1. Start planning early
As students get closer to the final year of high school, their schedules are filled trying to balance school and a social life—all while exploring potential college campuses. To lessen the stress, some experts suggest families begin discussing college as early as when a student is in elementary school.
2. Visit campuses while on vacation
Trying to plan extended road trips to a long list of schools can be laborious. Instead, families should take detours to visit campuses while on other trips or vacations, recommends Mary Conger, founder of the campus visit service Collegocity.
3. Take virtual tours
Some colleges may be too far from home for students to make an initial visit. For those individuals, there are now online services—such as eCampusTours and YourCampus360—that allow prospective students to explore a college campus from the comfort of their couches.
4. Talk to students on campus
While campus tour guides may be able to answer many of your academic questions, blogger Lynn O'Shaughnessy notes that they are often paid to show their school in a positive light. Prospective students should talk to current students on campus to get a clearer picture of a school's culture.
5. Explore academic departments
Along with being comfortable with the campus environment, students should explore academic departments that are of interest to them, advises Peter Van Buskirk. Talk to professors or sit in on a class lecture to get a feel for a program and explore what opportunities would be available to you.
6. Visit a dining hall or student center
Get a feel for the school's atmosphere by observing current students in a cafeteria or student union. This will give you a chance to experience what it would be like to be a student at that college or university.
7. Ask about campus safety
With the amount of time traditional college students spend on campus, feeling safe on school grounds is an important factor to consider when exploring colleges. Prospective students should ask tour guides about campus safety policies and explore the school's history of on-campus incidents.
8. Get financial aid information
Along with understanding the culture of a school and the academic options it provides, students should also research financial aid opportunities available at a college or university. Blogger O'Shaughnessy recommends students have a list of questions to ask a school's financial aid department while on campus.
9. Pick up a student newspaper
While on campus, make sure to check out the college newspaper, which will clue you into the important issues on campus and what students care about, says Don Fraser Jr., director of education and training at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
10. Document your visit
If you're visiting more than one school during your college search, each campus is likely to blend together, notes blogger Van Buskirk. While on school grounds, take notes during the tour and capture images of campus in order to create a visual index of what you've seen to review later.
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