting into the college if you have an unofficial copy of your transcript and test scores, along with a short resume of your activities, accomplishments and awards. Do not start your questions with this, though. At the end of the visit, ask if they would be willing to look at them and give you an idea of your chances. Some admissions officers will do this, while others will not. If they are willing to look, it is also your chance to ask what you could do to strengthen your application.

How to Set Up a Visit

Here are a few steps to follow when preparing to visit a particular campus.
  • Check the college's website to see if they outline a procedure.
  • Know the interview policy. Is an interview an optional part of the admissions process? Is it required? If so, do you have to wait until you have submitted an application to do the interview? Is the interview informative or evaluative? Do you have to interview on campus or do they have area representatives?
  • Think ahead.
    • Appointments at selective schools fill up early.
    • Overnight visits typically require at least 3 weeks' notice.
  • Informational interviews or appointments with admissions representatives are more common than formal interviews. Many colleges assign specific geographic regions to each of their admissions representatives. If possible, meet with the representative for your geographic area. They will be the one reading your application once it is submitted. Having a face to go with the application can be helpful.
  • As much as possible, know what you want to ask for or set up before calling the admissions office.
    • Ask if they have preview days for prospective students, when they are, and how you register for them. If you already have that information from the website, let them know that you plan to attend.
    • Act informed. Say "I notice on your website that you do tours every Tuesday and Thursday. I'd like to schedule a visit on _____ if that is possible." Or, if there are no specifics, tell them you are calling to set up a visit. Have a specific time and day to suggest. Indicate what flexibility, if any, you have.
    • Do you need reservations for the tour? Even if you don't need reservations for the tour, you probably do need appointments for other meetings you would like to set up. Know whether you need to bring anything to those meetings.
    • Depending on your interest or need, ask if it is possible to:
      • Spend the night in a dorm.
      • Meet with a coach, have a portfolio review, or talk to a professor in a particular department. Will the admissions office set that up for you, or do you need to contact the person yourself?
      • Sit in on a class. If you have a particular subject in mind, ask if any of those classes are available.
      • Meet with a financial aid officer. While the admissions representative can answer basic questions, for more detailed information they will refer you to financial aid. Having an appointment already set up guarantees you'll be able to talk to them.
      • Ask if they can mail or email you information about the school ahead of time. In particular, ask if they can send you a confirmation, campus map, and parking permit.
      • Ask if there are hotels in the area that give discounts to families visiting the school. (This information is often on the website as well.)

Be Prepared

No student should go into a collegiate campus visit without a plan.
  • Know enough about the school to ask specific questions, as well as any general questions you may be asking all schools.
  • Be able to indicate some awareness of information that is already on their website or in their printed material - size of student body, whether or not they offer your major, general sense of cost, and so forth. You want to convey interest, not complete ignorance.
  • Be prepared to answer questions. Do not just answer yes or no. Be prepared to explain "why" if it is appropriate.
  • Remember that your dress, your demeanor, and your questions will give the college a picture of who you are. Make eye contact. Show interest. Dress appropriately. That does not necessarily mean to dress up, but it does mean to think through what your appearance will convey. Neatness matters.

After The Visit

Once a visit is complete, a student shouldn't just cross their fingers and hope for acceptance.
  • Write a prompt thank you note to any admissions counselors, professors, or financial aid workers you talked to at any length. Most people believe that an email note is okay.
  • Make notes as soon as possible after the visit - your impression, additional questions, specifics about the school that make it distinctive, things you noticed about the dorms, and whatever else strikes you. You think you will remember, but you won't, and you will find yourself wondering which college it was that had the new classroom building with the nice lounges in it, which one offered the interdisciplinary program you thought was interesting...
  • Reread any viewbooks, catalogues, web sites - some of the info will probably make more sense after a visit to the college.


Very few schools require an interview; some recommend one, but do not require it. It is usually to your advantage to do an interview if you can. Anything that helps put a face and a personality with your application is a good thing.
Interview Basics
  • Be prompt. If you cannot keep an appointment, call and cancel.
  • Dress to impress; wear nice pants or a skirt. Neatness matters. Don't overdress.
  • Be yourself. Feel free to organize your thoughts before you start to respond to a question.
  • Ask questions based on what you have read. Be informed about the school so that you can ask intelligent questions, not things already in the college catalogue.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about your application, discuss your career interests and academic goals, and explain why you are interested in that specific college. They will typically be interested in other things as well, such as your leisure activities, books you have read recently, or interests such as sports and music.
  • Be genuine. Do not worry if your mind goes blank or you cannot remember a specific piece of information. You are better off admitting that you don't know than bluffing your way through an answer. Experienced interviewers can spot insincere or "pat" answers.
  • Interviews tend to be brief. Leave the direction of the interview in the hands of the admissions officer. They will help make you feel comfortable.
  • Ask for their business card when you leave. Having the admission counselor's email address and phone number will be helpful as you think of more questions. Be careful not to bug someone, but contacting a specific person rather than the general admissions office can give you a strong ally within the department - one who knows your demonstrated interest in the school.
Be Ready to Answer:
  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • What kind of a student are you? How do you learn best?
  • How and when did you become interested in this college?
  • What things are most important to you in your college search?
  • What are your interests? Your strengths? Your weaknesses?
  • What are your goals?
  • What interests you about this college?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • Do you have any questions? (If you want to make a good impression, it is very important to have questions to ask.)

