The Importance of Visiting a School in Person

I still remember that ecstatic feeling I had every time I found a school in one of those huge college books that seemed like a great fit for me. Out came the sticky notes  whenever I saw a place that specialized in arts and film programs, was medium-sized, and was located in a city that seemed hip enough.

One school particularly caught my attention:  Emerson College ( in Boston, Massachusetts. The private liberal arts school’s focus is communication, media and the arts. It sounded fantastic - renowned media programs, cool city, small student-to-instructor ratio, small but still bigger than my high school (around 3,000 undergrads), and so on.

I planned to apply and even possibly attend the school without ever having visited it. It just seemed so perfect for me, especially after reading the information online about all the different academic programs. Then, toward the beginning of my senior year of high school, my father had to go to Boston on a business trip and asked if I wanted to tag along and check out Emerson. Of course I did!

I eagerly anticipated the campus visit; until I arrived….and realized there wasn’t one! Set in an extremely urban area, the school didn’t have a typical campus. There were a few different buildings in the city, and some schedules required a walk through a park in order to get from one building to another. There were no student courtyards or large areas designated to just the school. Much like other colleges in very urban areas, such as New York University and George Washington University (in Washington, D.C.), I would have had to sacrifice a large campus for being right in the mix of things. For some people, that is an easy compromise, but I quickly realized that wasn’t something I wanted to give up.

I toured the classrooms, media rooms, and dorms just to get a taste of things, and it was all lovely. When I was in those buildings, it felt so collegiate and exciting. But when I walked outside, it just didn’t feel like “college” to me. I envisioned a large, rolling campus with malls covered in socializing students. I didn’t see that there.

Immediately, I was grateful that I visited Emerson in person. While it seemed like a wonderful school, it would have been tragic to get accepted and go and not realize it wasn’t for me until I got there. After that visit, I made sure to go tour all of the other schools I was interested in applying to. I was able to rule a few more out, and count a few more in. I ended up enrolling at the University of Texas, a larger school than I thought I’d attend, but it had a very large, social campus with a very collegiate feel and fantastic film program, not to mention the incredible sports programs!

Even if it’s a bit expensive to visit a college far from home, it will help you make the best choice for your next four years. There is a large range of months you can go see a school, so go whenever airfare is cheapest. You can also find some friends who are looking at schools in a similar area and plan a road trip together. Many high schools allow seniors several days off to tour colleges; ask your counselor about this.

  • To make the most of a college visit, do the following:
  • Try to go during a school day during the school year so you can see what the campus feels like on an average day of class.
  • Sit in on a class (or a few) and see what the dynamic is like.
  • Sign up for a tour so you can see all the facilities.
  • Ask for a meeting with someone from the admissions department to get the inside scoop on what the school is looking for.
  • Ask if you can meet with an RA from a dorm and see what the dorm rooms look like.
  • Eat in the cafeteria and see if the food is edible.
  • Hang out in the student union and see what kinds of on-campus activities are available.
  • Approach a few students around campus and ask questions. Most people will be more than happy to help you out.
  • Scope out what kinds of things there are to do in the area. Fun bars? Great restaurants? Cool comedy clubs? Nothing at all?

If there is a school you are strongly considering attending, it’s truly ideal to visit the campus in person and get the visceral experience. How does the campus make you feel? Can you see yourself walking up and down these courtyards and halls every day for four years? Are the dorm rooms big enough? Is there enough to do in that city or is it too big?

Good luck!

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