Be Wary of the Campus Visit
According to a recent article in Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly, "the campus visit—be it a tour, an open house, a fly‐in, an overnight stay, or some other student‐oriented event—is overwhelmingly the single most influential source of information for students in their decision on college choice." My own recruitment work at several institutions of higher education supports this statement. Between 80-92% of students who came for one of our campus visits, decided to attend our school in the fall.
This is a very important piece of information when participating in a visit day because it highlights the fact that colleges are good at winning over students that visit them. The admission's office wants you to have an enjoyable and positive experience while you are on their campus, and they will generally be able to create that. They have years of experience setting the stage. They give you freebies, provide you a meal, and create fun activities for you to participate in.
Now I am not suggesting that you shouldn't participate in an official school visit, or that you should possess a cynical perspective. By all means sign up for several campus visits and do a comparison between your top five schools. The school visit is very important. Just be careful that you aren't being won over by attractive student ambassadors who have been trained to tell and sell about all of the positive aspects of their school. Go on the official visit one day, but if at all possible, take another day to wander around while classes are in session. Strike up conversations with current students in the library, in the college cafe, and even those waiting in the hallways before class. This may be intimidating for a quiet or shy person to do, but the information you will gain will be worth more than any professional consultant can provide you. Moreover, you'll quickly find that the vast majority of students are happy to talk about their college experience.
When you have this conversation, ask current students some of the following questions:
1) Why did you decide to attend this school?
2) What's your major?
3) Was it easy to identify a major here?
4) Does the school have a helpful advising process?
5) What other schools were you considering before coming here? Why didn't you go there?
6) What is the best thing about attending here?
7) What is this school's biggest weakness in your opinion?
8) How professional and supportive have the faculty been in general?
9) Are the academic expectations reasonable here?
10) Have you had many opportunities to get to know other students and make connections?
Essentially, you want to ask at least three random, current students questions related to what is important to you. For example, if you want to be able to get into certain general education classes easily, such as math or writing, ask current students how hard it was for them to get into one of these classes in their first-year. Yes, go on the official campus visit, but be sure to do your own fact finding mission as well.