What to Look For: Getting a Feel for the Campus

Each individual student will have different preferences and interests when deciding the type of campus that is best for them. Here are a few things to consider:
  • How does the campus itself feel - size, grounds, aesthetics, distance to classes?
  • Are the buildings in good shape? Are old buildings renovated? Are there new buildings under construction?
  • Could I live in one of the dorm rooms I've seen? What are the bathrooms like in the dorm?
  • How current are the computer labs? Computer hookups?
  • How are the science labs? The equipment?
  • What are the athletic facilities like? Are there fitness rooms?
For whether it fits you:
  • Look at bulletin boards, campus newspapers, newsletters. Do the topics interest you? Are the activities things you would want to participate in?
  • Listen to the campus radio station.
  • Check for some of your favorite books in the library.
  • Does there seem to be a "typical" student? (Dress style, etc.)
  • Can I picture hanging out in the common areas that are there - dorms, student unions, etc.?
For the classroom:
  • Based on terms of address between the professor and the students, does the school seem formal or informal?
  • Do students appear engaged in the class?
  • Is there much discussion?
  • Do the professors and students seem to have a relationship with each other? Good rapport?
  • Is the material challenging enough for me?
What to Ask
The following are possible questions to ask. They are intended to get your own thoughts going. Do not ask all of them. Pick and choose the ones that fit your situation, concerns, or interest. Consider asking some of the same questions to students and admissions office staff and see how the answers compare.

  • Why did you pick this college? (Or: why do you think most students pick this college?)
  • What do students enjoy most after they have been here for a while?
  • What do students complain about?
  • What type of student seems happiest here?
  • What are the big issues (campus, regional, national, international) that are important to students this year?
About college life:
  • What are the most popular extracurricular activities?
  • Are there intramural sports? Club sports? Can anyone play?
  • Are there any student traditions (silly or otherwise)?
  • What happens on the weekends? Do students stay on campus or go away?
  • How safe do you feel on campus? (Especially at night.)
  • Are athletic facilities, music practice rooms, and so forth open to all students, or only to athletes, music majors...?
    Can any student audition for choir, drama, and so on, or just majors?
  • What is the policy on cars? Do you need a car here? How do you get things you need? Is there public transportation available?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • Are campus jobs available? Do most students work If you're going to work, what are the best jobs to try to get on campus? The worst?
  • What is the social life like?
  • Is the fraternity and sorority system big on campus? What percentage of students are involved in Greek life? How do non-Greeks fit in?
  • What is the central gathering place for students? Where do they hang out? On campus? In town?
About dorm life:
  • How are roommates chosen? What happens if you have roommate problems?
  • Are you able to study in your dorm room? Is it quiet enough?
  • How are dorms organized: Coed by building? By floor? Are there hall bathrooms? Suites?
  • Are some dorms designated as substance free? Or study oriented? Or other particular themes?
  • Are there particular visiting hours?
  • How secure are the dorms? How do you access them? Can anyone walk in, or do you need a key?
  • Tell me about the food here.
About academics:
  • What are the most popular majors?
  • What are the strongest majors? (This could be different from most popular.)
  • Do you know your professors outside of class?
  • How accessible are your professors? When did you last meet with a professor?
  • Do you feel that you know one or two professors well enough to ask them for a work or grad school recommendation? Would it be more than a generic recommendation?
  • What is your impression of the advising system?
  • How hard has it been to get the classes you need? The classes you want?
  • What is the academic pressure like?
  • What do you plan to do after graduation?

