By Liz Sevigny, Circle K International vice president, Mount Holyoke College 

If you’re considering pursuing higher education after graduating from high school, you’ll want to visit the institutions that stand out to you. Visiting campuses and committing to a college or university for two or more years is an investment of both time and money, so it’s important to get the most out of your visits. In addition to being Circle K International’s vice president, I’m currently working as a senior admission ambassador for the Mount Holyoke College Office of Admission, where I conduct student interviews, work at the reception desk and speak to the student experience at informational sessions and special admission events. I’m pleased to share some tips for making the most of your campus visits and some reasons students may choose their specific college or university. 

Research the school beforehand 

The best campus visits start before you even register. Make sure to research the school so you don’t waste time traveling to and touring a school that wouldn’t be a good fit. You might consider: 

  • What kind of housing is offered? If you really want a residential college experience, you might not want to visit a school that doesn’t guarantee on-campus housing. 
  • What fields of study are offered? If you’re unsure of what to study, you might want to look at liberal arts colleges, where you have more time to determine an educational path. If you want to go into a specialized field, consider focusing your search on technical institutions. 
  • What is social life like? Does the school host clubs that you’d be interested in joining? Do you care about joining Greek life? You can often find a list of Registered Student Organizations on the institution’s website. 

“I chose my college for the co-op program — a full-time work program that gets students real experience. When looking at colleges, be sure to see what career and work opportunities there are. They can give you a step up when it comes to graduate school applications and getting a job after graduation.” — Zak Kahn, Circle K International trustee, Northeastern University in Massachusetts 

Scheduling your visit 

Now that you have a list of schools that meet your initial criteria (you can always change your mind), start scheduling visits.  

  • If there are colleges on your list that are geographically close to each other, consider visiting them on one trip.  
  • See if the college or university offers other appointments for prospective students — such as interviews that could help your application if you choose to apply. Some schools also allow prospective students to sit in on a class or have lunch with a current student.  
  • Take advantage of your time to see as much of the school as possible. Also consider when you’re planning to visit. Long weekends are often a busy time for college admissions, so there likely will be many other families and prospective students touring. If you prefer smaller group settings, consider touring on a weekday where possible. 

“[My] university afforded me a direct path into law school, to sit my bar exams. It also helped that they are ranked No. 1 in the Caribbean.” — Trudy-Ann Stirling, Circle K International trustee, The University of the West Indies, Mona 

During your visit 

You’ve made it to campus! Now it’s time to get as much information as possible.  

  • Talk to the tour guides before or at the beginning of the tour. If you tell them your interests, they might point out related areas on the tour.  
  • Talk to as many students as possible. Each student is bound to have a different perspective and experience at the same institution. Connect with students who share similar backgrounds or identities, since they might have important insights on their campus experience. 
  • Experience as much of the college or university as you can. Eat at a dining hall, see what a standard dorm looks like, visit the community center and check out the gym if you like to work out.  
  • Check the bulletin boards for student organizations’ upcoming events and grab a copy of the student newspaper, if available, for insights into student life and campus activities. 
  • Look at the area surrounding the campus community. You’ll probably be living and taking classes on campus, but you should explore what’s available when students need to buy daily necessities or want a haircut — or want to go out with friends. Do you picture yourself living in that area for two, four or more years? 
  • Take notes. If you’re going on a lot of tours, it’s easy for visits to blend together — especially if you’re looking at colleges or universities with many similarities. Notes will help you remember each institution a bit more clearly. 

“I chose my school based on the atmosphere and student life. It felt similar to my small hometown but offered the chance to go and explore the surrounding areas, like the Adirondack Mountains and even Canada. It was also a school that was dedicated to being environmentally friendly, which is a plus.” —Tyler Kearns, Circle K International president, St. Lawrence University 

What I looked for 

In my college search, I mainly looked at small liberal arts colleges in the northeast United States. I wanted to be a reasonable driving distance from home in case I needed to get home quickly for an emergency — maybe for something like a global pandemic. In addition to a rigorous education, I had specific requirements for the campus and college itself. Since my high school was relatively small, I knew it would be hard for me at an institution with both a large student body and a large campus. I also have moderate asthma, so I wanted an accessible campus (i.e., short walks to class and elevators in most buildings), especially in the wintertime when I have more flare-ups. 

Diversity and representation are also important to me. Being a person of color from a predominantly white state, I wanted to see myself and other people of color in the student body. I also wanted to be on a campus where I felt safe. While touring some colleges, I never felt quite at ease as I did when I toured the college I eventually chose. The feeling of safety and security played a huge factor in my decision. 

Lastly, I’m all about aesthetics. I wanted to be on a beautiful campus. Alluring buildings, fall foliage and cozy study spots were important aspects. I was fortunate to find all these things, but others discover hidden gems on their campus after they matriculate and start college or university. For example, I wasn’t looking to attend a gender-diverse women’s college. Now, as a senior, it’s become an integral part of my college experience and has allowed me to discover aspects of myself and how I choose to show up in the world. 

“I have learned about the many resources my school offers, like graduate programs (that I happen to be in currently) and the amount of diversity my campus has in addition to the academic scholarships, financial savings and job opportunities.” — Martin Nguyen, Circle K International trustee, University of Alabama in Huntsville 

Follow your instinct 

Some of my fellow CKI board members chose their colleges and universities based on career programming that is built into the school curriculum. Others enjoy the scale of the university and the amount of school spirit. Some were drawn to the ability to connect with other academic institutions internationally, and many board members felt a great sense of belonging when they were on campus. I think belonging is one of the biggest factors beyond mandatory considerations like financial aid. When you feel a sense of belonging, it’s easier to challenge yourself and take measured risks that allow you to grow academically and as a person. So take note simply how campuses and schools make you feel. 

As cheesy as it sounds, you end up where you’re meant to be. I was rejected from my top choice (not even waitlisted, ouch), but I wouldn’t wish to be there now. Coming from a college admissions perspective, I can tell you not to measure your self-worth or academic preparedness by the schools that accept or deny you. Colleges and universities often look for factors completely outside of your control. My best advice is to be kind to yourself throughout the application process and pursue academic and extracurriculars that genuinely interest you. Good luck!