Making a decision about the right college is a difficult and stressful task for many high school students. You and your student have been gathering information about the schools on your student’s “short list.” You’ve looked at the college website, checked ratings, talked to friends and high school counselors, looked at the catalog and informational material, and probably visited campus – perhaps more than once.
One additional way to gather some different information is for your student to spend an overnight on campus. This is an excellent way for your student to get a closer look at student life on campus as well as to have an opportunity to experience college life and to ask students some of the questions that may not come up during a formal campus tour.
Many colleges offer campus overnight visits, either individually or as part of a larger program. . At some schools, your student may need to be accepted first, but others may offer visits to those who plan to apply. If the Admission office hasn’t offered the opportunity, your student should ask whether the option is available.
If your student already knows another student on campus, perhaps a relative or an upperclass student from high school, he can arrange an informal visit on his own. This will be less structured, but will still give him an experience of the campus. If your student visits on his own, he should still let the Admissions Office know that he spent some time on campus. It is a sign of “demonstrated interest” which can sometimes be a factor in the admission process.
Why is an overnight visit helpful?
Spending an overnight on campus will give your student an opportunity to see the campus outside of a formal tour, as well as to experience life in a residence hall. Your student will have the opportunity to meet other students who don’t work for the Admissions Office and who may be more candid in sharing information about the school.
When your student visits overnight, he will see a different side of the life of the college. He will have an opportunity to eat in a dining hall and sample the food – and the atmosphere. He will see what the campus looks like after dark. How busy are the library, the campus center, the fitness center, theater, studios, or other places where your student will be spending time? How well lit is the campus? How many students are out and about? If your student attends an event with his host, is it well attended? How do people spend their time on a typical week night?
Visiting campus overnight is a bit like a sleepover. It will give your student a chance to see what it is like to live in a residence hall, to share a room with a roommate, to share bathrooms with other students. Your student can experience the noise level, the social atmosphere, and observe how and when students appear to get some studying done.
An overnight visit will give your student a more comprehensive view of college life – and a more complete experience of this particular campus.
What should my student do to prepare for an overnight visit?
The first and most important thing that your student needs to do is to make arrangements through the Admissions Office. Overnight visits require planning and preparation, so registering ahead of time is almost always required.
The Admissions Office will generally try to match your student with a host student who shares similar interests or major. Your student may receive contact information about his host ahead of time. If he does, it would be great to be in touch and break the ice a bit before arriving on campus.
As he is in touch with his host, he may find out more about what to expect during his visit. Are there events happening while he is on campus? Will he be able to attend a class or two, either with his host or his host’s friends? Is there any formal programming? If there is something special that your student wants to see or experience, letting his host and/or the Admissions Office know that will help make that possible.
Your student will likely be sleeping on the floor of his host’s room, so he should ask whether or not he should bring a sleeping bag and pillow. He should bring usual overnight necessities, including comfortable clothes and perhaps dressier clothes if he will have an Admission interview on this trip. He can check the weather forecast before he packs, be sure to pack any chargers that he needs, and include towels, shower shoes, toiletries, and anything appropriate for any special events that may be planned. It’s a good idea to leave valuables at home since he’ll probably be leaving his belongings in his host’s room in the dorm.
Before your student heads off for his visit, have a conversation about responsible behavior. Remind him that this is an admission visit, and that he is on campus to gather information, but he is also an applicant. College is a time of increased independence, but your student will have plenty of time for experimenting with independence once he formally enters college next year.
How can my student make the most of his overnight visit?
There are a few things that your student can do to maximize his campus overnight:
- Be sure to ask lots of questions. This is your student’s opportunity to find out from other students what they love about the school and what they find challenging. What is life on campus really like? What do students do with their time? Your student should ask, ask, ask about anything that will help him get a feel for the school and help to inform his final decision.
- If possible, try to attend a class or two in subjects that interest your student. This is a chance to get a feel for a major and department, for some of the professors, for the relationship between students and faculty.
- Try to spend a little time alone just wandering the campus and getting a feel. Can your student visualize himself here?
- Remember that the main purpose of the visit is to gather information. Observe other students, notice busy places and deserted places, notice how the campus is different at night, take notes of things to remember.
- Relax and enjoy the experience of being on a college campus. Enjoy the experience of knowing that you will be at college next year.
Should my student do anything after the visit?
The most important thing for your student to do after his visit is to reflect on what he experienced and learned. Use the information to help make the important decision of whether this feels like the right place for him.
Your student should also send a brief thank-you note both to the Admissions Office and to his host. He may want to stay in touch with his host – who will most likely be happy to answer any future questions. If your student chooses this school, he will know at least one person when he arrives on campus next year.
As he reflects, your student will need to remember that his overnight experience, as helpful as it is, is only one night with one person hosting. It is impossible to generalize and assume that every student, every dorm, every evening is the same. But hopefully, your student will have seen and observed enough to have a strong sense of place – and to consider whether it feels like the right place for him.