Choosing the right college


Choosing the right college starts with campus visits.

Visiting a college campus is a vital element of the college exploration and research process.  The goal of choosing the right college must center on YOU.  You need to make sure you are making the right choice for you.  How many more times can I type the word you? The point is you really have to have a good understanding of what you want in a college or university.  One of the best ways to see how a school fits into your needs is to visit in-person.  

Start the college exploration process by making a list of what is really important to you in deciding on a college or university.  Would you prefer the environment of a big school or a small school?  Do you want a campus that is in a city or rural area? Does the school have a wide variety of major options or are they more focused in a certain area, like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)?  Again, you have to make this decision based on what is important to you! 

Then do some research online, attend any college fairs in your area, and talk with alumni you may know. You can take virtual tours on many college websites and also get information about admissions requirements and available degree and major programs.  Develop a list of three to five schools to which you plan to apply.  Then develop a plan to visit each of those schools.  Try to schedule a visit during either the fall or spring semester so that you can get a sense of the school’s atmosphere while classes are in session.  Summer can often be an easier time for scheduling travel and there will be some students on campus that are taking summer classes, but the atmosphere will likely be less lively than normal.  If you have four, five, or maybe more schools to visit, plan on keeping a record of visits with a journal so that you can easily recall the pros and cons of each institution. 

Let’s breakdown the most common parts of the typical campus visit. The visit will usually start in the admission office or a student union building.  Many times the school will have set up a talk with an admissions representative.  This could be in an individual or group setting.  Generally, the larger the school the greater the number of visitors they would accommodate on a normal day.  This means that many campus visits at larger schools are done in a group setting, but there may be opportunities to schedule an individually tailored visit experience. Smaller schools almost always have more opportunities for individual visits and can oftentimes accommodate special requests like meeting with faculty, talking with a financial aid representative, or attending a class on campus.  

Another common part of the visit should be the student-led campus tour. This is a good time to get a feel for the environment of the campus and to ask questions about the student experience on campus.  You should have some questions prepared for your campus visit.  Here are some examples of questions you could ask on campus tours:

  • Which extracurricular are available or most popular?

  • Are computer labs available to all students?

  • How large are most classes?

  • Can undergraduates work with professors on research projects?

  • Is there free academic support or tutoring?

After you have taken the campus tour, don’t be afraid to explore the campus on your own as well.  This will give you a good sense of how safe the campus feels and you will be able to see some places that the campus tour avoids.  Of course, the school is only going to want to show you the highlights.  You need to do your due diligence to make sure you are seeing the whole picture in the same way a student would that attends that institution.  

Many campus visits also have an option to “be a student for a day (or night)”.  The events are also a good way to evaluate what it would be like to really be a student on that campus.  If you are staying the night, you will likely be staying in a dorm room.  What better way to gauge the day-to-day life of a student on campus than by staying a night in the place that students typically spend a lot of their time. This option will likely let you visit and eat a meal at one of the dining halls as well.  The food options for a student that will be eating three meals a day for the next nine months are usually of high importance to prospective students.  “Student for a day” experiences often mean close interactions with other students.  This can be a great opportunity to ask questions about the day-to-day experience on that campus.  You may even get some unbiased opinions that could prove to be vital to your ultimate decision.  It is advised that you also have some questions prepared if you do have the opportunity to talk with students.  Here are some examples:

  • What is your favorite class?

  • What do you wish you had known going into your freshman year?

  • What is a typical weekday like for you?

  • Are there any things you would change about the school?

Campus visits can be pretty fun and informative, especially if you have prepared for the visit.  Make some time in your schedule to dedicate to the process.  You will be happy you did.  

Another resource available to you in the college exploration process is which is the new Montana Portal for College and Career Planning.  There you will find a trove of useful information including more blog posts, tips, and videos from Montana students that highlight their personal experiences.  You will also be able to find out which RHM Advisor is in your area to help answer questions or get personalized help with your experience.  

Reach Higher Montana is passionate about helping Montana high school students achieve personal success in education, career, and life. Our advisors can help guide you along your individual path. To find the closest advisor to you, click here. Stay informed, sign up for our newsletter and like our Facebook and Instagram page so you don’t miss out.

Montana high school student taking advantage of college campus visits