In high school, when I would talk to my friends about the colleges they visited, I would be amazed. They would be able to recount the highlights of their tours, tell me all about each college’s traditions, scenery, and express all the types of students. After hearing about these many schools, I would ask my father to take me to visit them. And, each time I asked him, I was met with a simple one-syllable word: No.
“But Dad,” I would say, “I need to visit these schools to see if I like them! I don’t want to apply, get accepted and then find out it’s not for me.” He easily understood where I was coming from, especially since I was applying to 16 schools. It would’ve been a total waste of time and money if I decided I wouldn’t want to attend a school had I been accepted. However, there was a larger reason why he wouldn’t take me to see schools: money.
His reason was twofold. First, touring 16 schools would cost a lot of money. I am from Long Island, which is accessible to many schools. On the other hand, I was only interested in one school in New York City and no schools on Long Island, so getting to the rest of my schools would require driving or flying. Neither gas nor plane tickets are cheap, so picking which schools we traveled to required a lot of thought. If I wanted to visit any schools outside of the three we chose, I would have to wait until I was accepted and offered enough money to go.
That brings me to the second reason why money was my father’s reason not to visit many schools. Putting two kids through college simultaneously for four years (I am a twin) is a very big financial toll. In order to make a school affordable, I would’ve needed to either attend a state school or receive a scholarship. It is almost impossible to predict whether an applicant will receive a scholarship and/or how big the scholarship will be. My father’s logic was that there was no point in visiting a school and falling in love with it, just to be crushed when finances didn’t work out (this was also his philosophy when it came to applying to schools, but he ended up allowing me to apply to the schools I wanted to). In retrospect, I agree with him, but I was too set on ignoring the financial aspect of college to realize what he was saying.
So, because of money, I only visited three schools before applying. The first was New York University. While notoriously expensive, my father agreed to take me there since it was both a short 40-minute car ride and one of my top choices. The second school, SUNY Binghamton, was a state school and really the only one I was interested in applying to. Additionally, it was only a three-and-a-half-hour trip, so the distance was reasonable. Finally, we visited Cornell University. Not only was it only an hour from Binghamton (we visited both schools in the same weekend) and another one of my top choices, but with the land grant schools, Cornell was potentially affordable.
Upon looking back at this experience, I realized that I covered more ground than I had thought. Each school I visited was representative of a certain type of school: an extremely urban university (“in and of the city,” as NYU likes to say), a larger, suburban state school, and an Ivy League big on Greek life and (semi) big on sports. While there are many other types of schools out there (e.g. a large, athletic-oriented state school or a small liberal arts college), I did manage to tour three schools that were similar to others on my list.
In short, visiting schools is an important aspect of the college application process, but it is not 100% necessary. If you are in a similar situation as I was with money, I highly recommend not visiting until you are sure finances will work out. (Unless the school is accessible, in which case, go ahead, if you can). Being told you can’t attend a school is heartbreaking. Being told you can’t attend a school when you have a strong attachment to it is even worse. Save yourself a little heartbreak and be smart about visiting!