About the college in general:
  • What distinguishes this college from ________? (The blank could be a specific school, "other colleges," "other schools in [geographic region]," or "other art/engineering/liberal arts schools.")
  • How has this college changed in the last 2, 5, or 10 years?
  • How will this college change in the next 2, 5, or 10 years?
  • What are your four- and five-year graduation rates?
  • What is your attrition rate? Why is it high or low?
  • What are some reasons students leave?
  • What are the advantages of this school's size? Disadvantages?
  • What are the advantages of this school's location? Disadvantages?
  • Is there an Honor Code? How does it operate?
About academics:
  • What are your most distinguished programs? Do you have any programs that are unique in some significant way?
  • What departments are considered outstanding, weak, or average? Are any gaining strength? If so, what is making the difference?
  • What will my first-year courses be like? Who teaches them? (Professors? Teaching assistants? Graduate students?)
  • How is advising done? How likely is it that I would be assigned an advisor in my major as a freshman?
  • Are there opportunities for independent study, internships, or study abroad? Are there any limitations on who can participate? (Some schools do not want their athletes studying abroad.)
  • Are there any majors or schools within the college/university that require a separate or additional application? What are the acceptance rates to those programs?
  • Do you have consortium agreements with other schools? Co-op plans?
  • Are there typical course requirements - how many exams, papers, or projects?
  • I'm not sure I know what I want to major in - is that a problem? What could the college do to help me in that process?
  • How much hands-on research (or field experience) do undergraduates get to do? What year does that typically start?
  • How many large classes would I be likely to have? Aside from large introductory classes, what is the average class size?
  • Do you accept AP credits? How do you use them? For placement? To exempt out of certain courses? To give credit hours?
  • What does a typical course of study look like in my major? How many electives?
  • Are you able to make accommodations for particular needs?
  • How do you handle special needs or support services? Do you offer tutoring? Counseling? How are those services accessed? Is there an additional cost?
About campus life:
  • What kind of clubs and organizations are here? (Consider whether they are predominantly intellectual-oriented, artistic, or issue-oriented.)
  • Do many of the students work? What kinds of jobs are available? What sort of work study is available?
  • What are the safety issues? (Not just "Is it safe?") Ask for a crime report; federal law requires schools to provide safety information to students.
  • What can you tell me about drug and alcohol use? Incidence of date rape? Eating disorders?
  • What is the housing situation? Is campus housing guaranteed? For all four years? Does the school offer or assist with off-campus housing?
  • What is the food plan like? What options exist? Are students required to use the food plan? Is the meal ticket good at more than one location? What hours can students access food? Are there rules about cooking or having appliances in the dorm room?
About admissions:
  • What academic elements are considered for admission: courses, grades, test scores, class rank, interests, institutional needs, essays, recommendations, interviews? How important is each one? Is there one that automatically eliminates you?
  • Do you recalculate the GPA when you receive an application? How do you do that? Just academic subjects? Weighted for AP or honors classes?
  • Do you use a specific SAT, GPA, geographic, or other formula to make a first round of eliminations?
  • Is there an Honors or Leadership College for students? How do you qualify? How do you apply?
  • Are there academic scholarships? Talent scholarships? Are all applications automatically considered or do I have to apply separately? Are there specific SAT or GPA levels that would qualify me for certain scholarships?
  • What decision plans do you offer? Early decision? Early action? Do you have a waiting list?
  • What percentage of the freshman class is typically filled from early decision applications?
  • How many students from last year's waiting list were admitted?
  • Does the ability to pay have any impact on admission decisions?
  • Am I likely to be admitted?
  • What could I do to improve my chances?
QUESTIONS ABOUT PLACEMENT - This may be the best gauge of the strength of a program.
  • What is your grad school placement rate (med school, law school, and so on)?
  • What percentage of students go on to grad school?
  • How many graduates are working in their field within 6 months of graduation?
  • Who recruits on campus?
  • What resources are available to graduating students? An alumni network? Resume help? Career planning?
  • Do students have to sign a code of conduct? Do faculty sign one as well?
  • Do students have to sign a statement of faith? Do faculty?
  • Do you require chapel attendance? Any particular Bible classes?
  • How do you handle violations of the rules? Are there hard and fast consequences or is each case considered individually? Who makes the final decision? Does the school have a process for offering help or counsel to students who are struggling with moral issues? What would a student need to do to regain good standing?
QUESTIONS FOR THE FINANCIAL AID OFFICE - The Admissions Office could answer some of these, but not all.
  • What is the total cost to attend: tuition, fees, housing, meals, books, miscellaneous?
  • What financial aid forms are required? Do you use the FAFSA or CSS PROFILE or do you use a different formula?
  • Do you consider stepparents' income (FAFSA does)? Do you consider an ex-spouse's income (PROFILE asks for that)?
  • Are you able to take into account extenuating circumstances that do not show up in the forms?
  • What percentage of students receive financial aid? What does the typical package include?
  • What was the average freshman aid package? Was it primarily grants, scholarships, loans, or work study?
  • Is the aid package negotiable once it has been offered?
  • What options are there for handling "unmet need"? ("Unmet need" is a financial aid term. "Expected family contribution" - also a financial aid term - is determined by the FAFSA form. If the cost of attending is more than the sum of the EFC and the financial aid package, there is "unmet need." In practical terms, many families have cash flows that make paying the EFC difficult, if not impossible. In those cases, the real "unmet need" is greater than the official "unmet need.")
  • Are there payment plans available for paying the family contribution?
  • What is the minimum course load required to maintain financial aid - grants, scholarships, and the like?
  • If you receive a grant, is it renewable for each year? At the same amount?
  • Will an outside scholarship reduce my aid award? (Some schools deduct the amount of outside scholarships from the aid package.) If it does, do you take it out of loans first or scholarships first? (It is to your advantage to have it taken out of loans. You want to maximize scholarships, not loans.)
  • Can a lost scholarship be reinstated? Is there a grace period (such as for GPA requirements)?
  • Are students expected to work? In terms of grant eligibility, does it make a difference if they work on or off campus? (Federal work study jobs don't count as income against your financial aid award, but other jobs do.)
  • What is the average debt load of your graduates?
  • What is the loan default rate of your graduates?