It’s well-known college application advice: visit the college before you apply. An actual visit to colleges gives you a better sense of the place: what the people are like, the atmosphere, whether or not you can actually picture yourself there. While you may love a college on paper, there’s always the chance that you might simply not click.
However, especially in a country as big as the United States, visiting every college you’re interested in before you apply isn’t always feasible. When you’re interested in tens of colleges all across the country, visiting can be expensive and time consuming. And if you want to visit during the school year, when you can get the best idea of the place, your time is severely limited. Add to that those colleges you didn’t even hear about until a few months before the deadline. You probably won’t get the chance to visit in that short amount of time if it’s far away, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t apply. Visits are important, but sometimes they can wait until you’ve actually been accepted.
You hear about a college, fall in love with it in three seconds, and want to run off to visit. However, life isn’t always that easy. Flying or driving across the country isn’t cheap, and senior and junior years are incredibly busy, so simply leaving for weekend may not be possible. Sometimes, waiting is simply due to logistics.
Let’s look at the possible options with an example. Maybe there’s one college you fell in love with in all the way across the country. You have two options: fly out as soon as possible and visit without knowing whether or not you can get in, or wait until you’re sure you’re in to visit.
Option One: Visit
As said earlier, a visit can drastically affect your opinion of a school. Loving it on paper doesn’t necessarily mean loving it in person. If you visit, you’ll know for sure whether or not you want to apply. If you find out you don’t like it, you save time because it’s one less supplement you have to do, and you save money on application fees. If you love the school, it will just make your essays better, especially ones about why you want to attend to the school. A first hand experience will give you better insight and allow for you to write a more specific essay, not just a vague, “you have a great such-and-such program,” essay, possibly making it more likely that you’ll actually get it.
Money, and time. And also money. Airfare and hotels are expensive. College visits take time and planning. Some colleges only do tours on certain days, and those days may not line up with your schedule. The easiest times to visit are during your breaks, but sometimes that’s not possible because of prior commitments. So, a lot of times the easiest times to visit are weekends, which means you only have a few days there. Also, if you decide you want to check out a college right before the deadline, there isn’t time, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply if you think you’ll really like the school. Additionally, it may be the only time you get to visit, which may greatly affect your experience.
Option Two: Wait
Waiting will save you a lot of time and money. If you don’t get in, you didn’t waste any money to visit a school that’s not even an option. If you did get in, you’ll get a lot more out of a visit. Accepted students can still do the standard tours and information sessions, but they may get to do much more. A lot of colleges have special admitted students’ days where you can get a much better idea about what the college is like and gain more information about your specific major. You may be able to attend mock or real classes and learn more about how classes are actually conducted at the school. Instead of meeting people simply interested, you’ll meet people who are actually considering the school, giving you a much better idea of what your classmates will be like. They also may be making similar decisions to your own and can be very helpful in helping you figure out what you should do.
The biggest problem with not visiting is not having the experience to help you with the supplement. You’ll have to rely on the rather unemotional information you have to write essays, which can make it difficult, but not impossible. Another problem is that, even if you got in, there’s no guarantee that you will like the school. And if you don’t, you still wasted time and money to do the application.
Deciding whether or not to visit a college can be a difficult one. Before you make a decision, however, you need to weigh your own pros and cons. Every situation is different, so some colleges may be better to visit before while some may be worth waiting.