College Visit Pointers for Families

Tips for families to help them determine whether a college town or city is the right fit.

An exhaustive search has reached its end—you’ve found a school which could be The One. The academic programs are strong, the faculty is renowned and the cafeteria food is delicious. The school has everything a student and his or her family could want. However, it’s surrounded by a sea of corn and you’d much prefer an actual sea. Trouble could be ahead.

Many factors contribute to selecting a school, but location is one of the most crucial in determining if a college or university is appropriate. A student has to be comfortable in his or her surroundings to succeed in a rigorous academic environment. It’s difficult to concentrate on exams and term papers if a student is constantly dreaming of somewhere else.

Thankfully, a campus visit can go a long way in determining if a school and the surrounding area are the right fit. Here a few tips to help you along the way:


Find places you like. Both informative and fun. Before you go, write down all the places you’re looking for in a college town or city, from stores to restaurants to music venues. If there’s a specific place of interest that must be part of the next four years, say a superior sushi bar, look up the local options and make sure to check them out.

Take a walk. Good for both exercise and learning more about a destination than you ever could from a brochure. Walk around the surrounding neighborhood or head into town and explore at your own pace. Check out the bookstores and specialty shops to get an idea of the community beyond campus.

Grab a copy of the local paper. Everything from the stories to the advertisements can tell you a lot about an area. If the front page focuses on the upcoming beet festival instead of a multinational business conference, you’ll get an idea of what’s important in the area.


Visit during the week. It’s difficult to get a good feel of a campus when everyone is locked away during an exam period or on vacation. If possible, schedule your trip so that you are on campus during a normal academic day. This will give you a general sense of the community as a whole and a typical day on campus.

Have a snack on the quad. Grab a sandwich and a spot on the quad or near the student union to get a sense of the campus community. You’ll see what student organizations are popular, peruse the ever-popular chalk advertisements for upcoming activities and get a sense of the student body’s character.

Ask a student what they hate about the school. Students who aren’t tour guides will be more open about what’s wrong on campus and in the area. Talk with and listen to as many students or faculty members as you can to learn both positives and negatives about the school.

Most importantly, explore, take notes and get a sense of the place you might spend the next four years. You’ll get an idea what the future might (or might not) hold. 

Themes: College Visits, Family Travel