There's more than one right time to make campus visits. The trick is in planning ahead.
During the Week
Monday through Thursday is ideal since campuses are generally in full swing. Since junior and senior years can be busy for you, it's important not to let visits interfere with your schoolwork. If possible, try to visit during high school holidays that fall on Mondays, when most colleges are in session.
The Best Seasons
Late summer and early September before senior year are convenient times to visit since many colleges begin their fall semester as early as mid-August. But, generally, fall through winter and sometimes early spring are the seasons when you should visit college campuses.
Spring of Your Junior Year
Juniors who have researched colleges should consider using spring vacations for college visits. Spring is also a good time of year if you play fall sports or are considering early action or early decision with application deadlines in November of senior year.
After You've Been Accepted
Many colleges invite their accepted candidates to spend a few days on campus before the May 1 reply date to entice them to enroll. This is a good opportunity to make some in-depth comparisons between or among the colleges that have accepted you. If you're planning to visit colleges only after you've received acceptances, beware. Consider that most colleges don't mail acceptance letters before April and that the standard reply date is May 1. This means you may have only a few weeks before the reply date to visit. You could also be in a tight bind if, after visiting in person you find you're not satisfied with your options. Visit before applications are due so that you're confident you'd be happy at any of the colleges on your list.
When Not to Visit Campus
When colleges aren't in session:
Winter and spring breaks
When classes aren't meeting:
Saturdays and Sundays
When the admissions office is closed to visitors:
Check specific dates with each college so you don't arrive when the campus is deserted.
Courtesy of: When to Visit: How to Schedule your Campus Visit www.collegeboard.com.
Questions to Ask Yourself and Your Tour Guide on the Campus Visit:
Courtesy of Kaplan's Parent's Guide to College Admissions
RU a City Girl or a Small Town Boy?
Before you visit schools, you have to get a handle on where you might want to go. R U into a bustling urban campus, or RU looking for a school with a small-town feel? Interested in a small classroom setting or a larger university scene? Use this list of questions from the folks at Kaplan to find out what you're looking for in a school.
How important is it that you go to a school with cutting-edge facilities? Do you plan to conduct independent research or participate in faculty research?
Are you mainly interested in a traditional, classroom-based education, or do you want to participate in co-ops, internships, and study-abroad opportunities? (For example, a city campus may be better for co-ops and internships. There might be more businesses in the area.)
Do you want to attend a large university, with tons of activities and the opportunity to meet lots of new people? A small, close-knit college, where everyone knows each other? Or a medium-sized school, where you won't get bored but also won't feel overwhelmed?
Do you want to be in a big city with lots of cultural offerings? Would you prefer a small town, where the school is an important part of the community? Or do you want to be surrounded by nature?
What kind of weather do you prefer? Are you a snow-lover or a sun-worshipper?
Would you mind going to a school where everyone is required to live on campus all four years? Would you panic if you went to a school that forced you to move off campus after a year or two?
Do you want to be able to have a car at school, even during freshman year? If you don't have a car, will you go stir-crazy?
Do you want to be part of a diverse student body and make friends with people from very different backgrounds? Or would you feel more comfortable surrounded by students who are very similar to you, in terms of cultural, religious, and/or economic background?
From the Kaplan Self-Assessment Quiz, taken from the book titled The Unofficial, Unbiased Guide to the 331 Most Interesting Colleges 2005
Using the Campus Visit to Distinguish Yourself from the Pack
Did You Know? According to Peter Van Buskirk, vice president for the high school market group for Peterson's/Thomson, checking out the college campus beforehand gives the admissions office a signal that you are really interested in the school. By taking the time to actually visit, admissions officers often note this on a prospective student's file. He says that the schools want to consider only those students who are truly interested in their institutions. Also, taking the opportunity to visit gives you a chance to get the college interview done while on campus. The on-campus interview generally has more weight than those done in your hometown by the college's older alums. Van Buskirk also recommends a couple of visits to the college: first, a scouting expedition; second, a serious visit for interviews and more; and, third, the visit once you're admitted, to get a sense of travel time back and forth, size of your dorm room, and more.