6 Ways to Test Drive College on Your Next Campus Visit

Make the most of your campus visits

At some schools, the price of college is the same as buying a car.

The New York Times reported that the average cost of four years at a state university is $80,000 for tuition, room and board, and other expenses. That’s roughly the same as a BMW.

Since you wouldn’t buy an $80,000 car without taking a test drive, that means campus visits can be pretty crucial to the college decision process. In fact, 75 percent of Niche users believe a campus visit is very important in finding the right college.

So how do you make the most of this college test drive? Here are a few tips.

Talk to Random Students
Campus Visit: "Think of yourself as a reporter, getting the scoop on a school."Because campus tours are designed to entice prospective students to go to the school, sometimes you won’t always get the “real” tour. So venture off the beaten path and talk to students at random, asking them what they like and don’t like about the school (you can also explore this via student opinions on Niche Colleges). You may even want to talk to a few different people and write down what they have to say. You’ll get honest, off-the-cuff answers. Think of yourself as a reporter, getting the scoop on whether or not this school is right for you.

Become a Food Critic
Gone are the days when mom and dad will whip up dinner for you. When you’re in college, you have to rely on cafeteria fare. So become a food critic with each school you visit.

Make note of things like cleanliness of the dining halls, foods you liked, and foods you didn’t like. Then, with each school you visit, cross compare the dining halls, especially if two school selections are neck and neck in your personal college rankings. After all, you’re going to have to live here for four years, which means you have roughly 3,000 meals to look forward to. It may not seem like an important factor, but when it’s a Tuesday night and you’re questioning whether the food on your plate is still alive, you may wish you had thought about it a little more. Campus Visit: "Find out what it's like during a regular weekday."

But don’t rely solely on the food you eat during your campus visit. Typically during campus visitation days and weekends, colleges bring out the best meals, so find out what it’s like during a regular weekday by asking students. They’ll tell you what the food is actually like on campus.

Take Photos with Your Smartphone
Spotted a particularly good study tree? Take a picture of it. If you can, also take videos. You want to make the most of your campus visit, and if you’re torn between a few schools across the country, you won’t necessarily be able to stop back again before making the big college decision. Photos and videos are a good way to virtually revisit colleges.

Monitor Walks Across Campus
Campus Visit: "Make note of the ease of accessibility on campus."This information is especially helpful if you’re always perpetually late for things—you’re going to want to go to a school where the buildings aren’t very far from each other. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a campus where you’ll never have to worry about the Freshman 15, walking a lot will be a perk. You don’t necessarily have to time all of your walks with a stopwatch; just make note of the ease of accessibility on campus. It may not seem like something noteworthy now, but if you’re knee-deep in snow in January, you may be wishing it had been more of a consideration.

Become a “Student”
Campus Visit: "After class, ask the prof if he or she has an extra syllabus."Getting to sit in on a class is a really cool perk to a campus visit because it allows you to act the part of a college student. You get to be a fly on the wall. It’s also a good opportunity to take notice of what you like about the academic environment. Write down qualities about the professor, engagement of the students, and how big the class is. It’s especially helpful if you are in a class in your potential field of study. After class, ask the professor if he or she has an extra syllabus, too—this will give you an idea of what to expect in a standard class.

Also, in order to act like a “student,” grab fliers and make notes of events and organizations in which you might like to participate. You want to get a feel for each college you visit, so by grabbing the souvenirs of “likes,” you’re building an impression of the school and how you might fit in.

Trust Your Gut
If you ask current college students why they chose their college, they might tell you this: “It just felt right.” Never underestimate the power of your gut. Sometimes it knows more than your brain. If you feel particularly comfortable on a campus, chances are you’ll feel comfortable there as a student. You should want to be at your college, so if you’re drawn to one particular school, that’s a step in the right direction toward making the best decision.

The Bottom Line
Before you even walk on campus, make sure you browse reviews and stats on Niche Colleges. This will be a good place to start your visit by becoming familiar with the school. After visiting, if you struggle to choose between different colleges, sometimes it’s good to take a few days to reflect on your campus visits. Whichever school feels the most like “home” is probably the best fit, but ultimately that’s a decision you have to make.