Check This List to Check Out Colleges
By Megan Peterson, Features and Multimedia Editor
October 14, 2021
As someone who recently graduated college (2020), college visits can be difficult to plan for. You’ve searched through lists of schools and dove into research to find your perfect fit. You finally have a list of schools that all seem promising. 
Now what? 
If you’re feeling unsure about planning for a college visit, the following tips may give you a starting point.  
1   Use what’s available
Schools may not be able to offer the same college visit experience as they could before COVID-19. Some schools are returning to on-campus visits by appointment. Others may only offer virtual visits. Most, if not all, schools have created videos and virtual tours to help students who were entering college during 2020. 
Though the experience may not be what you expected, it can be helpful. Virtual visits can be personalized to your interests. You can meet one-on-one with professors, students and coaches — all on your own time and with no long drives. 
2    Come prepared with questions
College visits come with a lot to take in, both in information and experiences. You may be so focused on remembering everything that it’s hard to come up with questions. Or you may find it harder to start a conversation in an unfamiliar place with people you don’t know. 
Take charge of your visit by bringing a question list. Try coming up with both standard and school-specific questions. 
If you ask your standard questions at each school you visit, you’ll be able to compare the schools you’re considering by the same criteria. 
School-specific questions will help you remember what drew you to each school.
3    Take advantage of each visit
During your search, you’ll likely visit a school you won’t attend. If you realize mid-visit that this isn’t the school for you, try to stay engaged regardless. Use the rest of the visit to help you gauge what you’re looking for in your ideal school. 
If you get the chance to talk to a professor in the department you’re interested in, remember that they’re still experts in the area you want to study. Talking with them will help you feel more comfortable when you do meet your future professors. 
If your admission process or scholarship application depends on a review of a body of work or a performance, professors you meet may even offer pointers. 
4    Pay attention to housing options
If you’re planning to attend a nearby community college, you likely will be living at home or in a nearby apartment. 
If you’re looking at a four-year school away from home, you’ll have more to consider.
 On-campus housing: See if this is available to students of any level. On-campus housing can be expensive, but it offers benefits including convenience, added security, and housekeeping services that allow you to focus more on your studies. 
A physical visit or virtual tour may feature a “show room” so you can see how students live in the spaces provided. 
You’ll also want to find out what options are available. If you need a single room, does the school offer that? Will you be comfortable living in co-ed housing, or would you prefer an all-female or all-male hall?
Check to see if housing is wheelchair-accessible or open to health accommodations like air conditioning units, as needed. 
 Off-campus housing: See if this is optional or required of upperclassmen. Schools may provide off-campus housing as a “bridge” to get used to living on your own, with the school’s resources as a “safety net.” Others may only have housing available for underclassmen. 
If you’re planning to live at home or in an apartment that isn’t affiliated with the school, you can ask during your visit or research afterward how your housing choice will impact your available scholarships. 
5    Explore on-campus
Make sure the school offers what you need to succeed. That means checking out classrooms and libraries or sitting in on a class if possible. Will the classrooms be comfortable places for you to learn?
Does the library offer the technology you need?
Plan for your physical health, too. Schools should have a fitness center, accessibility resources and counseling available. If you are struggling with a class, a friendship or an injury, you want to be sure that your school can support you. 
6    Explore off-campus
Campus stores and dining halls are convenient but expensive, and they may be closed when you need them. 
If you have some extra time, check out what’s available near the campus. If you won’t have a car and the nearest grocery store is 20 minutes away, you may consider bringing a bike or learning the city’s bus schedule.  
Make sure to have fun too! If you’re looking at living away from home, you’ll spend a lot of time at school, and it can be a relief to get off campus. 
See if you can find a favorite restaurant, park, or weekend getaway. It’ll go a long way toward making your visit special and helping you feel more comfortable leaving home. 
7    Know yourself
Take in the size of the school. This includes the physical size and setting of the campus, the number of students who attend and the size of the program you plan to enter. 
Virtual visits can make this more challenging to gauge, but some research on the school’s statistics, video tours, and even Google Maps can help. 
A school may offer the most cutting-edge technology and an in-depth course of study and not be the right fit for you. 
Reflect on your feelings of comfort or discomfort with the school’s size and offerings. 
If you feel overwhelmed, it may be a sign that the school isn’t a good fit for you. Although stepping out of your comfort zone may pleasantly surprise you, feeling constantly uncomfortable will harm your mental health and hinder your studies. 
If it turns out that the school that seemed perfect isn’t right for you once you start college, you do not have to stay put. Choosing a new major or a new school is a common and healthy choice among college students. 
It’s not a sign that “you couldn’t make it” but a sign that you know what’s best for your physical and mental wellbeing.
8    Find a place to practice your faith
Between homework, classes, jobs, campus activities, and time with friends, college can distract you from your faith. If you make friends of different or no religions, you may find it even harder to be involved in the Church if you feel you’re alone. 
Figure out what faith resources and communities are open to you so you can be ready. Your school may have a Newman Center on campus or a Bible study that you could join. While you explore the city, see if you can find a parish within walking distance. 
As you learn more about yourself at college and find what career and vocation you are called to, a faith community on campus or a parish off-campus can be the perfect guide and support system for you. 
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